Garlic is by far one of our favourite crops to grow. Once you do your soil preparation you can literally pop it in the ground and forget about it (with the exception of a few weeding sessions) for 6 months. You can then harvest, make garlic braids and decorate your home against vampires - definitely one of the more perfect crops out there. Even though Winter is still 6 weeks away in Tasmania, we plant ours in the first half of April to make sure it gets some ‘warmth’ to kick-start it into life before the real Winter kicks in.
Earlier this year, we went to Koonya’s (a little town in S.E Tassie) first ever garlic festival which was as amazing as it sounds. We had an absolute ball, ate ice-cream, saw some of the biggest garlics ever, made new ‘garlic friends’ and came away with $100 worth of the finest garlic you ever did see which we’ve just planted this week. The varieties we came home with have names like Chris’s split purple garlic from Koonya, Jenny’s Deloraine purple garlic and elephant garlic from Oatlands – this personal naming approach is so Tasmanian it’s not funny.
Some of the beauties on display for the garlic auctions – which we were enthusiastic bidders in.
Garlic likes full sunlight and well draining soils. We’ve got ‘so-so’ soils at our home, heavy clay on dolerite bedrock. We’ve had an excavator through our site, so some of our subsoil is a bit too close to the top soil regions for our liking. In some patches it’s like gardening in lego blocks – clods of clay, so we add things like sand and certain mineral inputs (more on that below) to remediate it, slowly but surely. Always get a soil test before you add starting things to make sure your inputs are spot on.
We added some sharp, washed sand (ideally we would have liked potting sand) that we had on hand, we could have easily put in 3 times as much as we had available to us at the time – but this is better than nothing. The sand’s job is to increase our heavy clay soil’s drainage, air pockets and therefore friability.
Next up, we put a mix of copper sulphate and gypsum on which will improve our soil’s structure and ensure we grow nutritious food. The soil test we got informed us that we needed these two elements and also provided particular quantities. Your soils may need something completely different, so be sure to get your own soils tested.
A thin layer (a few centimeters) of compost is the last thing we put on
Lastly, we added a layer of compost (a few centimetres) to provide some extra nourishment for the soil food web and ‘massaged’ the soil with the garden fork to integrate these inputs and aerate the soil. Importantly, we’re not turning the soil, we’re jiggling it with the garden fork and working/walking backwards so we don’t compact the ground with our body weight.
And then? The we document everything we’ve done in our garden book so we don’t forget – because no matter how much you think you’ll remember – you’ll forget. This little book holds all the garden records of each of our beds and therefore is like gold in our home!
Planting time. It may sound obvious, but make sure you plant your garlic with their flat bum down (this is where the roots will spring forth from) and pointy hat facing the sky. Only plant your biggest, healthiest cloves – if you do have smaller ones take them back into the kitchen and eat them.
The elephant garlic up close. Did you know that it’s technically not even a garlic and actually classified as a variation of a leek? I didn’t, the things you learn at the Koonya Garlic Festival!
How deep should you plant them? at least their height in depth – I’ve also heard of some people planting them deeper (twice their height). The good news is that they’re pretty hardy, so you an afford to play around with these details to see what provides the best yield.
Plant the bulbs as close as you can. Imagine a fully grown corm (corms are the complete ‘casing’ which house individual garlic cloves) and plant to allow room for the corms to fully develop and add a few millimetres on top of this – this way you can literally pack in hundreds or thousands of bulbs into a compact space.
One of the main threats to healthy garlic is getting wet feet which can lead to white root rot. This disease basically erodes your garlic corm and you’re left with nothing, or severely damaged goods. If you do get this (I’ve been there, don’t worry) it’s important to avoid growing anything in the allium family (onions, shallots, chives etc) for up to 7 years (eek) in the same location as there’s a strong chance it will come back.
Image from here
To prevent this from occurring, only buy clean planting stock with no history of white root rot and plant them on little mounds to help excess water drain away from the roots. If you have really well draining soils you don’t need to do this – lucky duck.
As this particular garden bed is fairly wide we’ve added a basic plank path down the centre to help us access everything easily and to avoid walking over the beds.
Want to get your sols tested?
We got our soils tested with Tasmanian based, Steve Solomon (author of Growing Vegetables South of Australia and The Intelligent Gardener) – Steve will test for nutrients ONLY, you can find him here. If you’d like to test for heavy metals and other contaminants (and you’re in Tasmania) go through either;
Good resources to investigate…
- Growing Great Garlic: A good book which was recommended to us by Jenny from the Koonya garlic festival – FULL of good information for the beginner and experienced grower.
- Another ace garlic blog from Northwest Edible Life.
* Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.