Choosing and Planting Garlic

It’s the time of the year in the temperate southern hemisphere to be planting garlic so that in 6-8 months you can be digging up deliciousness like this:

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Growing garlic has been one of my favourite things of the past few years. It seems fairly easy (although I know lots of people who have had poor results) and it is such a useful crop – you can easily grow a year’s worth in a small space. You can use/eat it at several stages in its growth, and you can even pick part of it (the scape) and leave the bulb for later. And it’s economical – locally grown garlic is not cheap in Australia. And it’s attractive in an architectural way. I just adore it. Did I mention I adore it?

Sourcing Garlic

Do not buy conventional (non-certified organic garlic) from your local shop, and do not buy internally imported garlic. This has been sprayed with a sprout inhibitor, and you will either not get any green growth, or it will be too late in the season or too weak to support bulb growth. Also make sure you buy from someone reputable, so you know your garlic is disease free.

Choosing Garlic

This is my fourth year growing garlic and I’ve always had good results using Diggers garlic, although I tend to find I get bigger bulbs and cloves using purple varieties. I don’t know if that’s because purple varieties just tend to be bigger, or if my climate – cool temperate – is more suited to those varieties, or if those varieties are just less fussy. I wrote a few thoughts on what varieties of garlic to grow in a previous post. But to recap you should be thinking about:

  • Early and later season varieties. The past two years some of my purple varieties have been ready in October.
  • How long does each variety store for? If you don’t want to run to the store for garlic between around April – November (southern hemisphere), you need to choose varieties that store for a minimum of 8 months and preferably plant some varieties that store for 12 months (and then you need to harvest them at the right time, and cure and store them correctly).
  • If you want to get two uses out of one plant, make sure you choose some hardneck varieties and you will be rewarded with scapes – the best pre-basil season pesto you will make, I promise.
  • Also check the climatic preferences of your garlic. Generally garlic likes cold winters, but some varieties are suitable for sub-tropical climates.

All this info and more for Australian varieties can be found on this very excellent website. Also see Penny Woodward’s book, Garlic.

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Garlic scapes growing on hardneck variety.

A Note on Garlic Groups and Types

Understanding groups and types will help you decide which varieties to grow. Basically there are two types: Softnecks (usually don’t form a flower stem/scape) and hardnecks (usually  do form a flower stem/scape). Hardnecks fall into two further categories: weakly bolting and strongly bolting. Bolting seems to be brought on by cold weather. So even some softnecks can form scapes in really cold weather. Weakly bolting hardnecks usually form scapes later in the season, and the scapes are not as vigorous as strongly bolting varieties. Weakly bolting varieties may not form a scape in warm weather. Strongly bolting varieties produce scapes early in the season and the scapes are vigorous – often looping 360 degrees or more.

Garlic is then divided, in Australia, into about 11 groups. Understanding which group your variety falls into will help you understand its characteristics and its growing requirements. Personally I struggle to retain that information but I think the longer I grow garlic the more familiar I will get with them.

My 2016 Varieties
Having said all that, any planning on my part went straight out the window this year. These are the varieties I bought this year, purely because that’s what was left at the Garden of St Erth when I went a few weeks ago:

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The winners collection consists of Tasmanian Purple, Lokalen, and Dunganski, none of which I’ve grown before. The latter looked pretty fab in size and colour. I have high hopes. I have had good results in the past with Monaro Purple, Melbourne Market, and Dynamite Purple. I didn’t have great results with Cream, but I’ll try again. Russian I hadn’t tried either. The cloves were e-norm-ous.

This is what I can glean about these varieties:

Variety Scapes? Storage Climate
Cream No – softneck Long Not fussy. Doesn’t like humidity.
Dunganski Yes – hardneck, strongly bolting. Medium Best in cool climates.
Dynamite Purple Hopefully –hardneck, weakly bolting Long – 12 months + Cold to warm winters and hot, dry summers. Dislikes humidity.
Lokalen No -softneck Long – up to 12 months Might grow best in warm climates with mild winters.
Melbourne Market No – softneck Long Shouldn’t be fussy.
Monaro Purple Hopefully – hardneck, weakly bolting Short to medium Cold winter and harvest quickly in war weather.
Russian Garlic*

*Not a true garlic. Related to leek

Usually produces a flower stem. 10 months (I’ve just read bulbs may not mature for two years) Sounds like it’s not fussy.
Tasmanian Purple Hopefully – hardneck, weakly bolting Short:4-5 months Not fussy. Harvest quickly in warm weather.

Preparing Beds for Garlic

Garlic needs well drained soil, enriched with organic matter, and with a pH between 6 and 7. So you need a good friable loam, and add a bit of dolomite lime if your soil is acidic (Penny Woodward says less than 5.8). Penny also suggests adding rock dust. Gardening Australia fans will know that Josh adds rock dust to EVERYTHING. I should try that stuff out. I’ve always grown my garlic in no-dig beds.

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2015 garlic growing in no dig bed.

Spacing and Depth 

Garlic may be in the ground for a long time but you can really fit in a lot of food in a small space because it can be planted so closely together. I tend to go for 10-15cm, plant spacings and row spacings. Penn Woodward says  cloves should be spaced 10-15cm apart, in rows 15-30cm apart. And I plant around 4cm-5cm deep because we get heavy frosts a few times a week throughout winter. In milder climates you can plant it more shallow-ly. The dibbler is my best friend when planting garlic. I use it to make holes of the right depth, space the cloves evenly apart, and to space my rows:

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To plant garlic, you pry apart the individual cloves from the bulb, leave the papery covering intact, and plant only single cloves (sometimes multiple cloves are encased together inside the papery covering – don’t plant these as they won’t grow well).

Plant with the pointy end upwards and the flat end downwards. Note: the clove in the picture below is actually rotting so usually your cloves would look just like the garlic you would use to cook and not old, empty and wrinkly like this does, particularly around the top.

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Then mulch if you need to in order to keep weeds away – garlic does not like competing – but make sure it’s fluffy enough to let the sprouts shoot up through it.  I never have in autumn because my beds are pretty weed free and I just nip out any that turn up. Mulching is a good idea in warm spring weather (like we get). But more on looking after growing garlic in another post I think.

Hopefully in a few weeks after planting you’ll see something like at the back of the bed with the pumpkins on it (although most of this garlic is a bit further ahead):

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2 thoughts on “Choosing and Planting Garlic

  1. We must be kindred gardening spirits, lol! Love a bit of Gardening Australia. Just bought Penny Woodward’s Garlic book but haven’t had a second to read it yet. AND my first bag of rockdust arrived from Diggers the other day. Everyone seems to be adding it to everything these days. Will have to see if it deserves all the hype. We get high humidity here. I’m trying Roy’s Purple, Elephant Garlic and Italian Red – fingers crossed one of them grows!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Autumn in my garden: May 2017 | bluetongue greenthumb

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