Thursday, August 30, 2012

Growing Garlic in Alaska

by Mary Hinckley, an Alaska Master Gardener in Tok, Alaska

Garlic growing outside. Photo by Mary Hinckley.
This is the first year we grew garlic. I realized how little I knew about it when I tried to buy the seed last November. I thought I’d be early enough to get a good selection for this year but found that I was too late to get much of anything. I learned that seed garlic is usually only available between August and September and is often reserved even before the spring harvest. The seed is sown in the fall, spends about 9 months in the ground and harvested in the spring. Then it goes through a month of curing before it is ready for sale. Wow. I was able to purchase three types of seed, though, German White, Nootka Rose, and Elephant, all from different sources. The ground was frozen by the time I received the garlic so I stored it under our house to be planted on the spring. None of my suppliers could guarantee whether a spring planting would work here or even if the seed would last in our 48-degree crawl space to plant. We decided to take our chances.

Garlic growing in a greenhouse. Photo by Mary Hinckley.

Results:  German White Garlic

 The German White Garlic over-wintered pretty well but most all the cloves had small sprouts by spring. We decided to take advantage of this early growth and planted it in the greenhouse as soon as we could work the soil. The date was April 11th. We kept it watered and within a few weeks the sprouts popped through the soil. Scallion seeds were scattered among the garlic and with minimal care it all grew nicely.

By July each garlic plant had formed a scape, a little bulb of fresh garlic that grows up from the base. We cut these off, as suggested by the sellers, and used them in cooking. A scape has a mild garlic flavor and is really easy to work into meals. At this time we stopped watering and the drying process began.

It’s impossible to check on a garlic bulb by looking at the plant, so when the scapes were taken we also dug up four bulbs to see how they were coming along. We were thrilled. They were all good-sized and two were exceptional. When washed and peeled, the cloves looked like pearls. I chopped them up, threw them in a pot of water and made chicken soup. Apart from the chicken, all ingredients came from our garden and the soup was divine.

When the garlic plants were visibly dry, we harvested the rest of the garlic. I used a small planting spade but next time I’ll use a fork. The spade didn’t nick any of the bulbs, but I worried the whole time that it would. The garlic is beautiful. The majority of the harvest seems to be comparable in size to the seed stock it came from.

Next is the curing stage, where the bulbs dry for storage or planting. We cut the bulbs about 3 inches up the stalk, put them in onion bags and hung them to dry in our garage.  A vacillating fan was places in front of the bag to circulate the air. The garlic swings in the breeze and will be cured in a few weeks. Once cured, some will be stored under the house for culinary use and some will be separated into cloves for planting.

Drying the Garlic.Photo by Mary Hinckley.

Results:  Nootka Rose and Elephant Garlic


The Nootka Rose and Elephant seed also survived very well in our crawl space and April 28th we planted them outside. Theirs were slower starts than the German White, but we dug up one of each in mid-August. Everything seemed fine but neither variety was ready for harvest.  We’ll check them again in a few weeks but so far they’re right on track.

Because our first garlic crop has been a success, we plan to raise it again. Next time we’ll plant it outside in the fall and eliminate the greenhouse crop entirely. We’ve seen that garlic grows well outside and we’re hoping the fall planting will give it the edge it needs for an earlier harvest.  It is good to know that the spring planting works here in Tok.  We look forward to further experimentation.
Photo by Mary Hinckley.

Here is a helpful, general guide to growing garlic that is not specific to Alaska: Growing Garlic in New England


Izetta Chambers said...

Good call on storing the garlic in a cool place until it could be planted in the spring. We did the same, plus experimented with planting some in the fall and planting some indoors in the fall. The garlic that overwintered in our fridge and planted outdoors in the spring did the best of all three methods. We haven't dug it up yet, but a few days ago we harvested the scapes. Thank you for posting this good information.

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