Garlic – yum! Our household goes through a knob a week or more, triple that when I’m harvesting tomatoes and making passata to freeze! Although I grew garlic many years ago, plantings in the last decade have been less successful because nowhere has quite enough sun in the old garden… but once again, hooray! Plenty of sun in the new area! Garlic is easy to grow as long as you meet its straightforward requirements.
1. Choose good cloves, that is, large ones from healthy knobs. Planting small cloves results in small knobs, so plant only the fattest ones from the outside of the knob, and save the inner ones for cooking. Avoid knobs from supermarkets: they’ve almost always been treated with inhibitors to delay sprouting. Instead, buy your garlic knobs from an organic supplier so you know they haven’t been treated with nasties. Avoid knobs or cloves that have any mould on them or are starting to perish – below the papery shell they should be firm, creamy and unblemished.
You can buy garlic in little pots from nurseries but, at about $4.00+ for three sprouting cloves this is poor value when a year’s supply would cost around $70. However, my local nursery now stocks small plastic punnets of garlic cloves from a specialist supplier (www.goodaussiegarlic.biz). This garlic is specifically for planting into home gardens, and the punnet contains about two dozen plump cloves. At around $12 retail, this still seemed expensive to me but, when a customer returned to buy more, raving about how quickly and consistently the cloves had sprouted, I thought I’d give them a try.
2. Choose a sunny spot.
3. Prepare the soil well, with plenty of old compost and manure (you can sprinkle a bit of blood and bone around after the cloves sprout). Or, if you’ve had time, green manure crops. You want a rich, friable, well-drained growing medium. Add gypsum to heavy soils, and lime to acid ones.
4. Plant at the correct time of year. Garlic is a daylight sensitive plant, forming leaf growth as daylight shortens through autumn into winter, and bulb growth as daylight lengthens in spring and summer. In the past, I’ve planted cloves in June, but March – May is also okay. Anecdotally, for my local region at least, May seems to be the most popular month, so it’s possible my timing was late.
5. Plant at the correct depth, so the top (pointy end) of the clove is around two centimetres below the surface, and 10-15 centimetres apart (no need to space the rows more widely except for ease of weed control). Or dot them around the vegie patch in any open spaces.
6. Mulch lightly with a loose material like pea straw initially, then more heavily later.
7. Control weeds – garlic, like onion, hates competition. The mulch helps with this, but pull weeds while they’re still small.
8. Water regularly, and also fertilise regularly with seaweed extract to keep plants growing vigorously for as long as possible, until the bulbs start to form in spring (excess nitrogen can cause side shoots to form). At this point, also reduce or stop watering so that the bulb can dry before being lifted (usually in December – early January in my area). Definitely cease all watering at least three weeks before harvest.
9. Harvest plants when most leaves have yellowed but when a few greenish ones are still attached, and before the stems topple. Bunch or braid the stems into a rope, then hang them in a cool, well-ventilated spot, such as a large shed or, as I did, under an open carport.
Aphids sometimes attack stems but you can use soap sprays or white oil to control them. No fantastic pictures from my plants as yet, just one or two shoots poking up through the mulch!
There you go: easy! Nothing complicated, and the flavour of home-grown garlic is so much better, both richer and sweeter, than the supermarket stuff that’s been stored for heaven knows how long, sprayed with lots of chemicals and travelled from across the sea. If you do buy garlic, why not give our local farmers a hand and choose the Australian-grown version?