This weekend is Thanksgiving, and there's no better way to celebrate the gifts of the harvest, than by planting the gift that keeps on giving: garlic. I say "giving," because in addition to giving you pungent breath and all kinds of incredible medicinal benefits (cancer-fighting, antibacterial, blood pressure reducing), garlic is one of the tastiest and most productive plants you should have growing in your garden.
Garlic is also a relatively easy and forgiving plant to grow. It doesn't need much watering in Vancouver's wet environment. If you're a houseplant killer, garlic might be right for you.
According to Edible Vancouver, October is the perfect month to plant garlic in the Pacific Northwest, but you can plant anytime in the Fall, up until the first frost. When the cold weather comes, the cloves are ready to work their magic, multiplying from a single clove into 4,5,6 or more cloves over the course of the growing season, depending on the variety. In the spring/early summer hard neck varieties will grow a scape that can be cut-off and stir-fried or, and this is absolute luxury, pulverized with olive oil and served as pesto. Drool.
This is my first year growing garlic and I planted two varieties: Northern Quebec and Leningrad. Northern Quebec has nice large cloves, with pinky purple skin and it grows well in all conditions. It's described as "hot" and "vigorous" with good flavour. The other variety I planted is Leningrad, an early maturing variety that stores well with especially tight skin keeping the cloves tightly packed and protected. You can harvest this variety in July and enjoy eating it right through to the next spring - beats that Chinese soft neck stuff that gets mushy and starts growing as soon as you take your eyes off it.
Because garlic likes well-drained soil, and this is my first time planting in this garden space (generously donated by a fellow East Van resident), I wasn't confident about how the soil drained or retained moisture, so I built up two raised beds and turned them in with compost. Once I planted the garlic (six inches apart in all directions, though eight to nine inches is even better), I threw on some shredded Fall leaves to help with moisture retention and basic weed control (although I'll be watching these beds like a hawk). For real weed control you need a few inches of leaves...come to think of it, I better add some more next week. If all goes well, I should have 85 garlic plants growing in nice neat rows next summer, more garlic than we'll need all year!
If there was ever a plant sold by Ronco infomercials, it would be garlic - you can "set it and forget it." Actually you should fertilize in the spring with something like compost tea, and water periodically, but you get the picture. Put the garlic to bed and enjoy a second Thanksgiving come July.
P.S. Garlic Boundary Farm has an excellent page on planting, harvesting and curing garlic for storage.