“There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic”, so said the French culinary writer Louis Diat, and we would tend to agree. Nothing beats the satisfaction of tucking into a delicious plate of spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino seasoned with your own home grown garlic! It’s time to get your cloves planted. Below we divulge the secrets of growing good garlic the organic way.
CROP ROTATION: Garlic is a great soil fumigator so plant in beds where you suspect the previous crop may have had fungal problems. It’s part of the Alliaceae family which are all light feeders so you can plant following a heavy feeder like tomatoes, corn or cucumbers.
COMPANIONS: Hated by vampires and garden pests alike the potent aroma of garlic can be harnessed for the good of your garden! It will deter aphids from roses and fruit trees and can help to distract the cabbage white butterfly if planted amongst your brassicas. It’s said that peas and beans don’t grow well next to garlic or onions and vice versa.
WHEN & WHERE TO PLANT: In Melbourne plant anywhere from March to the winter solstice. Plant an early variety like Tasmanian Purple for an early harvest. Garlic takes about seven or eight months to grow so make sure you are willing to dedicate part of your garden to it for that long. Plant in a full sun position with the cloves pointy-end up about 10-20cm apart. They should shoot through in about two weeks.
SOIL: Your soil should be friable, free-draining and have a neutral to alkaline pH. If you’ve added lots of compost and manure you might need to throw in a bit of lime to counteract the acidity. If growing in containers make sure you have about 30cm depth of good quality organic potting mix otherwise you will end up with small cloves. Mulch with pea straw or lucerne, this will keep the soil moist as it gets warmer, discourage weeds and provide nutrient as it breaks down. The bulbs start to develop as days get longer so a top up with organic fertiliser at around the winter solstice will super-charge your growth.
WATER & WHEN TO HARVEST: During winter you shouldn’t need to water too much but with the crazy weather we have been having who knows? If rainfall isn’t consistent try not to let the soil dry out, especially as it gets warmer. Some folk say to cut off all flowers that form (called scapes) as they take energy away from the swelling bulbs, but we like to leave one or two for the beneficial insects and tasty little bulbils that develop. You can harvest early as garlic scallions/sprouts or new garlic in the spring but these crops don’t store well. You’ll know to harvest for fully mature bulbs when the beautiful green tops start bending and turning yellow. Don’t wait until they have turned completely brown as you will lose the skin of the garlic to rot and it won’t store as well. If you don’t get to harvest in time consider pickling the cloves in vinegar or making confit garlic, yum! When harvested on time the stalks should be allowed to dry with the bulbs for a few weeks. You can then braid the garlic and make a rustic and delicious ornament to hang in the kitchen. Simply snap off a bulb from the top each time you are cooking. Folk tradition says hanging garlic in the house also wards off evil spirits! Bonus!
CERES Nursery has four Victorian grown organic garlic varieties available for planting this season:
Red Creole is hardneck variety, meaning it has a hard, central stalk coming up from the centre of the bulb. The cloves have a beautiful crimson skin and a strong flavour.
Spanish Roja is another hardneck. It has a rich, sweet, deep and complex flavour with some initial heat.
Tasmanian Purple is also a hardneck with a strong flavour, hot when raw, mild when cooked.
Giant Russian (syn. Elephant Garlic) is technically a leek that produces bulbs with a milder garlic flavour that can be eaten raw. Living up to its name, its cloves are four to five centimetres in diameter! This variety stores longer than most garlics and produces a very impressive purple flower.