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How this prize-winning Kamloops garlic farmer grows the biggest bulbs

Shirley Wells of Laughing Swan Farm near Kamloops is hoping to grow a prize-winning sized garlic.
Shirley Wells of Laughing Swan Farm near Kamloops is hoping to grow a prize-winning sized garlic.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Shirley Wells

A prize-winning garlic grower near Kamloops is already feeling competitive for the season, as the first sprouts of garlic are popping up out of the soil.

Shirley Wells is the owner of Laughing Swans Farm where she produces tens of thousands of heads of garlic every year.

Every summer she goes to a garlic festival in Grindrod in the North Okanagan where she wins awards, either for best hard neck grade, best soft neck grade or biggest garlic, some years all three.

Wells said after decades of growing, gardening, and trial and error, she has learned what works and what doesn't when it comes to producing prize-winning garlic, tricks of the trade she is using this spring in an attempt to bring the biggest garlic to this year’s festival.

“A lot of the garlic is coming up, the mulch is two to three inches thick after the heavy snow load and a lot of the garlic is two to four inches above the mulch,” Wells said. “Some of our early varietals were out before the last cold spell. The tops were killed but it doesn’t matter, the bulbs were still protected.”

Wells said she planted the garlic earlier than other farmers last fall to give the garlic the best chance of growing strong roots. She covered it with thick mulch to help protect it during the freezing winter temperatures.

READ MORE: Award-winning garlic grower near Kamloops shares trade secrets

In the spring, it is important to monitor soil moistures as the ground thaws, and to cut scapes, or flower stalks, off the hard neck varietals, she said.

“The soil is thawing out in different areas so most of it is damp at this time and the mulch helps keep the moisture in,” Wells said. “But if it gets too dry, the roots will stop growing so you have to pay attention and keep monitoring. Dig into the soil four inches down and when it gets too, dry start watering.”

Once the scapes get stiff they will soon start curling.

“Some say you have to wait until scapes have curled twice before cutting them,” Wells said. “I don’t wait that long and I’ve never noticed a difference in their growth because of it. I’m sure if you are growing small amounts of garlic you can pamper them all you like. It is also interesting to note you can pickle the scapes or throw them in your cooking, they have a mild garlic taste.”

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Wells said soft neck garlic doesn’t have scapes and they are easier to break.

“They are not as cold hardy, so some may have more trouble growing them, and there is more chance they will come out small,” she said. “However, once they are fully cured they have longer storage capability than the hard neck varieties.”

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. She is looking forward to the summer festival and is hoping to win.

“The festival is a lot of fun,” she said. “There are a lot of garlic growers that come to show a huge selection of different types of garlic. You can talk to different growers and get their advice which is healthy as we all have different ways of doing things. For new growers, they can walk around and ask a ton of questions.”

The 13th annual Grindrod Garlic Festival is scheduled for Aug. 21 in Grindrod Park.

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 produces tens of thousands of bulbs of garlic per year of seventeen different varietals.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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