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The Garlic Garden

If anyone had told Anna and Darrel Schaab 10 years ago that they would become garlic farmers, they would likely have had a good chuckle. Although Darrel grew up on a farm, both he and Anna were working at jobs in Yorkton when they launched their new venture.

In the spring of 2005 the couple purchased a small farm north of Yorkton and they tossed around various ideas on how to generate revenue from the land. It had to be something that didn’t require many acres or a large investment in machinery. It was during this time that Anna happened to purchase some garlic from a local producer (Bob) and the idea came to be. “We didn’t know anything about growing garlic and Bob was willing to assist. It turned out that we live in a great location for growing garlic,” said Anna.

Garlic is grown throughout the world in various climates. “The most obvious difference between growing garlic in a warm climate versus a cool climate is the type that is grown. Garlic can be divided into two main cultivars, hardneck and softneck. The hardneck varieties are better suited to cooler climates while softneck varieties (like those found in the supermarket) are generally better suited to warmer climates. Since we live in a cool climate, we grow hardneck varieties,” said Darrel.

“In addition to the ideal climatic conditions that allow us to grow some of the most flavourful garlic anywhere, we also liked the fact that garlic has a longer shelf life than many other crops like fruit and vegetables,” said Anna. When properly cured, garlic will last for several months.

Most of their garlic is planted in the fall, although spring planting is an option. They’ve found that it is necessary, however, to plant before the end of April if planting in spring, to give the plants time to mature before fall. Planting is labour intensive but, “Even though each clove is planted by hand, we have designed an implement that people can sit on which makes a furrow to place the garlic clove into and then also covers the furrow,” said Darrel.

Winterkill is a concern with fall-planted garlic. This region usually receives sufficient snow cover for protection. Also, when it snows in the fall, it will usually remain until spring. This means they do not require a layer of mulch for protection. For added insurance, however, the Schaabs provide a snow trap to ensure good snow cover for protection.

“The cool weather we have in early spring causes the plants to be stressed and this results in an even stronger-flavoured garlic than it otherwise would be. In fact, the same variety of garlic when planted in two different locations with different climates can taste differently. Garlic has a way of acclimatizing and adapting to a certain extent to the environmental conditions in which it is growing,” said Anna.

Summer months are spent caring for the crop, whether it be controlling weeds, ensuring adequate moisture or eliminating unhealthy plants.

“We do require extra help at seeding and harvesting,” said Anna. “It’s amazing to see how many people from all across Canada want to come and help, just for the experience of working on a garlic farm.”

“Our preference is to use as few pesticides as possible. Many of our customers are concerned with what they eat, as are we. The decision to not use herbicides on our garlic crop is an easy one since they are very limited anyway,” said Darrel.

The same can be said for pesticides to control insects and disease that affect garlic. The Schaabs have learned that the best way to reduce the pressures of disease and insects is to follow good cropping practices and ensure that the quality of the seed is optimal.

Over the years the Schaabs have experimented with different types of fertilizers including dehydrated alfalfa pellets, manure, synthetic fertilizer and cover crops for green manure. “All have worked well, and all have their advantages and disadvantages,” said Darrel. “In the future we will be making more use of green manure crops for our nutrient requirements, eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers.”

The Schaabs harvest their garlic in early August when the leaves begin to turn brown. They built a machine that lifts the plants from the soil, but excess soil tied to the roots has to be removed by hand so as not to damage the garlic head. The garlic is then cured in a drying shed for about a week before it’s ready to go to market.

The majority of the crop is sold as fresh garlic. It is marketed all across the country although most is sold at farmers’ markets in Yorkton, Saskatoon and Regina, as well as a number of retail locations throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta.

A small portion is held back for processing, and they process all of their garlic products themselves. The dehydrated products include flakes, granules and powder which are all 100 per cent garlic with no preservatives added.

For more information, visit the Schaabs’ website at www.yorktongarlic.com, or email [email protected]

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