Helen McKerralGrowing garlic

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.

Good Aussie Garlic

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.

You can buy pots of garlic

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.

Mulch lightly

Mulch lightly until the new shoots emerge

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.

800px-Allium_sativum._Restra_de_allos_de_Oroso-_Galiza

Allium sativum Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga)

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?

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Helen McKerral

About Helen McKerral

Horticultural journalist, photographer, contributor to many garden magazines, and author of 'Gardening on a Shoestring'. Adelaide Hills, South Australia

9 thoughts on “Growing garlic

  1. Arno King on said:

    Hello Helen

    I really envy you being able to grow garlic.

    Its one of the few vegetables (along with rhubarb and Brussels Sprouts ) which dislikes our climate in Brisbane. I’m not a big fan of Brussels Sprouts, but I do like my garlic and would love to grow a crop and try some of those heritage cultivars. We can grow Elephant Garlic (which is more closely related to a leek) – but it really doesn’t compare to the real stuff in flavour.

    I have tried garlic many times, as have many gardeners up here. What a disappointment! Just when you think you might get a crop, along comes our summer rains and it all turns to mush. Old Italian gardeners here realised this long ago and grow the garlic for the leaves. They harvest the leaves through winter and spring and then dig the last of it before the summer rains arrive. Not much of a crop, but better than nothing.

    Arno

  2. Thank you Helen
    Growing garlic the first time from punnets for a client and after reading your blog have a better idea of what I am doing.

  3. helen mckerral on said:

    Hello Arno
    This is probably a way crazy thought, but I recall Paul Urquhart telling me about growing Sturt Desert Pea in Sydney – it survived the wet as long as it had an umbrella over it to protect from the rain! ie. rain, not humidity. Garlic aren’t big growers and can be closely spaced in a smallish area – I wonder whether a cloche, with plastic just on top and the sides all open for ventilation – might work? OTOH, those Italian gardeners know their onions (and garlic!) far better than I do and if the Nonnas have given up in your climate, I’m sure there’s VERY good reason!

  4. helen mckerral on said:

    Oh, and Sandra – good luck with your garlic – I’d appreciate feedback re your harvest in summer!

  5. Frank Finnigan on said:

    I was at the Noosa Farmer’s Market on sunday and spoke with a farmer there and he told me that the best time to sow garlic bulbs (organic), not from shops but direct from farmers is March in SE Qld for large, sweet garlic bulbs. Hope this helps anybody in Qld trying to grow garlic like me

  6. Tom lantry on said:

    Yes Helen, use the good australian stock. I have benn growing my own garlic now for about 5 years after obtaining a few varieties from an organic grower in scone. people can’t believe the difference to the imported stuff available in supermarkets from china. excellent tip on Nitrogen Levels as bulbs form .
    thanks Tom

  7. I too, have had no luck with garlic in the south east of Queensland. Thought it might have been too little water, then too much. In any case, I had a pathetic result. I would rather buy Aussie growers garlic and concentrate on things that grow successfully here with less angst. I have tried the elephant garlic. Bought it from a farmer who grows it in Warwick. Perhaps a drier clime? I any case, I find it delicious and equally pungent and easier to peel.

  8. Nathan on said:

    I have just grown 35 bulbs of garlic in SE QLD it needs to be planted in March and harvested the first week in November otherwise it will get wet with the rain and storms

  9. Polly on said:

    I live on the Gold Coast and could never grow garlic successfully, so I did a bit of research and found out the best time to plant garlic is Easter time (Autumn Equinox). Also put the garlic in the fridge for a month before planting because it needs to go through the cold stage.

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