How to Grow Garlic

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.

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 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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

10 Responses to “How to Grow Garlic”

  1. Jayatma

    Great article, just in time for my first garlic planting experiment.

    Reply
  2. Mark Horstman

    Thanks for this Hannah (I think we’re just downhill from you). Planted my first garlic crop just this morning. Now I’ve read this, maybe I’ll go and add some more and plant them closer. Greedy for garlic!

    Reply
  3. Ann Hofen

    I found it really hard to find info on garlic planting in Australia. Our first year was really successful, but with the past two plantings, we have not been as successful. I won’t plant elephant garlic again, as it came up by itself the next year and I think it was the reason our new plantings were not successful and besides the flavour was more like onion and not very garlicky at all. We just live on a smallish suburban block with not much sun but our garden soil is wonderful – it’s beautiful brown aluvial soil as the area used to be reedbeds near the River Torrens in SA. We tend to plant in July but I will be checking out the web resources you provided. Love the idea of the garlic festival too.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      I hear you on the elephant garlic Anne, definitely not the tastiest at all! Planting garlic in June/July obviously works, there’s an old saying that says you should plant on the shortest day (in late June) and harvest on the longest day (late Dec). But over the years I’ve gotten earlier and earlier as I’ve moved to southern Australia as I’ve found it helps get a better yield.

      Reply
      • Ann Hofen

        Hi Hannah, I’m getting ready to buy our corms at an organic market in the next few weeks. This year I’m going to plant a lot more now that I know that we can pack ‘em in a bit tighter. We are growing them in the same place as we have always previously done (no choice) so given that we’ve not had any rot problems in the past, it should be okay to use same area, right? What would you suggest digging into the soil to prepare, even though the soil is pretty rich already? Mushroom compost? Thanks for your advice.

        Reply
        • Hannah Moloney

          Hi Anne,

          If you’re forced to plant crops in the same place, just make sure that in between seasons you grow crops from different families in there to break any build up of ‘garlic bacteria’ (that’s not the right term, but you get the idea). Garlic is susceptible to things like white root rot – if you get this then you’re meant to not plant anything in the allium family for 7-9 years in that location as it can come back in force and ruin your crops. If you already have rick soil you probably don’t need to add anything, the most important thing is that it can drain freely. Make sure you put a garden fork through the soil to encourage this – don’t turn the soil, just massage it so you’re increasing the air pockets. Hope this helps!

          Reply
  4. Timmy B

    Thanks Hannah. Great info. We’ve just planted ours but you’ve inspired us to get some more in the ground. There’s no such thing as too much garlic !!

    Reply
  5. Kate

    hi Hannah, a friend has just given me some garlic to plant, need to get it in the ground ASAP but…. Bed not ready. We’re making a new bed on our gravel driveway / sandstone base, so planning to get in a load of soil from ? Males sand in south hobart. What type of soil depth will garlic need? Any recommendations for the quickest preparation option? Many thanks Kate

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Kate,
      Males Sands stocks some compost which is good, however it’s from the South Hobart Landscape supplies, so you can save money by going direct through them. Just call the Hobart Council to get in touch with them. I’d probably lay down a thick layer of woodchips (which you can also get from So Ho/Council landscape supplies) first then some of their compost on top. In terms of depth – at least 20cm of the compost and approx 10cm of the woodchips. Garlics don’t have massive roots systems, you just need to make sure the need can drain freely (that’s really important). Good luck!

      Reply

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