Easy to grow garlic is an essential
Some crops are easier to grow than others. This week we are focusing on one that is about as easy as it gets – garlic. This marvellous stuff, essential in so many styles of cuisine, almost grows itself. Garlic is really good for you, and really useful in the garden as it is a natural insect repellent. I use a couple of heads of garlic every week – I just can’t imagine cooking without it.
Garlic (allium sativum) is a member of the allium family, along with leeks, shallots and onions. The heads of garlics are made up of several cloves, and we use these cloves to grow new plants. Each clove will produce one plant, with one head of garlic. The bulbs grow underground, with the leaves up in the air like shallots or onions. The leaves are flattish strappy, and the root system is shallow and fibrous. Pretty heads holding clusters of small purple flowers may be produced, but they are sterile, so garlic doesn’t have true seed.
Garlic can be planted in autumn or winter, and will be ready to harvest in late spring/summer.
When planting garlic, choose a site that gets plenty of sun and where the soil is well-drained and not too damp. Dig in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure before planting. Plant individual cloves with the pointy end facing upwards, about 2-3cm deep and 10cm apart. Rows should be about 20-30cm apart.
Feed the plants a few times during the growing season, and water as required to keep the leaves growing strongly. As the garlic reaches maturity, the stems will begin to soften and dry. Stop watering now. The leaves too will start to turn brown and die off. Harvest the bulbs by easing them out carefully with a garden fork. This usually occurs from November to February. If you’re not sure whether they are ready, dig up one plant and check it. If you’re too early, the cloves will be very small. If you are too late, the head will have split and the cloves will be difficult to find.
The next stage is really important. The garlic must be dried properly, or it will rot. Gently brush off the excess soil, trim the roots, and hang or lay the bulbs in a cool, dry place. You can cut the tops off at this stage too, or leave them on so you can use them to braid the bulbs together for a decorative storage idea.
Garlic is a good companion for many other garden plants, including roses, fruit trees, tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, potatoes, brassicas (like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale), and carrots. Keep it away from beans and peas as it may stunt their growth.
You can plant any garlic cloves as long as they haven’t been treated with a growth suppressant. But it’s a good idea to plant certified disease-free cloves as some of the viruses that can affect productivity are transmitted through the bulbs.