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For Garlic, Go Local Or Go Home

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s inferior garlic.”

– Joe Kozak

There’s really only two kinds of people: those who love garlic, and those who can’t abide it.

Some manage to get by on cheap Chinese or Filipino imports. Even shipped in from halfway around the world, it still only costs about 67 cents a pound.

But for hardcore garlic addicts, the people who wouldn’t even think of dirtying a frying pan without throwing in a clove or two, life at the end of such a long, tenuous supply chain is enough to cause panic attacks.

The imported version, although starchy white and clean, is already months old by the time it hits store shelves. It doesn’t keep well, either, so the risk of running out just as you’re planning a culinary masterpiece is everpresent.

For aficionados, that leaves two choices: either get to know a local grower or learn how to grow it yourself.

A good place to resolve garlic-related issues is Manitou’s Garlic, Honey and Maple Syrup Festival, which was held last weekend.

Inside the main hall last Saturday, Gordon Hopko, owner of Gord’s Garlic Patch in Balmoral, was doing a brisk business selling this year’s hard-necked garlic harvest for $5 per pound. From a one-acre plot seeded last fall, he harvested about 600 pounds worth.

He and Texan friend Judy Wisener were eager to spread the word about garlic “scapes,” the curly seed pods that form on hard-necked garlic in early June.

“You can really reap the profits by growing this variety. The scape is a gourmet delight,” he said, adding that the juicy tendrils can be cooked like asparagus, added to omelettes, or ground into garlic scape pesto. Cutting them off makes the bulbs grow bigger, he added.

For those interested in achieving garlic self-sufficiency, a chat with Joe Kozak, the founder of Manitou’s popular Garlic, Honey and Maple Syrup Festival, is in order.

A garlic grower for over 20 years, he was left feeling slightly chagrinned this year when the festival opted to use Chinese garlic for the community feast instead of local produce, simply because the imports were so much cheaper.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s inferior garlic,” he said.

There’s an estimated 400 varieties, but only two kinds, hard-or soft-necked, so named because of the nature of the stem.

Hard-neck garlic, a winter variety, is planted in late October or early November. The soft-neck types are best planted in early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked – no later than the first week of May.

There seems to be a relationship between garlic growth and the length of the days, said Kozak. Prior to the summer solstice on June 21, top growth dominates. After that, as the days get shorter, it packs bulk onto the bulb.

“If you plant garlic on the 20th of May, it only has one month to develop,” he said. “So you end up with small garlic.”

The notion that garlic requires heavy heat units was put to rest this year, Kozak added, noting that even with the cool, late spring, this year’s crop was the “most beautiful” ever.

Time of planting is critical for successful garlic growing, he said. Additions of well-composted manure helps, but might not be necessary in areas with rich soil. One inch of water every two weeks is enough. To avoid disease problems, never grow garlic where onions or cereal grains have been planted, and always rotate growing locations from year to year.

But most important of all, said Kozak emphatically, is to use only local seed. Many who try to grow garlic and fail are guilty of neglecting this cardinal rule, he said.

“It takes awhile for the seed to become acclimatized. Never buy seed from a grocery store or even the seed dealers, which may get their seed from all different parts of Canada or the States.”

Garlic is best harvested around the first week to the middle of August. Seed garlic is then placed for a month or so in a warm, dry spot for curing – say an open, covered porch – and then moved for long-term storage to a cool, dry place such as a basement or a garage that never freezes. Drastic temperature changes may trigger sprouting. It keeps especially well in braids – which add a nice peasant touch – in the kitchen.

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