Garlic is another crop perfectly suited to the community garden – it loves our cold wet autumn/winters and hot dry spring/summers, has a long growing season so suits the communal growing spaces and apart from weeding, is easy to grow and propogate planting material for future years. Add the fact it can be stored for months, is widely used in cooking and that locally grown garlic will be free of chemicals (like methyl bromide) that are applied to fumigate imported garlic – so it’s a must grow crop.
There are different types of garlic – softneck, hardneck and rocambole. Elephant or Russian garlic with the huge cloves is actually a leek relative, not a true garlic. Each have different keeping qualities and tastes.
Autumn – Plant whilst the soil still has some summer warmth. A well prepared bed, dug over and compost, lime or dolomite, basalt dust added, perhaps some dynamic lifter. plant in rows about 30cm apart and 10-15cm between cloves. Choose your largest bulbs, separate them into individual cloves and plant the largest cloves. Large cloves produce large garlic bulbs if conditions are good. Small cloves will take several generations of planting to increase in size. Plant pointy end upwards in a furrow and cover with about 2-4cm of soil. Be gentle – don’t press the clove into the soil forcefully or you may damage root development. Water well if you don’t get adequate rainfall.
Winter – Weeding, weeding weeding. Garlic isn’t a good competitor although it is a good pest repellent plant. Keep moisture up over winter to ensure large bulbs are formed. A dose of worm juice every few weeks is a good idea.The longer and colder the winter, the larger the bulb will be.
Spring – Stop watering once the plants begin to flower. The softneck varieties will tend to fold over as they being to mature. One school of thought with the hardnecks and rocamboles is to bend or knot the flowerhead so growth is concentrated into the bulbs, or to cut the flowerhead. But if you want to enjoy the flower show, ok.
Summer – The plants are ready to harvest 5-6 months after sowing and once the outer leaves start to yellow off and wither. Don’t leave them for the whole plant to dry out and yellow because the bulbs will be sensitive to rot and the bulbs will start to split and form extra outer cloves which affects their storage properties and appearance. Dig up with fork ensuring you don’t prong the bulbs – ease up the soil some distance away from the bulb and shake the soil free. Curing is important. Once harvested, tie loosely in bunches and hang or place on mesh trays in a cool, dark, dry spot for at least 3 weeks. Then you can trim them. If plaiting, do when the stems are still pliable and a bit green and then continue the curing.
Generally – Well grown and cured bulbs can last up to a year. Try to keep your best bulbs for planting next season (not in the same bed). Garlic varieties differ and it will be a matter of trial and error to find which suit our particular situation. Companions are roses, lettuce, beet, silverbeet and strawberries. Penny Woodward has a lot more info on growing garlic and other alliums.
Eating – Eat the young scapes (shoots) in early spring if you are desparate for a hint of garlic in your cooking, use as for garlic chives or spring onions. Freshly harvested cloves can be used but the taste and keeping qualities will improve after curing, pays to wait if you can. Roasted bulbs are caramelised flavour bombs. Aioli, pesto….