Allium sativum

Cooking would not be the same without garlic, and I love garlic, but it was not until I started growing garlic that I became versed in the true character of this magnificent Allium. I am still buying different cultivars of garlic, each variety with an individual flavour and kick.

Garlic is Old

Human cultivation of garlic is ancient and goes back centuries, as far back as the Babylonians 5,000 years ago. Garlic was significant enough that people brought seed garlic with them from Europe to North America. It has, of course, become an essential flavouring for many kinds of cuisine.

Allium sativum seems to have originated in Central Asia, and a specific belt in central Asia is the only area where this particular Allium species grows wild.

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Made in China

Most of the garlic you buy at the grocery store is grown in China, which produces 76% of the world’s garlic. The sad thing is that there are so many different cultivars of garlic for you to enjoy. So don’t limit your garlic palette – get growing. I know I will be growing as many cultivars as I can in my garden.

Growing Reeking Gold

Growing garlic is relatively easy. You take a bulb of garlic, break it apart and plant the individual cloves. Your return is a bulb of garlic with roughly the same sized cloves as you planted. With garlic, size does matter; larger cloves will grow into larger bulbs. 

The other bit of good news is that garlic doesn’t take up a lot of planting space. So you can grow as much as you want. I know I do; I’m becoming obsessed with alliums in general.

Garlic Allium sativum has two subspecies;

Allium sativum var. Ophioscorodon or hardnecked garlic, and

Allium sativum var. Sativum or softnecked garlic

The two subspecies have different growing habits: 

Softnecked garlic is planted in the spring and harvested during the same growing season.

Hardnecked garlic is planted in late summer or early fall and harvested the following mid-summer growing season.

Latitude is a factor governing what subspecies you grow in your area. Hardnecked cultivars are more suited to colder Northern climes, while softnecked varieties are usually grown towards the equator. As gardeners always like to push growing conventions, some types of softnecked garlic are grown in Canada. 

From those two subspecies, there are hundreds of varieties or cultivars. The list below is not exhaustive, but it covers the main groups of varieties grown in Canada.

Purple Striped

Marbled Purple Stripe

Glazed Purple Stripe

Rocambole

Porcelain

Turban

Asiatic

The home gardener has an almost unlimited opportunity to grow various varieties and cultivars of garlic.

Currently, these are the varieties that I have planted;

VarietyBotanical NameDescription
MusicAllium ophioscorodonMusic is a cold-hardy hardneck porcelain garlic; it has a refined flavour and medium heat. The cloves are wrapped in slightly pink skins with porcelain-coloured wrappers covering the bulbs.
DuganskiAllium ophioscorodonDuganski is a hardneck garlic varietal that produces large bulbs with robust and intense flavour and purple cloves. The purple outer wrapper protects the violet-tinged cloves that burst with an intense garlic flavour and mellow out to a pleasant aftertaste. The Duganski cultivar grows taller than most varieties; it has broader leaves and larger scapes than other varieties and matures mid-season.
Chesnok RedAllium ophioscorodonAccording to West Coast Seeds, the Chesnok Red variety of garlic originated in the Shevelisi region, Republic of Georgia. Chesnok Red is a purple-striped garlic cultivar with a pleasing aroma and a pleasant lingering after taste.
MajesticAllium ophioscorodonMajestic is another porcelain variety of garlic. It has a smooth, creamy garlic flavour followed by heat. It then mellows into a long-lasting garlic ecstasy. The bulbs are large and slightly striped, the cloves are wrapped in pinkish-tan cloured wrappers.
Spanish RojaAllium ophioscorodonSpanish Roja is one of the most popular and tasty mid-season Rocambole garlic types. Spanish Roja has a pure garlic flavour followed by mild heat in large, firm cloves and bulbs. The outer wrapper leaves are white but lead to leaves streaked with pink and purple to tan as more layers are peeled away. Spanish Roja is a cold-tolerant hardneck garlic that performs great in Canadian gardens.

Crop Rotation

It is an excellent practice to follow a crop rotation such as this suggestion from West Coast Seeds.

Year 1Brassicas, lettuce and spinach
Year 2Legumes and alliums
Year 3Potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers and squash
Year 4Root crops. Carrots, beets, radish

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