“What’s the easiest vegetable to grow?”
This is the question that I’m asked more often than any other. My quick answer? “Garlic”. Growing garlic is a no brainer in a vegetable garden. Not only is it a hands-off crop, but homegrown garlic beats store bought. Every. Single. Time. It has a firmer texture, more flavour, and it’s juicy. Yes, juicy!
So, when I wanted to get the inside scoop on growing great garlic, I turned to Liz Primeau. Liz is the author of the best-selling book, In Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb, which she calls her ‘ode to an under-appreciated vegetable’.
Growing garlic: 3 questions for Liz Primeau
Do you have a favourite variety?
Like most other garlic lovers on the planet, I like the sweet, full flavour of Rocambole garlic varieties the best. They’re good raw and irresistible roasted. ‘Russian Red’, which was brought to Canada by Doukhobors in the late 1800s, is a good one. ‘Spanish Rioja’ has a rich, full, and almost spicy flavour.
The drawback with Rocambole types is that they have looser inner skins than many other varieties so don’t store as long as some – maybe until early January. Therefore, I try to grow a Purple Stripe garlic too, which lasts longer. ‘Bogatyr’ is long storing one with a strong garlic taste that sticks around even when it’s cooked.
When researching this book, you visited many garlic festivals. Did any one stand out?
Ahh, France, specifically the Fete de l’Ail Rose in Lautrec, which is the artist Toulouse-Lautrec’s territory. It’s a walled medieval village, incredibly picturesque and historic, and the annual garlic festival in August is definitely worth the airfare. I have a dozen stories about Lautrec and the festival, but my strongest memory is of hundreds of people patiently waiting for a bowl of the festival’s ambrosial garlic soup behind a rope outside the beautifully restored 16th century market building. Twenty people start making the soup in huge cauldrons early in the morning, and by noon the crowd has gathered, waiting for soup like peasants might have been waiting a handout of bread in Louis XVI’s time.
Now that it’s planting season, can you offer a few tips for growing garlic?
I find garlic needs sun and no competition from nearby plants. That may be more of an issue for me because I grow garlic in my flowers beds, having no vegetable garden. So, I can’t let the perennials take over and shade the garlic. I also make sure they aren’t growing too close together, or they won’t develop nice big bulbs They need at least four inches between plants. Any kind of soil seems to suit garlic.
Read an excerpt from In Pursuit of Garlic – here.
Are you going to be planting this ‘divinely odorous bulb’ in your garden this year?