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Award-winning garlic grower near Kamloops shares trade secrets

Owner of Laughing Swans Farm near Kamloops shows a garlic plant with a well established root system.
Owner of Laughing Swans Farm near Kamloops shows a garlic plant with a well established root system.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Shirley Wells

While some farmers choose to plant their garlic in mid-October, a grower on a farm east of Kamloops insists that planting garlic in September will give winning results.

Laughing Swan Farm produces tens of thousands of bulbs of garlic per year of seventeen different varietals. Owner Shirley Wells has been farming for a couple of decades and she said the secret to good garlic is in the roots.

“Some farmers have just started planting their garlic and swear mid-October is the best time, but we planted ours almost three weeks ago,” she said. “The garlic needs to form roots before the ground freezes. I pulled one up and it had a well-established root system, this is what we want. I guess that is why we win awards for our garlic.”

Wells said the roots need to be developed enough to be anchored to the ground in order to withstand the freezing and thawing of soils during the winter. If the roots take too much damage they will have to start over again producing roots in the spring, setting growth back.

Wells said she puts three inches of mulch on her garlic gardens to insulate them from the deep cold and to keep some moisture in the ground.

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She said there are many different ways of planting garlic and that it is easy to produce but takes experimenting and learning in order to grow award winning garlic.

“Everything is a variable,” Wells said. “The soil type, what you amend the soil with and how healthy the seeds you start with are. We had a new variety last year that was tiny, this year it is twice that size. If you do enough things right you will get a better product.”

Wells takes her garlic every year to a garlic festival in Grindrod where vendors from all over the province collect for six hours on a Sunday to showcase and sell their varietals of garlic.

“The festival has really grown over the years,” Wells said. “Some growers show up with unusual varieties which we buy, eat and sometimes try to grow. Every year we have won awards and one year we won in all three categories, best hard neck grade, best soft neck grade and biggest garlic.”

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Wells described herself as competitive but she loves to help others grow their best garlic by providing the tips and tricks she has learned over the years.

“Always try your best in your garden,” she said. “If you give plants what they need you will be rewarded every year. Experimenting over time will help you find the best way to care for your plants given your particular environmental variables.”

Laughing Swan Farm produces garlic and heirloom tomatoes. They source local manure, plant by hand and use organic techniques to harvest and clean the garlic. The farm was named after the swans who frequent a nearby stream and sound like they are laughing.

Wells provides learning resources for growing garlic here.

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