The garlic plant is incredibly diverse and grows in a wide variety of regions around the world. According to Jerry Ford, network coordinator for the Sustainable Farming Association, when people think of garlic they typically imagine it growing in places like the Mediterannian but it does grow right here in Minnesota. He went on to explain that garlic grows best here and is very hearty. In Minnesota there are 70 different types of garlic, each one unique.
Ford grows garlic and raises livestock on Living Song Farm near the Twin Cities.
“It's quite by accident,” said Ford when asked why he became so focused on garlic. He added garlic to his farm 16 years ago when a friend offered to help him with the growing process. That friend would back out when the hard work came along, leaving Ford to raise the garlic all on his own. Ford planted his crops but did it mostly wrong, however he did enough right to get by. Almost two decades later two of his current seed stock strains come from those original garlic plants.
Anita Small and Phil Iverson operate the Garlicky Bohemian Farm off County Road 100 in Wadena and were eager to share their secrets about growing garlic during a farm tour last summer.
Anita Small and Phil Iverson specialize in porcelain hardneck garlic and grow roughly 6,000 bulbs every year. The duo sells their crops at farmers markets. Their farm is one of the Minnesota Premium Garlic Project field trial sites. During the tour they shared various techniques they used to grow their own brand of garlic while leading the group around the small farm.
Small was taught how to grow garlic by her father. The smelly bulbs are a generational right of passage. She broke down the tasks associated with planting and commented that harvesting is the most difficult part. Planting garlic has two challenging phases, planting and harvesting. Once planting is done, garlic matures over nine months before harvesting.
Ford offered advice for first time garlic growers.
Plant at the right time of the year. Garlic should be planted in the fall, Ford personally aims for the middle of October.
Make sure to have the appropriate materials necessary to grow garlic.
Check the soil, make sure it has a healthy amount of organic matter.
Rotating crops is also important. Planting in the same spot every year gives rise to disease.
Start with garlic acquired locally. Don’t start growing garlic acclimated for California soil and weather, it won’t work well. That’s why Ford recommends reaching out to other farmers and helping them on their farms. This allows a front row seat to observe the planting and maintenance of the plant. Additionally, this is an opportunity to get seeds already accustomed to the area.
Gardeners and farmers gained valuable information during an informal field day. Shortly after pulling some bulbs they convened in a nearby out-building for a potluck. Tours and events like this are possible with funding from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
The local farmers attended the Minnesota Garlic Festival last year. This unique event is an SFA event devoted to garlic. The 2020 Minnesota Garlic Festival has gone virtual. More details of the event can be found at https://www.sfa-mn.org/garlicfest/.