The time is coming for me to plant my first lot of garlic. I will be planting elephant garlic, specifically because the rust seems to attack all other varieties in my warm, humid neck of the woods, except the elephant variety. I have bought a kilo of bulbs from a reliable organic source and am ready to go.
For me, growing garlic is one of those long-standing, utterly joyous traditions of gardening. When I first began learning to grow, I was initiated into a special ritual of planting garlic on Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) and harvesting on Summer Solstice (the longest day), when we would celebrate nature’s seasons by getting together with friends, gathering round a big fire, and feasting on our organic bounty. I have such fond memories – but this is sadly a tradition I can no longer partake in, due to the micro-climate of Waiheke Island, which isn’t as hospitable to my poor garlic cloves as it is to me…!
However, if you’re a new gardener, or just a garden-lover, I wholeheartedly urge you to delight in this tradition – if your climate allows it. It’s a precious way to tune into the cycles of the season and to nourish yourself with home-grown flavour and fun.
So let’s get cracking – here’s what you need to know:
When should I plant garlic?
Friday 4th and Saturday 5th of May are the optimum planting days here on the island, however a few days before is ok too. Sometimes when we have busy schedules, it is challenging to take action on the optimum days of the moon, so I always allow myself the flexibility of a few days before. If you’re in a cooler climate, you can plant next month and harvest a month later accordingly.
Where should I plant it?
This year, I will be sowing my first lot in a mobile raised bed. I have prepared this bed like a compost pile from the previous season’s growing. Now in preparation for the garlic, I will remove the top 30cm of soil and tip in 120 litres of Bokashi; add some carbon in the form of straw and place the soil back on top, mixed up with some vermicast and compost that is ready. By doing this, the bed will have enough food for the season underground and I will supplement this with liquid feed when it starts to bulb up in spring.
How do I plant garlic?
If you’re planning to plant elephant garlic too, the spacing of bulbs needs to be more generous than your average garlic – as the title suggests, ELEPHANT is a big species. If you’re growing other varieties, you can space them closer together. Remember though that garlic is not that fond of being crowded out by other plants. Give it space and let it do its thing. Remember to also cut the flower stalk off the elephant garlic to stop the energy going up into the flower, rather than the bulbs. Elephant garlic can be created into a perennial but that’s another story.
When planting the bulb, it is important to plant the right way up, with the pointy bit at the top. Some of you may laugh but, believe me, if you are new to gardening how would you know!
The easiest way to learn to plant garlic is to remember the depth you plant garlic is twice the length of the clove. The reason for this is that garlic needs to be able to establish long roots in order to support the formation of the new bulb and its leaves above ground. I distance my rows between 15 -20cms which seems to work well.
What do I do next to get a great crop of garlic?
Once the bulb has been pushed in the ground, firm the soil over the top and add a layer of mulch over the top (not too thick). I find this will suppress the weeds until the bulb sprouts up through the ground, giving the garlic a good start. Once all bulbs are up – and this can take up to a month – I will add another layer of mulch and forget about them until spring.
Garlic is a great addition to your garden, and to your diet – it’s perfect in so many dishes, stores well all winter long and even generates its own seed.
Good luck and get in touch with your questions!