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Garlic industry growing in Minnesota

By Lisa Young
lyoung@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 02/06/2014 12:11 PM

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ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Garlic has become a $1 million industry in Minnesota, according to Jerry Ford, garlic expert and Minnesota Garlic Festival director.

"We have enough garlic growing in the state to have Extension and others paying attention to us," Ford said.

Honoring garlic's increasing stature in the state and producer interest, Ford partnered with University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water and Climate Head and Professor Carl Rosen and Plum Creek Garlic ownerChris Kudrna to lead a workshop on garlic basics. The trio covered varieties fit for Minnesota, growing practices, potential problems and marketing during a workshop at the Minnesota Organic Conference.

There are hardneck and softneck types of garlic. The best varieties for growing in Minnesota are marbled purple stripe, porcelain and purple stripe hardnecks, as well as artichoke softnecks, Rosen said.

Growing

Similar to tulips, cloves are planted in the fall. Seed garlic should be clean and phytoplasma-free. Garlic growers around the state employ a variety of planting methods, including hills, rows and even in each square of calf fencing.

"It's okay to start out small," Ford said.

Garlic needs fine, deep tilth to grow well and prefers soil with a neutral pH. Sufficient, but not excessive, mulch is paramount. It provides winter protection, moisture control and weed control. Corn stalks, straw, hay or leaves can do the job.

Garlic doesn't like to stay wet, Ford said. He recommends discontinuing watering in late June unless there's a drought. He hasn't watered his garlic plots at all in five years.

Hardneck varieties grow scapes, which eventually develop flowers. The flowers take away energy from developing the bulb below, so Ford suggests clipping scapes before they first curl; especially because they'll become harder to clip the bigger they get.

Garlic harvest typically takes place in mid-July, after the bottom three leaves of the garlic plant have turned brown. Ford windrows his garlic for about an hour, then bundles the plants with roots and stalks intact, 10 to a bundle, with baling twine so they can cure.

Bundles should be tied tightly otherwise as they shrink, the garlic will fall out. Ford hangs the bundled garlic in an insulated shed and keeps a couple fans and dehumidifiers running.Curing is complete in roughly three to four weeks.

"It shouldnot smell," Ford said.

After the garlic has cured, Ford clips roots to 1/4 inch and stalks to one inch, brushing the root base clean and removing outer wrappers. Cured garlic can then be kept in the open in indirect light, not in a cupboard or root cellar.

Marketing

There are four Ps to keep in mind when marketing garlic, or anything, Kudrna said — product, place, promotion and price. He and his wife, Joanne, are marketing professionals turned garlic farmers.

Garlic growers should consider what they are selling that sets the product apart, such as an experience or locally grown.

"Teach consumers that your brand stands from something," Kudrna said. "They can't get it just anywhere."

Beyond garlic, producers can consider offering services, such as farming know-how, on-farm activities or cooking tips to consumers to enhance their experience and connection to the farm.

Building community connections and interest can pay dividends, Kudrna said. On-farm events bring volunteers of all ages to his farm to plant, cut scapes and harvest each year. With a nice lunch and a friendly atmosphere, the events create memories participants want to come back and live again.

As for pricing, Kudrna said, "If you sell it all, you're selling it too cheaply and if you have product leftover, you are priced too high."

For More Information

Rosen worked with the University of Minnesota Extension to create an extensive online resource on growing garlic in Minnesota, including pictures, charts and suggestions for further reading. It has information on diseases, insects and nematodes growers should know. It can be found athttp://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/vegetables/growing-garlic-in-minnesota/.