Wait, what season are we in?

Seriously, it’s the first day of winter and I’m still biking to work, and today I only wore a light fleece and and my rain jacket (because it is windproof). The temperature today hit 12C, and it’s supposed to be 14C on Christmas eve! This is crazy!

I decided to check on my garlic. It is the first year that I’m experimenting with growing garlic in containers. I planted the cloves in late October/early November. The garlic bulb labels are at work, so I will have to note them in this post tomorrow. I know one of them is a Mennonite variety. (Update: the two types I have put into the container are Bogatyr & Mennonite. I will have to wait until harvest time to determine which garlic this sprouted one is – if it’s porcelain, it should be Mennonite. If it has a bit of a purple stripe, Bogatyr.) Both varieties I planted are hardneck. The bulbs were purchased from a local Home Depot. I originally wanted to get fancier types from Richter’s, but seeing as this is my first attempt, I thought it would make more sense to get something “local” – Richter’s is a long drive.

I opted for the hardneck because they are better suited to colder climates. Hardnecks produce a long flowering stem growing through the center of the bulb. Called a scape, this stalk produces an umbel, a terminal pod within which bulbils are produced. Bulbils can be removed from the scape when mature and planted in the same way as cloves, although they usually need two or more season’s growth before they produce a differentiated bulb. The bulb surrounding the scape of a hardneck variety consists of a single layer of regularly-shaped cloves. The number of cloves vary between hardneck cultivars, but tend to fall between four and twelve. Softneck cultivars on the other hand, yield a greater number of cloves and a generally larger bulb. Usually softneck varieties produce between eight and twenty cloves per bulb, while some cultivars contain cloves numbering in the high thirties. Irregular in shape, the cloves are present in two or more concentric layers, each wrapped in their own skin. This much higher number of cloves is likely a reproductive compensation for the lack of a flowering stalk – rarely will a softneck cultivar produce bulbils. For more fascinating comparisons between hard- and softneck garlic, read Gourmet Garlic: Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic by Andrea Cross.

Before starting this project, I had reached out to Richter’s to enquire about the success of growing garlic in containers. I’ve planted them in my tomato containers, which are very deep. Richter’s believes that I should be able to do this, but recommended that I mulch to prevent heaving, which occurs when soil thaws and freezes repeatedly during the late winter period. Often the heaving causes garlic to pop out of the soil leading to death. Gardening Know How explains frost heaving very clearly. I haven’t quite figured out what I would use as winter mulch to try to minimize or avoid heaving. Based on experience I’ve had at Fresh City Farms, hay is great, but they typically come in massive bales. I’ve read that consistent snow cover is the best winter mulch – but obviously that is not always present. I’ll figure something out when the time comes.

I have not mulched, as it hasn’t been cold enough to mulch; however, my garlic is now sprouting! I’m not sure what that really means when winter finally does arrive. I’ll have to wait and see.


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