Gourmet garlic is becoming more popular and profitable every year. To help new growers get up to speed with this specialty crop, here are some answers to the most common questions about growing and marketing gourmet garlic.
1. Why grow gourmet garlic? Gourmet garlic is one of the easiest and most profitable specialty crops for small growers, especially if you have a limited amount of growing area. Gourmet garlic sells for much more than ordinary supermarket garlic, currently bringing as much as $16 a pound. Because the gourmet varieties, like Rocambole, Porcelain and Purple Stripe, are hard to find and have such wonderful flavors, chefs, cooks and “foodies” are eager to buy them when they can be found.
2. What’s the difference between gourmet garlic varieties and ordinary supermarket garlic? Gourmet garlic is a lot like fine wine. There are over a hundred named varieties, each with its own flavor, taste, cooking qualities and uses. There are mild garlics that are best eaten raw or roasted, sweet garlics, hot garlics and combinations, such as the Rocambole varieties which have a full-bodied, savory flavor and a moderately hot, rich taste.
3. What’s the difference between gourmet garlic varieties and elephant garlic? Elephant garlic is not a true garlic, but a member of the leek family, with a mild garlic flavor. This mild flavor makes it easy to add a garlic flavor to a dish, especially soups and stews, without overpowering the dish. The mild flavor and huge bulbs make it a very popular seller at the farmer’s market, and the productivity of elephant garlic means a higher profit for growers.
4. Can I grow gourmet garlic in my climate? Many of the most popular varieties come from Eastern Europe, even a few from Siberia, so they are an adaptive plant and can take very cold winters. For those in a milder climate, the Artichoke, Creole and Silverskin varieties will do well. New growers should plant several varieties their first year, and keep good notes about each variety, especially harvest yield, to find the best picks for their own microclimate.
5. How is gourmet garlic propagated? Each season, growers purchase or save bulbs and plant the cloves in the fall. There are many reputable sellers who can supply bulbs if you’re just starting out as a grower. After your first harvest, select the varieties that do best, and plant the cloves from your biggest bulbs to ensure a good harvest next season.
6. What are the best garlic varieties to grow? Any seasoned garlic grower will tell you the best varieties to grow are the ones that do best in your microclimate. To find them, plant a test patch with two or more cultivars of several varieties, such as Rocambole, Artichoke, Porcelain and Purple Stripe. At the end of your first growing season, you’ll have a better idea of which varieties work best for your climate and market, so you can focus your efforts on those. Also, the varieties that do well for you will likely continue to improve each year, as garlic is very good at adapting to new growing conditions. In some cases, yields can improve by as much as 30% over time!
7. What type of soil is best for growing gourmet garlic? Garlic grows best in fertile, well-drained loamy soil. If your soil does not drain well, consider using raised beds for your garlic patch to improve drainage.
8. Can I actually make money as a small backyard garlic grower? Yes, because the price of gourmet garlic varieties is so high and the yield from intensive planting can bring $8 to $10 per square foot of growing area. Plus, value-added garlic products can easily double your profits.
9. How long does it take to grow a crop of gourmet garlic? Most growers plant their garlic seed cloves in the fall, a few weeks before the first frost. The mature bulbs will be ready to harvest the next summer. By choosing a mix of early-season, mid-season and late-season varieties, you can sell fresh garlic over several months.
10. Who buys gourmet garlic? Because gourmet garlic bulbs can be hard to find, you’ll be able to get full retail prices – currently ranging from$15 to $16 a pound – from consumers who visit the farmer’s market and restaurant chefs. Most growers report selling out at the Saturday market every season.
Other growers prefer to spend a little more time to prepare value-added garlic products, such as garlic powder, garlic-based seasonings, pickled garlic and other gourmet food products to make even more money. Even braided garlic can bring 50% more profit than plain garlic bulbs. Some growers prefer to focus on garlic production, and sell their entire crop to a wholesale buyer, like upscale grocers and organic food distributors.
11. What value-added products can be made from gourmet garlic? Garlic food products are always popular with consumers. Best sellers include garlic vinegars, pickled garlic and garlic chutney. In season, garlic scapes, the false seedpods that appear in the spring, are a once-a-year treat sought after by foodies and chefs. Garlic-based deer repellant and garlic-based insecticide are two products with huge profit margins that sell well year-round.
12. Does gourmet garlic have special nutritional values? The gourmet varieties tend to have a higher allicin content, and that’s the active ingredient that makes garlic such a superfood for enhancing health. Researchers have found garlic can reduce colds by half, lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. The National Cancer Institute has even found that garlic reduces the risk of many common cancers by over 50 percent!
13. How much money can I make growing gourmet garlic? Using a 6” by 6” spacing for garlic plants, growers can expect to harvest about one-half pound per square foot. At current prices, that’s a return of $8 per square foot. Yields and prices for elephant garlic are similar to gourmet garlic.
14. How much does it cost to start a garlic business? Most gardeners already have the basic tools needed, and there are no expensive tools or equipment necessary to grow, harvest and market garlic. Most of the start-up cost for a new grower is buying the seed bulbs. Harvest yields will vary depending on the variety grown, but typically, a pound of seed garlic, costing $16 per pound will produce 8 to 10 pounds of salable bulbs at harvest time. Of course, after your first harvest, you can use your own bulbs for seed instead of purchasing them.
As you can see, growing gourmet garlic can be a profitable business whether you’re a part-timer or a full-timer. You can grow just one raised bed of garlic in your backyard garden to sell, or you can grow an acre’s worth. To discover more about this lucrative specialty crop, read Growing Garlic For Profit.