It’s Garlic Time

I have been vegetable gardening for 40 years but there is still lots to learn. Last year was the first time we had ever grown garlic. The crop was fabulous. It was so easy and we have been enjoying the harvest since early summer. Some has been given away, some saved for planting this autumn and we still have more in the larder for the coming winter, all this from just two heads (or 40 cloves of garlic).

Garlic can be grown in a small space and offers a good crop with minimal effort. People with a tiny plot, ‘or just a corner’ could easily grow garlic, but it does take time, allow between 4 to 6 months.

Last year our ‘cloves’ were sourced from the local green grocer Greg.  He had great organic garlic grown at nearby Winchelsea. We had been using it in the kitchen, happy with the small food footprint and even happier that we were supporting a local grower. When a couple of the cloves started to shoot I thought ‘what have we got to lose? Let’s plant some!’ We visited Greg’s, selected the best looking heads with the fattest cloves and went to work.

Garlic heads and cloves from last seasons harvest
Garlic heads and cloves from last seasons harvest

If you decide to purchase garlic from your green grocer make sure it is sourced from an organic Australian grower. Some garlic, particularly imported stock, is sprayed with retardants to prevent shooting. Garlic sprayed with retardant will not grow and will leave you deeply disappointed. I recommend trying to find a source of garlic that is grown in the region where you live, then you will be sure that the species is suitable to grow in your area, think a 100 km radius. Local farmers markets would be an excellent source.

This year we are growing two varieties, 40 cloves of the best from last years harvest and a further 40 cloves sourced from Diggers. The new variety is ‘Ail de Pays du Ger’, is a hard neck variety that should store for up to 12 months. Our own garlic, of Winchelsea origin, is an unknown soft neck type and we are yet to discover its storage life.

 How to Plant and Grow Garlic

Preparing the soil properly is the key to growing most vegetables successfully.  The soil on our East Geelong property is heavy, black plastic clay and forms big clods. It needs lots of organic material worked through to be friable enough to plant anything. Firstly the garden beds were forked over (I prefer a fork to a spade, its kinder to the worms and helps to comb through the soil) and a generous sprinkling of gypsum applied (about a handful per sq metre). This is done every time an area is prepared and is gradually helping to break down the ‘clods’. A good layer of manure (well rotted chicken and cow blend) was added as well as a good lot of homemade compost. If you don’t have the homemade good stuff on hand you could purchase manure at your local nursery and mix this with mushroom compost.

Garden bed forked over after being spread with manure and compost
Garden bed forked over after being spread with manure and compost

I also added coconut fibre, this material is extremely light and mixed with the heavy soil produces a fine ‘tilth’. Tilth is a descriptor for a magic soil texture that is neither too heavy nor too light. A texture that is fine enough for plant roots to grow through but heavy enough to anchor them.   An old gardening term with poetic qualities.

Garlic heads are made up of a cluster of cloves. The outer cloves are always the largest and the best for planting.  Every cook has found shooting garlic cloves and discarded them as ‘old’ and low grade for cooking. If these were planted the young shoots would grow, feeding the bulblet at the bottom to form a new head of garlic for harvesting, if planted now it will be ready in time for Christmas.

Each clove is attached at the bottom to a woody base where last years root system grew.   The base of each clove is also where new roots will develop for the next crop. The top of each clove is pointy and is where green shoots will appear and grow through the winter and spring.

Garlic head showing the dried woody stem and roots at the base.  The woody end of each clove must be planted downward so roots can easily form
Garlic head showing the dried woody stem and roots at the base. The woody end of each clove must be planted downward so roots can easily form

Different varieties of garlic have different shapes but planting rules are the same – plant the cloves with the woody bit down and the pointy bit up. Plant each clove about 10cm apart and about 4cm max deep. I have allowed 20cm between rows, this is enough room to put in a quick ‘catch crop’ such as radish or lettuce.

This year our garlic is set out in two beds, with two rows to each bed and 20 cloves in each row. If it is successful there will be 80 heads of garlic. We have marked the beds with small stakes to remind everyone that something is growing there. It may take a week or a month (depending on variety) for the new shoots to appear and in the meantime we don’t want big feet tramping over the bed, compacting the soil and crushing the shoots.

Rows of garlic cloves spaced at 10cm intervals and ready to plant
Rows of garlic cloves spaced at 10cm intervals and ready to plant

A gentle reminder, keep the water up during the cooler months. Dry cold conditions are terrible for plants. Gardeners often forget to water during the cooler months and lose plants to ‘winter drought’.  As the garlic grows we will list new blog posts so you can follow the crop to harvest. But in the meantime, try some, you may be surprised by how easy it is to grow this no fuss (low fuss) crop.

Final update: Yahoo……… over the past week while I have been preparing soil, planting, taking photo’s and writing some of my garlic is shooting, these are the cloves planted from last years harvest.

First garlic shoot for the season, less than a week from planting

Happy gardening and good luck with your garlic planting

Helena

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