Thursday, 11 September 2014

Grow Great Italian aka Artichoke Garlic

 Hardneck garlic

Most of us here in the northern hemisphere, especially in Canada, are familiar with growing only the hardneck (porcelain) type of garlic. The hardnecks really thrive in our cooler climate and actually require our cooler temps in order to produce, while the softencks are mostly grown in the warmer, southern parts of North America.

   Softenck garlic hanging at the Davis Family Farm

There are, however, a few varieties of the softnecks that we, too, can grow here in the cooler climes of Canada and the northern US States. 

Italian Garlic is one of these softneck aka artichoke garlic types that grows successfully in our zone 7 west coast gardens.
Do not plant softnecks in the fall if you live in a garden zone of less than 5, and even in a Zone 5 you will want to mulch your bed to keep it warm enough. You can, however, grow it very successfully even in a zone 3, if planted in early spring and harvested in fall.  

Flavour and Usage
Softnecks are the ones that one generally finds in the supermarkets. They are aromatic, rich and spicy, though without the kick of the hardneck, and rich and bold in flavour. The perfect garlic for roasting on the barbeque, drizzled with olive oil. They are also the variety most used in making garlic salts, garlic powders, and other garlic-y seasonings.   

Soil needs are the same as the hardnecks... well amended soil with a neutral pH is best. Amend your beds with manure, compost, seaweed, bonemeal, etc... a few weeks before planting for the biggest, juiciest and best garlic. 

Plant in a cross hatch pattern 4 to 7" apart. The closer together that they are grown, the smaller the bulbs will be. 

Softnecks contain a greater number of cloves per bulb, 10 to 14 cloves on average, but may be as many as 20, or more! The cloves are all layered around each other, making for a lovely plump looking bulb that is 2 to 3" in diameter. However, the cloves will be somewhat smaller than the big chunky thumb sized ones that we are used to in our hardneck varieties. 

The plants will be bushier and shorter with strappy grass like foliage, and will not produce the scapes which grow the bulbils (seed heads) at the top.

Lifting and curing
The biggest difference of note for us hardneck garlic growers to keep in mind is that the softnecks will be ready for lifting two to three weeks earlier than the hardnecks! In our area, that means to start checking them for readiness in mid to end June. They will be ready to be harvested when 1/3 to 1/2 of the foliage is yellow. Do not leave them in the ground too long or you will lose the papery husk and any hopes of it storing well. 

When curing, please note that the skins are more layered and tighter and so they will require more time to cure in a really well-ventilated, dry yet shady area. You may even want to open the skin at the top of the bulb to allow for better drying.
The Italian will store well for 9 months, if cured properly.

The best part? These are the ones that you can make into lovely braids! All the more reason to grow one or two bulbs this year ; ) 

Bob's Italian garlic from

Friday, 5 September 2014

September Garden Ramblings & Harvest

A summer of hot and sunny days with no rainfall to speak of came to an end with rains and cloudy grey days on the Labour Day week-end. So grateful ; )

However, beware and be aware.. for with the rains tends to come fungal diseases, and the dreaded tomato blight, as well. Remove any yellowing bottom leaves right away, or spotty leaves, anything that looks suspect, as this may keep the wolf from your door.

Sadly, you cannot stop late blight once you have it, but you may be able to keep it from spreading to the rest of your tomatoes by quickly removing the diseased plant.


Another issue that may pop up now that we have had some rain followed by sunshine, is splitting fruit (this applies to cabbages, too!) Lots of water followed by sunshine means great growth...  and sometimes they grow faster than their skins can keep up with. Is not a bad thing, necessarily, but they will not store as long or well. 

This is a good time to top your tomato plants (snip the ends off after the topmost cluster of tomatoes) and remove all excess foliage. I also take off any small tomatoes and blossoms, as they will not have time enough to mature with out shorter, cooler days. Doing this allows the plant to put all it's energy into maturing and ripening those last green fruits.  

In the greenhouse, all the tomatoes have all been pruned back to allow the last fruits to mature on the vine. Do this outdoors, as well. (Nope, these are not super sturdy tomatoes, they are growing up strings ; )

Green Shoulders - The top of the ripe tomato stays green and hard, does not ripen or soften with time.
Green shoulders are caused by the higher than average temperatures that we have had this summer, and especially by too much sunshine/heat right on the fruit itself.
Though tomatoes certainly enjoy heat and sunshine, they prefer it to be a bit more moderate than this summer has been Shade cloth in the greenhouse would have helped me out a lot!

If you had a less than stellar year with your tomatoes, you are not alone. Due to the higher than normal temps and the early start with said heat, most everyone on the coast has experienced less tomato production than in other years (less flowers or sterile flowers), more blossom end rot (BER) and and also green shoulders on the mature fruits. 

Plum jelly, pickled beets and crock pickles

What to do this month...

With your veggies and herbs...
- Harvest! Freeze, can, jam, process everything you can for fresh goodies all winter long.
- Cut and save herbs to dry and store for winter..  this year, I harvested mint, lemon balm, oregano, thyme and the coriander seeds from my bolted cilantro. 
- Save seeds from any veggies that you want to carry over for next year .. your favourite tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots ... Do not save your squash seeds if you grew more than one variety as they may have cross pollinated with each other, which leads into the so-called Franken-squashes. They do not always work out into tasty treats.
- When some of your onion tops start to fold down, push down all the others, too. Leave for a week and then lift the onions from the ground. Lay out to cure in shady, well ventilated area.

 Rose hips

With your flowers and garden beds ... 
- Stop dead heading and feeding roses this month so that they start to make hips and realise it is time to begin shutting down for winter.
- Lift gladioli corms, trim back the stems to a few inches long, clean off the soil, place in a paper bag or lay our on newspaper in a dry, well-ventilated, shady spot to dry. I like to use the carport or the furnace room. Do not lay out on bare concrete, use newsprint underneath. After 2 or 3 weeks, trim back the rest of the tops, cut off roots, and rub off the small corms. they can also be stored for planting next year. Leave dahlias till next month.     
- Compost your faded summer planters, baskets, pots, and bedding plants.
- Begin to clean up your gardens from spent cucumber vines, faded blooms, etc.. toss into compost bin or curb side garden pick up, if you are lucky enough to have it!

What to plant this time of year... 

- Cool weather crops from transplants....kale, lettuce, leeks, scallions, oriental greens ..
- From seed, only fast growers can be started from seed now like lettuce and radishes, perhaps turnips, too, if you are really fast. Broad beans can be sown soon as the weather cools further. Herbs can be sown now for newlings in spring.. lavender, chives, chervil...
- Toss in your Sweet Pea and Calendula seeds this month for earlier blooms in spring.

- Strawberries -Clean up the dead foliage, remove extra runners, and plant baby plants/runners into the spots where you want them to grow. Do not cut from the mother plant till rooted in.

Plant garlic!
Garlic is planted between mid September and late October here on the island. I prefer to do mine at the end of September or first week of October.
Prep your garden bed now so that you are ready to plant .. pull weeds, add manure or compost, plus bloodmeal and bonemeal, if needed.
For planting how-to's see HERE!

Fall planters!

Compost your tired looking summer baskets and planters, pop in some glorious fall coloured blooms in gold, red and orange.

Bulbs! Spring flowering bulbs of all kinds!
- If you want lovely waving beds of daffodils, bright pots of tulips, or stately alliums blooming in spring, buy the bulbs now and plant anytime before the November rains begin. Plant daffodils right away as they take longer to root in.

Formal mass planting of paperwhites by

Think Ahead!
Christmas is only15 weeks away!
Start your indoor paper whites, amaryllis and hyacinths now for Christmas blooms.

Informal mason jar planting of paperwhites byt
Can also use hyacinths. 

Moving Thyme

Sadly, the Nitty Gritty Potager blog is no more... but the good news is that I can now be found at my new blog called the Olde Thyme F...