By Andrew Campbell
In Canada, there is a new push to get more of the garlic we eat, produced here in Canada. One of the families that accepted that challenge in the VanRaay family. They have been pig farmers for many years, but with another generation looking to take over, there was a sense that diversifying their farm would help. And garlic seemed to be the answer!
In their small community in Ontario’s Huron County, one local store, in particular, was looking for a more local source for their main offering. Being aptly named the Garlic Box, the store owners and the VanRaay family worked together to get a strong crop with some great new products made with local garlic. In this video, we’ll see how the family grows, harvests & sorts their newest farm crop – garlic!
How do farmers harvest garlic bulbs?
Garlic bulbs are harvested using a machine harvester to pick the bulbs. A tractor pulls the harvester through the garlic fields as it harvests the garlic bulbs from the soil. Driving beside the harvester is another tractor pulling a hopper cart used to collect the harvested garlic bulbs.
As the harvester moves forward a shoe (blade) moves underneath the soil to lift and loosen up the ground while two guides move the garlic bulb, so that the stem remains upright. Two big elastic belts, that are hooked to tensioners, then grab the stem and pulls the garlic bulb out of the soil.
The garlic bulb is transported to a shaker plate that shakes the dirt off of the garlic. Once the dirt is knocked off, the garlic bulb rides up to a different belt to a cut off blade, which trims the stem off.
After the stem is removed, the bulb is dropped onto another long belt that shakes more dirt off and carries the garlic bulb over to the cart that drives beside the harvester in the field.
What happens to the garlic bulbs once they come in from the field?
The garlic is transported from the field to a piece of machinery called a garlic sizer. Garlic is moved from the hopper cart onto the garlic sizer. The garlic sizer consists of a series of long shafts with rubber paddles that rotate and, not only knock more dirt off the garlic, but also sort the cloves by size.
As the garlic moves down the sizer, the spacing between the shafts becomes wider allowing different sized garlic to fall through onto conveyor belts below that lead to containers. The garlic is sorted into three different sizes. Then the garlic is hung or stored in containers with good airflow to cure and dry down.
Why sort the garlic into different sizes?
There are multiple reasons to sort garlic by size, one reason being seed stock. Farmers need uniformly sized garlic to go through the planter in the spring.
The bigger garlic bulbs are processed and sold as individual cloves. Grocery stores and different markets also require different sizes and may want to maintain a consistently sized product within the store.
Are some of the garlic bulbs planted back next year? What size garlic bulb do you need to plant?
Yes. Some of the garlic grown is used as seed for the next growing year. The seed bulbs have to be uniform in size to go through the seeding machine.
What are some of the challenges of growing garlic?
One of the main challenges of growing garlic is that it is not widely produced so farmers need to do a bit of trial and error to learn to grow it. In Ontario, the Garlic Association of Ontario and its members work together to share information, hold farm tours and information sessions. One interesting thing about growing garlic is that it can be different depending on the geographical area.
Another issue is weed control. Farmers use cover crops and herbicides to manage weeds but as garlic is a small crop there are not a lot of herbicides that are approved. This means that although there are herbicides that would work, they have not gone through the regulation procedure to be registered for use on garlic crops, and therefore can’t be used. There are only about 1,000 – 1500 acres of garlic grown in Ontario so there are not many agriculture companies that are going to sponsor a new registration just for a small crop.
Why do farmers grow garlic?
To stay viable, farmers are always looking for a crop that grows well in their area and also provides the highest yield and rate of return in order to create a higher income per acre. Garlic, when successfully grown, offers a fairly high rate of return.
Further, in Ontario for example, locally grown garlic only satisfies a portion of Ontario’s needs. Most of the garlic purchased in grocery stores is imported garlic. Ontario garlic basically runs out in October or November for the fresh market. After that local garlic needs to be pickled or dehydrated to further its shelf life.
Buying local garlic is becoming more and more common and grocery chains report that consumers are asking for local garlic. This means farmers will continue to make an investment to put local garlic in the grocery stores.
For more information on garlic check out Garlic Growers Association Of Ontario
Try making: Garlicky Grilled Vegetable Panzanella
Full Garlic Video From FreshAirFarmer Andrew Campbell’s Dinner Starts Here Series