Time has whizzed past again, if I am already writing about planting garlic! Autumn is nearly here and the seasons are changing.
In my experience, it is best to get the ground prepped for garlic planting ahead of time, so it is all ready when you go to pop the bulbs in.
My experience of growing garlic spans nearly 30 years, however sadly over the last 4 odd years it has proved a very difficult plant to grow up here in the warmer areas of New Zealand, with bulbs not forming to capacity and the dreaded attack of rust due to humidity. These must surely be the signs of global warming.
Gone are my days of planting 500 bulbs and having the ritual of planting at Winter Solstice (shortest day) and Harvest at Summer Solstice (longest day), where celebrations would be big with a fire, and friends, and usually a feast of some kind.
Now for me the only type of garlic I dare grow is Elephant garlic, which isn’t really garlic; more a bulbing leek with a mild flavour, as this seems to be rust resistant.
Sowing times have also changed, with myself and many fellow gardeners planting mainly in May, and just a few experiments in June and July. Garlic is a member of the Allium (onion) family and takes about 6 months to mature.
- Preparing your ground for the garlic crop
Garlic prefers a sunny, well-drained spot, and it likes soil that is rich in organic matter (humus).
When preparing my bed, I tend to use this as a great opportunity to empty my worm farms of their vermicast and incorporate this into the soil. I also like to add my leaf mould from the previous season.
It is always good to think ahead in the garden. So this year when all the leaves are falling, collect them up in a pile and cover and they will be great leaf mould for the following season, which in turn will create rich humus in the soil and a better biological life.
Garlic likes rich, friable soil, so that is why it is good to work it ahead of planting time. Make sure you crumble down the bigger lumps, which require more watering and feeding, as there is limited space for the roots. If your soil is poor you could always sow a quick green manure crop now like mustard, which will fix nitrogen and give you good organic matter for your biological life in the soil.
- Soft neck or hard neck garlic?
One of the biggest differences between soft neck and hard neck garlic is their appearance. However, your choice may also be strongly dictated by the climate within which you are growing.
Hard neck garlic has a long flowering stem that grows from the centre of the bulb and therefore cannot be plaited. Also they form bulbils around the bulb, which can be planted the following year but will take two years of growing to form proper cloves. The number of cloves that form on hard neck garlic are usually between 4-10. Hard neck garlic is better suited to a cooler climate where it is very hardy and seems to thrive in the cold.
Soft neck garlic is suited more to a warmer climate and forms smaller cloves. There can be between 8 – 20 cloves in each bulb. In stressful conditions, soft neck garlic can bolt and sometimes produce bulbils on the top of the bulb. Soft neck garlic generally stores better and can have a storage life of up to 9 months, whereas hard neck sometimes only stores for 4 or so months.
- Choosing your bulbs for planting
A word of caution when choosing your bulbs for planting. Do NOT buy any old bulbs from the supermarket. Most garlic is grown in China and will have been heavily sprayed, and is then bleached before it reaches our market. Yuck!
An experiment I did a few years ago was to peel garlic that was grown in China and soak it in oil for a month. The oil turned blue(!!!) from all the chemicals oozing out. Furthermore, what is imported is usually dipped in a substance to prevent it from sprouting, to give it a better shelf life.
Healthy bulbs are important – bulbs free of mites and that have been properly dried from the season before. Trade Me is actually a good place to look or some organic suppliers online.
Now is the time to order your seed garlic and prepare your beds, so let’s get cracking! Next month, I will explain the best ways to plant your garlic and the care it needs over the six months in the ground.