Growing garlic is so satisfying.
I mean, who doesn't love garlic? It has a ton of vitamins and makes dinner taste 100x better. What's not to love?
There are a few key things to know but it happens to be very easy to grow!
What Garlic to Choose when Growing Garlic
There are two main types of garlic; softneck garlic and hardneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic has a stem that grows from the centre of the garlic bulb that if left to grow, it would flower. This is called a scape. If you are growing a hardneck variety it is crucial to harvest these scapes before flowering so that the plant’s energy goes into bulb formation, not flower formation.
Hardneck garlic needs a long period of cold to form proper bulbs so these varieties are best suited for places with long cold winters.
Softneck garlic doesn’t form a scape and the bulbs of a softneck variety will have more individual cloves. They taste milder than a hardneck variety too.
Softneck garlic still needs a chill period but less so than hardneck garlic so it is best suited for places with milder winters.
Soil and Temperature for Growing Garlic
Whether you're growing garlic in the garden or in pots, good soil is key.
To prepare your garlic bed, choose a well-draining, sunny spot and, add on layers of rich organic materials such as well-rotted manure, seaweed and compost.
Garlic is a heavy feeder so your soil needs to be bursting with goodness. Avoid planting your garlic in a space where a heavy feeder has just been.
Planting your garlic in autumn before the cold of winter means the cloves will establish strong roots. The coldness of the coming winter then puts the garlic into a dormant state and it's this cold period that actually stimulates the individual bulb formation.
Though in New Zealand garlic is planted traditionally on the shortest day of the year, I plant mine earlier.
In spring the spread of the fungal infection garlic rust is heightened and having your bulbs be a decent size before then can help them withstand rust a little bit better.
When planting, make sure to break the bulb up into individual cloves. Each clove will grow into its own full bulb. You want to choose the biggest, fattest cloves as they will grow into the biggest bulbs.
Dig your garlic nice and deep, about double as deep as the clove is long. Place the clove in with the pointed bit facing up. This is where the new shoots will grow from.
Garlic bulbs get very tall and heavy and have short roots so planting them deep enough under ground is important so that the plant doesn't tip over. Space your garlic out well to ensure there is enough room, at least 10cm apart.
Keep your garlic bed weed free and well mulched- don't let the weeds take all the goodness you've just put into your soil!
Garlic needs to be fed and watered well if you want decent bulbs. Give it a liquid feed every three or four weeks with a high nitrogen fertiliser for the first 4 months, such as a manure tea. After that, switch to a seaweed-based liquid feed as you no longer want the plant to put its energy into growing the green leaves, rather for it to fatten its bulb.
In the last month, really cut back the watering to allow the plant to start drying out. Your garlic will be ready to harvest in between 7-9 months time. Exact harvesting times depends on the date it was planted, the variety and climate.
When your garlic leaves start dying back it is a sign the garlic is ready to harvest. However, not all the greenery will turn brown so I suggest you pull out one and cut it to see how it's going. The outside of the bulb should be covered in a papery skin and inside, individual cloves should be formed.
When harvesting your garlic it is important you let the whole plant dry out in a cool dry place for at least 3 weeks before cutting off the bulbs. This will ensure your garlic can be stored longer without rotting
If your garlic does unfortunately succumb to rust, there is not a lot you can do. Rust will eventually take over the plant and result in smaller, weaker bulbs. However, you can try and keep it at bay as long as you can. Remove the affected leaves as you see them and bin or burn them. Don’t put them in the compost as the fungal spores can survive in there.
If you are having to remove too many leaves, the garlic’s energy will be focused on creating more greenery and not on fattening the bulb underground. When it gets to this stage it’s best to just harvest the garlic as young, green garlic. It’s milder in taste but delicious.
Garlic rust is in fact an allium rust and can affect all other alliums (onions, leeks, chives, spring onions…).
Forms of rust can affect any plants but the varieties differ. Allium rust can only affect alliums. If you see rust spots on other plants not in the allium family, this cannot be passed on to your garlic.
How's your garlic going? Tag me and let me know! @home_grown_happinessnz