OAKVILLE, Man. – People rave about garlic for many reasons: the succulent taste it wraps around a dish of steaming hot pasta or the warm aroma wafting off a loaf of garlic bread.
But for many people, garlic’s deepest appeal lies in the delicious smells as it cooks in the frying pan.
Rory Timmers lives garlic, and he can sum up its magical lure in three words: “Garlic is sexy.”
“There’s just something about it that’s like a magnet. It’s an extremely addictive thing,” said the laid-back former Winnipegger as he peels garlic in his back yard “office.”
“I call garlic the culinary wizard of the vegetable world. Once you’ve had it you get hooked.”
On a small acreage about an hour west of Winnipeg just off the Trans-Canada Highway, Timmers grows an acre of garlic. And he’s the largest garlic producer in the province.
By today’s standards, an acre hardly qualifies Timmers as a farmer, but it’s a full-time job for him and provides part-time work for students and seasonal workers in the nearby community of Oakville. He moved from Winnipeg to grow garlic 10 years ago, and for the last two years he’s been doing it full time.
Last year he paid out $4,000 in wages for help during planting, weeding and at harvest time.
He sows a crop both in the fall and spring, in case one planting is wiped out by insects or bad weather.
With good snow cover, the fall-seeded garlic is ready for harvest in August, about the same time as the crop planted in the spring.
The fall crop is seeded in late September so it has time to root before the temperature dips below freezing. Timmers is strict about the timing of his spring planting – seeds must be in the ground before the end of April. It goes back to a secret known only among seasoned garlic growers, he said.
“On June 21, that hour, that minute and that second when the sun goes over solstice and starts to wane, garlic says to itself it’s time to bulb and that’s why you have to get it in early,” he said.
“It’s a very clever little plant.”
The harvest on one acre is between 4,000 and 10,000 pounds of garlic. For Timmers, the best part is marketing that crop.
“I hate breaking garlic, I hate planting garlic, I hate weeding garlic, I hate peeling garlic, but I love selling it,” he said.
“It’s all about people. The best thing about growing garlic is going to the farmers market. You end up talking to someone every minute for seven hours, so that’s the best part of it for me.”
He sells seed garlic for producers and gardeners who want to try growing the crop, cured garlic which will store in a cool place for up to a year and fresh garlic off the stand at farmers markets across the province.
Most of his sales are at the farmgate, where people flock to buy the garlic that Timmers said is five times more tasty than the garlic found in grocery stores.
“This garlic has a richer flavoring and it really accentuates the flavor of the food. The garlic in the stores from California and China is just dead,” he said.
“They know they can hang it on a cool kitchen wall out of direct sunlight for a year or more and they don’t have to go to Safeway and buy mushy garlic with no flavor.”
Timmers said one clove of his garlic does the same job as five cloves of store-bought product.
It sounds like a good sell job, but even a small taste from Timmer’s last year’s harvest speaks for itself.
Organic growing practices deserve most of the credit, he said. It’s what keeps his customers coming back and what hooks new ones.
Timmers charges $6 per lb. for his garlic, compared to $1.19 for the grocery store version.
“They pay the price because they know the difference,” Timmers said, whose family of four goes through about 100 lb. of garlic per year.
Timmers’ product line doesn’t end with sales of fresh garlic.
Last year he started selling garlic sprouts to high-end Winnipeg restaurants for specialized dishes. He makes garlic braids with about 15 bulbs each, which fetch $15 per lb. at farmers markets.
But the real money is in pickled garlic, Timmers said. The home-made concoction sells for $18 per lb.
“We haven’t found a better way to make more money on garlic than that particular product, and it’s really taking off. That’s what’s going to keep this little industry going.”