A couple of days ago, I went to Newton Seed, a company where I source seed potatoes from for planting in the garden every spring. While I was there, I noticed that they also had seed garlic in stock. Mum begged me to buy some and plant it for her, as she loves to use garlic in cooking. It had been a couple of seasons since I have planted garlic and quite a few years since I have grown it successfully. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to return to my glory days (see picture above of our crop hanging out to dry on our washing line) but a small crop for cooking and some to save bulbs for planting the next season would be nice.
If it’s any consolation, I don’t think I’m alone. For the past few seasons, garlic growers seem to have had trouble with their crops. Poor seed garlic has resulted in poor garlic harvests. It is a vicious cycle and I’m not sure how the market will recover, as garlic for planting necessarily depends on harvested garlic. I should have been more careful to have saved garlic from my successful crop. I normally do this, but somewhere along the line I must have slipped up because I lost my own line of seed garlic and now have to rely on fairly poor quality cloves in order to get started again. For the past two seasons, this has deterred me from growing garlic. However this season I’m determined to start all over again and make the best of a bad situation.
There are many different types of garlic that are available for planting. Note that if you plant garlic found at the supermarket and greengrocers which has been imported from China, it will fail to form a bulb as the garlic has been sprayed. If you can find organic or spray-free garlic at the supermarket, this should grow in the garden.
This year, I’m going to grow Printanor (the standard white garlic which you find at the supermarket) and Elephant garlic. As the name suggests, the latter is much bigger than standard garlic. Did you know that Elephant garlic is not actually a type of garlic at all, but rather belongs to the leek family? If you’re after something a little more unusual, have a look at the varieties that Country Trading Co have on offer this season. In addition to Printanor and Elephant garlic, Country Trading also have Southern Softneck garlic, Kakanui garlic, Aoja Roja garlic and Russian Red garlic. Another place where you can source seed garlic from is Setha’s Seeds.
It’s a good idea to order seed garlic now, especially if you’re after the unusual varieties, which tend to sell out quickly. Traditionally, garlic is planted on the shortest day, which is on 21 June. But garlic can be planted any time from now until then. In the past, I have noticed that garlic planted before the shortest day does tend to yield larger balls of garlic. On the other hand, you don’t want to plant garlic too early as the ground needs to be sufficiently cool in order for it to emerge, like all bulbs.
As a bulb, garlic needs to be planted in full sun in order to grow well. The soil also needs to have good drainage. Garlic is a gross feeder so make sure you take the time (and expense!) of preparing the ground well prior to planting. Mix plenty of compost, sheep pellets and garden fertiliser (I like using some bulb food as well) into the ground. This year, I’ve decided that I won’t have a dedicated garlic bed due to space constraints but will instead plant garlic around the new roses I’m putting in this season. Garlic is a good companion plant for roses, as it keeps aphids away. I have grown garlic around my roses in the past with good results. If you are dedicating a separate bed for your garlic, rake the area so it is nice and level.
Separate the cloves from each ball of seed garlic you want to plant. Don’t peel the cloves! Don’t plant your garlic too deep – you need to dig a hole about two times as deep as the clove. Plant the cloves pointy side up and leave about eight centimetres between each clove, maybe a little more for Elephant garlic which will be larger than standard garlic. Water well after planting.
After about 3-4 weeks, you will see garlic appear. Weeds will compete with the garlic for nutrients, so weed the area regularly. It’s a good idea to apply mulch around your garlic to help keep weeds down and to add nutrients to the area. I like using pea straw. It adds nitrogen to the ground and helps to conserve moisture while guarding against weeds.
From August until October, it’s a good idea to liquid feed garlic at fortnightly intervals in order to achieve nice fat balls of garlic. I like using Seasol for this purpose. Seasol is a seaweed tonic which is organic. You can use any under liquid fertiliser though.
Garlic is traditionally harvested on the longest day, which is 21 December. I sometimes wait a week or two before I harvest the garlic. Once you’ve harvested your garlic, remove dirt (wash if necessary but be careful as this reduces the storage life) and leave out to dry. Store in a cool, dry place. I like placing balls of garlic in netted bags and leaving them to hang up inside our pantry. I find that this helps the garlic to keep well.