Garlic is easy to grow and deserves a place in your vegie patch, or even in your ornamental garden. With growing concern over the quality, growing conditions and chemical treatment of the readily available, imported garlic, more and more gardeners are having a go at growing their own. Even apart from the questionable inputs when grown overseas, the imported garlic is treated with growth inhibitors to stop it sprouting on the shelf, bleached to make it look white and healthy, and then in quarantine, it is fumigated with more nasties. So, at what point does this imported garlic lose its super food status. Home grown garlic has a flavour and juiciness unlike any other, and it is full of wonderful, health giving properties.
Autumn is garlic planting time and here are my top 10 tips to growing garlic.
- Full Sun – Garlic needs to grow in an open sunny site and like other alliums such as chives, spring onions and leeks, if grown in semi shade is more likely to suffer insect pests like aphids.
- Well drained fine soil – Garlic prefers to grow in good soil with fine tilth, so if you have a spare bed now, why not enrich the soil with organic matter such as compost or aged manure. Once you have improved the soil, leave it for a month or two to settle in, as this soil improvement is best done well in advance, not left till the last minute.
- Planting – Garlic is a compound bulb made up of bulblets that we call cloves. Break open a whole head of garlic into individual cloves and plant these separately, but only do this at the time of planting, or the cloves will wither. If the soil is fine, simply push a hole into the soil with your finger and drop the bulbs in, pointy end up, at depth of 5-7cm. Space the cloves 10-15cm apart in rows 15-30cm apart. Generally, we get best results and the biggest harvest from the fattest cloves, which are usually on the outside of the head of garlic, although even the small cloves in the centre will still grow. If you are short on space, just plant out the large cloves to produce good heads and plant the small cloves in a pot to use as garlic shoots when they grow.
- Patience – Garlic takes up to eight months before its ready to harvest, so if you are really impatient plant garlic chives which can be harvested to flavor cooking within a month or two.
- Feeding – this is not necessary if you planted into improved soil, however if not try liquid feeding every two weeks or treat with worm juice.
- No weeds – Like all alliums, garlic doesn’t like the root competition from weeds, so this is another reason to use mulch and keep them weed free.
- Watering – Garlic grows over winter and once the garden starts to dry out in spring it does need to be watered. Letting garlic dry out may affect bulb development. However, when the outer leaves start to dry out, gradually reduce watering so that the skin has a chance to dry out and form a protective coat.
- Harvesting – When there are only four to six green leaves left, the bulbs should be ready to harvest however inspect around the base of one bulb to see if you can see or feel the swelling and separation of individual cloves within the whole. Dig carefully with a fork as they can still be bruised at this point.
- Curing – Leave the harvest to dry and harden off in the shade before cleaning the bulbs up, rubbing off dried roots and removing any dirt. Soft neck varieties can be plaited at this time.
- Storing – Store plaits or bunches in a dry airy place under 25 degrees and always keep the biggest cloves to plant out next year. Some varieties can keep for up to 12 months.
There are many different garlic varieties which are either classified as early, mid and late season. Early varieties can be planted once the worst of the heat is over which is usually around April and are ready to harvest in late spring, while mid-season varieties are planted in May and late season varieties in June and aren’t harvested till the end of the year or even in January. If anything, I would suggest that you plant more rather than less, as friends and family members will just love you for sharing your garlic around.