Grow it yourself: garlic

Freshly harvested garlic is a very different proposition to the stuff that has been hanging about for ten months and has lost most of its potency. We are not, perhaps, served well by the traditional wisdom of planting on the shortest day and harvesting on the longest day. We prefer Kay Baxter’s advice and moved to autumn planting in order to get it in growth before it has to deal with the cold, sodden soils of a wet winter. You can even successionally sow from May to August to extend the harvest season. Fresh picked green garlic is delicious.

Garlic needs to be grown in full sun, in heavily worked, fertile soils. It is a greedy feeder and good drainage is critical. If you are organised, you can prepare the beds now and sow a quick green crop. Dig that green crop in two weeks before planting the garlic. This, allied to late autumn warmth, will give them a real kick start into growth.

Always plant only the biggest and the strongest cloves from the garlic bulb and never but never plant the cheap, imported Chinese stuff (wrong hemisphere so out of season, may be carrying virus which threatens the local strains of garlic and will have been chemically treated). If you follow Kay Baxter’s advice and plant at 10cm diagonal spacings, you can get 100 plants to the square metre. We prefer a wider spacing of up to 15cm in parallel rows. Cover the cloves with a couple of centimetres of soil. Keeping the area free of weeds stops competition but also keeps the soil well cultivated, thus helping with drainage in the wet months. Some gardeners liquid feed regularly. We don’t, but we mulch with compost which is effectively a form of slow release. It is important that the crop never dries out or it will stop growing so be particularly vigilant from November onwards. Garlic can be harvested as soon as the tips start to turn brown.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.