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Sask. growers spice it up clove by clove

YORKTON, Sask. — The best advertising for the Garlic Garden comes from its customers.

Darrel and Anna Schaab operate the five-acre plot of garlic near Yorkton, mainly for direct-to-consumer sales at weekly farmers markets in Saskatoon and Regina.

Such sales eliminate the middleman and get them closer to end users, said Anna.

For her, that’s the appeal of growing garlic.

“Customers make it worthwhile, they’re always positive and appreciative of how much effort it takes,” she said. “They have specific questions, and the market is the perfect atmosphere where we make connections and we take the time to answer questions.

“It is a lot of driving, but they buy a lot of garlic so you’ve got to go where the people are.”

Anna is a former teacher who has taken a leave from work in corrections as the operation becomes busier.

“Our farm business comes first,” said Anna.

The couple strives to keep growth at a manageable pace.

“We don’t want to have a whole pile we can’t sell,” said Darrel.

They have seen growth in wholesale markets, which accounts for one-third of their production. A small percentage is also sold at the farmgate.

Anna manages marketing and the social media sites, including, Facebook, Instagram and a blog, while Darrel oversees field operations.

Their two adult children have been involved, but both are pursuing university degrees, so the Schaabs hire workers during harvest and seeding.

They normally seed their long season crop in September, sometimes also seeding in early spring if more garlic is needed to meet anticipated sales.

“It can take the cold,” said Darrel, noting fall seeded shoots can be seen poking out of the snow in April.

June is spent scouting for disease and harvesting garlic scapes.

“We market what we can, but not many know about them,” he said about scapes, which are edible shoots that grow as part of the plant.

Restaurants may want them, but it’s a lot of work for a smaller return than on their main garlic crop, he said.

Garlic is harvested with a potato harvester in early August and then stored in aerated bins in an oversized shed. Darrel said most commercially available equipment is geared to large-scale production, so he uses his welding expertise to create tools and implements as required.

The fall seeding season involves planting cloves that are hand separated from garlic bulbils, while the quieter winter season is spent processing garlic into dehydrated powders and granules.

This year has been good, yielding smaller garlic but with less disease concerns, said Darrel, who noted losses of up to 60 percent some years from fusarium.

He has found through trial and error that soil health, cover crops and species diversity work well to battle disease rather than chemical applications.

“If you can understand what each plant can do for you, it’s a big benefit and bonus,” he said.

Darrel said buckwheat roots down and brings up phosphorus to the surface, while oats trap snow and radish and turnips penetrate hard soils and improve drainage.

“It’s like an energy tank in the soil, and the subsequent crop taps into that and the nutrients,” he said.

Darrel’s diverse selections range from cereals to lentils to weeds, some of which is worked into the ground and some left to die off.

“We really learn to use weeds as tools to our benefit,” said Darrel, who mows strips in his cover crops where the garlic will be planted.

“We want total ground cover, no bare ground.”

The Schaabs are open to trying new things and once raised free-range chickens because their son was interested.

They currently have cattle and pigs, hoping to improve their soil nutrition. Sausage is another offshoot they are exploring, said Anna.

“If you don’t fail at two or three things a year, you’re not trying hard enough,” said Darrel.

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