Companion Planting with Garlic

VOLA… My garlic has sprouted!!!

Proof that a combination of warm soil and mild autumn days promotes a spurt of growth before the winter cold sets in.  If you haven’t planted any garlic yet there is still time, you have till the end of May, but the sooner the better.

The first garlic sprout shooting up through the damp earth
The first garlic sprout shooting up through the damp earth

The first variety to sprout was the soft neck ‘Winchelsea Organic’ (sourced from last years crop, I am yet to identify the variety). To my great surprise it was less than a week when I noticed the first green shoot. By week two a row of green spears was sitting upright in the planting bed.

In just a week the shoots are growing leaves and forming rows
In just a week the shoots are growing leaves and forming rows

 

The hard neck variety ‘Ail de Pays du Ger’ has taken a little longer. I began to wonder if they were going to be successful and poked about to see what was happening. I was relieved to find the cloves looked fine and were showing signs of growth. Just last weekend I spotted the first spear and now they are also popping up. Neat rows of plants will soon line both beds.

Yesterday I took advantage of a beautiful autumn afternoon and also planted a row of radish and radicchio between the garlic rows. The purpose of this is to make the most of the space and maximize what I get from the bed. The garlic will take 4 to 6 months while the smaller winter ‘greens’ will be quick. They are also a reminder to water the crop – especially when plants are young.  Dry cold weather is a certain danger for young plants.  Gardeners often lose a crop because of ‘winter drought’.

 

Seed mixed and ready to take out to the garden.  A white bowl helps to manage the seed outside
Seed mixed and ready to take out to the garden. A white bowl helps to manage the seed outside

 

Radish grows very quickly and I anticipate picking some by the end of May, maybe sooner. The radicchio is slower, about the same speed as lettuce, 10 to 12 weeks. I will be picking these through winter and early spring. Both species need to be sown at a depth of 4mm, so make a perfect pair to grow together. The radish seed is largish and easy to see and feel, while the radicchio seed is very fine. By mixing them together it makes an easy task of sowing the seed.

 

Radish seed is very granular, while the radicchio is fine and feathery
Radish seed is very granular, while the radicchio is fine and feathery

 

Before I started I removed a small scatter of grassy weeds, then carefully ‘combed’ down the middle of each row of garlic with my favourite single tine hoe, all the time being careful not to disturb the garlic cloves. This wonderful tool can be dragged along to create a furrow, finding and breaking clods and providing a loose bed for the new seeds to germinate and set roots. I broke up clods with my hand then sprinkled the seeds evenly along the row. First I do a light sprinkle along the whole row, then repeat the light sowing a second and third time. This way I am sure that seed will be evenly dispersed.

The new furrow formed between rows of garlic. Note that seed is divided into two lots for the two separate garlic beds.
The new furrow has been formed between rows of garlic. Note that seed is divided into two lots for the two separate garlic beds.  The gaps in the garlic are where there is a ‘miss’, I will fill this now with an extra clove.

 

After I have spread the seed I then take some of the soil from an adjoining area and lightly sprinkle with crumbly earth to cover the seed. Remember 4 mm is the recommended depth. This is not very much soil, it is very easy to sow seed to deeply. If you sow seed deeply nothing will appear, the seed will not be stimulated by the light and will just rot in the ground. I suspect sowing seed deeply is a regular cause of failure and disappointment.

 

Be careful not to sow  seed to deeply.  Cover seed with a fine tilth and gently firm with the back of your hand.
Be careful not to sow seed to deeply. Cover seed with a fine tilth and gently firm with the back of your hand.

 

The final job is to firm the row, I do this with the back of my hand, gently pressing the soil along the sowing line.

Very few seeds like compacted soil, most prefer a fine tilth.   This allows new shoots to grow upward and break the surface and roots to penetrate down and anchor the new young plant. Take care not to compact the soil too much when you firm the seed down.

The next step is a quick light sprinkle to moisten the fine soil and new seeds. It is important not to flood the crumbled soil, everything is so fine it will easily wash away. During autumn seeds will need to be dampened with a light sprinkle every 3 to 4 days. This is something that depends on the weather and you will have to judge this timing yourself.

The same technique is used to sow lettuce and a variety of greens. Mixing granule like radish seed with feathery lettuce seed is a great way to quickly ‘mark’ the sowing line. This technique also helps to break the surface soil that can sometimes become ‘biscuity’ and stop germination.

In the meantime enjoy the mild autumn days. The light in the leaves and the colour in the garden is wonderful.

 

Autumn colour on a perfect autumn day.
Autumn colour on a perfect autumn day.

 

Happy Gardening

Helena and Frankie

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