Grow Good Garlic
The price of garlic soared while the pandemic raged and garlic became quite scarce at times, but it is actually a very easy crop to grow at home.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is part of the lily family and a close relative of onions, leeks and shallots. It is also one of the oldest traditional medicinal and seasoning plants, and hails from central Asia and north-eastern Iran. Many ancient cultures believed in its fortifying powers as a performance enhancer, and on the mythical side it was believed to chase away vampires and to curb pests. The old folks used it to relieve piles and to prevent and treat heavy colds due to its strong antiviral characteristics. This belief is still in practice today, and there is also no doubt about the culinary worth of garlic, as you can add it to virtually any dish to create a flavourful feast on the taste buds.
To grow garlic you need to plant the individual cloves, which suppliers recommend should be sent to ground in autumn. If all goes well, you can expect a crop about 17 – 25 weeks later. In cold climates you can also plant garlic in early spring, but the most important thing to remember is that soil temperatures should be cool during growth to ensure success.
Garlic does not require much space to grow in – just a small patch is more than enough to supply a family with a good crop of freshly grown garlic. You can also use a deep container.
- Prepare the soil (which must drain well) with ample compost and add a handful of bonemeal and Talborne Organics Vita Green (5:1:5) per running metre. Use commercial potting soil in containers mixed with the fertilisers mentioned.
- Space the cloves in shallow rows about 5 – 7cm apart and plant into the soil with their sharp points facing upwards. Cover with about 3cm of soil.
- Water well after planting and repeat 2 – 3 times per week – the plants should never become drought stressed as they will then bolt and start to flower instead of growing the bulb beneath the soil.
- Feed regularly with a liquid seaweed-based fertiliser and keep mulching with a layer of organic mulch, which will regulate the soil temperature, keep it moist and will also curb weeds.
- Harvest the mature bulbs when the leaves start to become dry and papery.
- Allow the bulbs to cure and dry off in a shady but ventilated place before using them.
Companion plants for garlic
Parsley, beetroot, lettuce, carrots and tomatoes are good companion plants. Garlic is also the perfect insect repellent to plant beneath lemon trees or other fruit trees. Don’t plant garlic near beans and peas.
Can I just plant ‘shop garlic cloves’?
The reason to buy garlic cloves from a respected and trusted bulb merchant or your local nursery, versus planting the old cloves sprouting from mature bulbs that you bought from a supermarket, is the peace of mind that garlic bulb packs have been produced organically. Shop-bought garlic is often imported, which means it has been treated with chemicals to ensure a long shelf life.
Things to remember:
- If you have to cultivate around your growing garlic bulbs, take care not to damage the green leaves as they are feeding the plant to produce nice and healthy cloves.
- Don’t allow the plants to flower as this will take energy away from the underground bulb. Remove any flowers by grasping them gently where they emerge from the leaves and pulling them upwards. The flowers are edible and can be used in stir-fries.
For roasted garlic, which is delicious when spread on toast, cut across the top of a whole unpeeled bulb to expose the individual cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and dried herbs of your choice, cover in tinfoil and roast in the oven at 200°C for about 40 minutes or until soft when pierced with a toothpick or skewer. The pulp can then be squeezed from each clove.
To create pretty garlic braids or plaits, allow harvested bulbs to dry with their top growth still on for about two weeks before braiding them together in a plait and cutting off excess dead material.
Peeled cloves can be stored in wine or vinegar in the refrigerator. They can also be stored in oil, but only for a short period.