Growing garlic

Sown in late autumn, the garlic is well into growth here - seen with an unusually heavy frost which had me out with the camera this morning

Sown in late autumn, the garlic is well into growth here - seen with an unusually heavy frost which had me out with the camera this morning

We have been talking about garlic.This is because of the repeated advice from a local garden centre that it is not too late to plant garlic but you must start it off in trays and transplant in several weeks time when the bulbs have made good growth. It is an approach that will work (though individual pots cause less root disturbance at the time of transplant rather than trays) but it is a lot of work that we are not convinced is necessary.

Garlic can be planted directly into the ground. It is not difficult to get it growing. Within a few days of planting, it should be showing fresh root. But it is getting late in the planting season and should be done immediately. Increasingly, we are of the opinion that it is an unhelpful old wives’ tale that it should be planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest day. These days, Mark plants it in autumn, a practice which is becoming increasingly common in this country. Autumn planting means the cloves are already growing well before the ground becomes cold and sodden.

The single biggest issue with garlic is that you need to know where they come from because you want NZ garlic. Cheap imported garlic may look fine and clean but it is usually from China, so from the wrong hemisphere and therefore on an opposite seasonal sequence. Added to that, imported garlic is reputed to be troubled by garlic virus which you do not need to unleash.

Other growing tips:

• Break the garlic bulb into single cloves and only plant the big ones. It is a waste of time planting small cloves.

• Plant at about 10cm spacings into ground which has been dug over well and is friable and fluffy.

• Put the cloves in so they are about 2cm deep to the top of the clove. Press them down firmly because they can push themselves out of the ground as they start to grow.

• Pile on the compost on top of the soil. Garlic is a hungry plant. Real enthusiasts will liquid feed regularly and keep the fertiliser up to them and it is likely to result in a bigger and better harvest. We are busy here with a big garden so Mark just plants well, keeps the area weedfree and that is pretty much it until harvest time.

• If we get a very dry spell in spring, that can be a problem. Check the crop. You may have to water them if we get several weeks without rain.

• Harvest around mid summer when the bulbs have reached maturity. You do not have to wait for the tops to die off. Dry the garlic before storing (plaited is the traditional approach) – hanging in an airy situation helps it to last longer.

And, basically, that is about it. Keep the vampires at bay.