By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
A locally-owned and operated garlic farm is hoping to double the number of seeds planted this fall.
Located in Lethbridge County, DeGraaf Garlic grows garlic without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. With the exception of tilling the land, the family-run operation does all planting, weeding, and harvesting by hand in an effort to reduce the chance of damaging the product.
Owner Nico de Graaf said, “I started about I think it was seven or eight years ago with just a few plants,” he explained. Slowly adding plants over the years, De Graaf began producing enough to sell in 2022.
This year, de Graaf said he grew “roughly 13,000 plants, which was right around one acre.”
Garlic is seeded in the fall, before the ground freezes for the winter, where it remains dormant until longer days in the spring defrost the ground and allow the plants to germinate and grow.
“We plant in the fall. Usually we try to watch the weather a little bit, and we try to plant about a week before it looks like we’re going to get our first deep frost, and try to get it in the ground just before the ground starts freezing for the winter,” he explained.
For next year’s harvest, de Graaf said he wants to try for a larger crop on the farmland located just a few kilometres east of the town of Coaldale.
“This year, we’re going to be planting about double the amount of what we did last year,” and said the seeding will begin a little earlier than last year, toward the end of October.
De Graaf said the cloves are typically ready in the early summer, sometime in mid to late July, but hot weather in May of this year prompted a much earlier harvest than usual.
“This year was our earliest year we’ve ever harvested,” he added, explaining, “it was in part due to not having any substantial frost in May.”
However the previous year’s 2022 harvest was among the latest harvests on record.
“In 2022, we didn’t start harvesting until August.”
De Graaf said, “quite a bit of my product ships all across Canada, mostly for seed,” adding, “I try to make it to a few markets but I have Meniere’s disease, so it makes it very hard for me to commit to a lot of things.”
Meniere’s disease is a condition caused by the build up of fluid in the ears, and can result in a myriad of debilitating symptoms including vertigo, sensitivity to noises and ringing in the ears, and bouts of dizziness.
While most shoppers are accustomed to the sharp and pungent imported Chinese garlic available in most grocery stores, DeGraaf Garlic grows a more expansive offering which includes Alberta Red, Mexican Purple, Purple Glazer, Spanish Roja, and Great Northern as well a variety of garlic called “Music”, demonstrating the capacity for nuance in the world of aromatics.
Since the mid-1990’s, factors such as growing conditions and the use of chemicals post-harvest with respect to Chinese garlic has called into question the quality of imported garlic. However, China continues to be the world’s top exporter of garlic, making upwards of 80 per cent of the global garlic supply.
Compared to the imported “generic” garlic, De Graaf explained, “the biggest difference between a lot of our own garlic, is the flavour that you get out of it,” with more earthy, nutty, and robust flavours in specialty varieties than its grocery store counterpart.
De Graaf said the locally-grown product seems to positively impact longevity of the garlic’s shelf life as well.
“From what I’ve heard from customers, it lasts longer, too. There’s a lot of the store bought stuff won’t last one year in your cupboard, whereas some people have found them in the back of the cupboard,” still good after many months when stored in a cool dry, place.
De Graaf said he tries to hit the market in Fort Macleod on Thursday evenings, and is aiming for a few more local in-person markets leading into the holiday season, in addition to online sales through his website at https://degraafgarlic.com/.
The farm is also keen on sharing updates and videos of various farming and harvest processes on their YouTube channel: To learn more about the product grown here in Lethbridge County visit, https://www.youtube.com/@deGraafgarlic.