14 Apr 2022
Nemesis of vampires and other parasites, bacteria, viruses, fungi, cancer, and heart problems. Accomplice of tastebuds. Garlic is a versatile and popular food to have at hand and stores for many months. Luckily for us it grows really well here and we are one of NSW’s commercial garlic growing areas. It is an easy to grow perennial that is usually grown as an annual and has only a handful of pests and diseases. A magnificent little plant.
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Planting time in northern NSW and QL is different to more southern areas.
All of the types of garlic should be planted in April in the Bellingen area.
Ideally Italian garlic should be planted in the second to fourth week of April (17 – 25 to be exact!).
Russian garlic should go in two weeks later, at the end of April or the first week of May.
The rule of thumb for Italian garlic in this area is in by Anzac Day (April 25), out by Armistice (Remembrance) Day (November 11). While the in date certainly holds, the out date in practice is anywhere from mid October to mid November.
Russian garlic is always planted a couple of weeks later than Italian, and is ready to come out later too, usually in mid December right in the middle of the most horrid stinky hot humid conditions.
All types can be planted from March (and are planted at this earlier time further north).
Don’t plant late. Why? Garlic needs 6 – 8 months to grow. But there’s a catch. First it focuses on growing lots of strappy leaves and shallow roots. These will feed the bulbs later on. It is a day length and temperature sensitive plant. Garlic switches from making leaves and roots to making bulbs and maturing in response to lengthening days and warm temperatures. This means that no matter when it is planted, it will start creating bulbs and mature at the same point in the year (dependent on your location) in response to temperature no matter what. In this area it matures October to December. The more leaves and roots a garlic plant has by the time it switches to creating bulbs, the bigger and more numerous the cloves. In our area it needs to be grown over the cool season. If you sow too late, there won’t be enough time for the plant to create lots of leaves and roots before bulbing is triggered and so it will only be able to make smaller and fewer bulbs.
Source climate suitable garlic seed (cloves) of named varieties, choosing for tolerance to heat and humidity. Or in practice, head to the farmers markets for some locally grown garlic for taste testing. Plant the largest cloves of the ones you like and save cloves each year for future seasons. You may not know which variety you have as that can be surprisingly tricky to pinpoint, but you will know it grows well in our local conditions. Ideally, plant more than one variety each year to hedge your bets on what the season will do this time.
To plant garlic, carefully break apart the bulbs, keeping the papery skin intact on the cloves. These are your seeds. Don’t do this more than a few days before planting as the cloves keep better when kept as bulbs. Put small cloves, usually the central ones, and damaged cloves aside for eating.
Garlic likes full sun, rich LOOSE soil, and great drainage. pH preference is 5.5 to 7.0. For a little plant, it’s actually quite a heavy feeder. Plant in mounded rows about a foot high to give it enough drainage in our flooding rains, otherwise the bulbs or roots will tend to rot. Don’t plant onion family members in the same location for 3 years to avoid a build up of diseases.
At the end of the season you can expect to gather 8 to 12 times the quantity of garlic that you planted. It’s normal for around 20 – 40% to be undersized or damaged.
Plant garlic cloves pointy side up, about 2cm of soil above the pointy tip. Space 10cm apart, rows 40cm apart, or just 15cm apart all round. Mulch really really well. 20cm of sugarcane mulch is great. It’s amazing what the garlic will push its way through. Garlic fails when there are weeds. It does not have the leaf coverage, deep roots or fight to grow well when it has competition. Mulching keeps the soil moist, which garlic likes, and keeps weeds at bay.
Garlic likes small regular drinks throughout its growing season, right up until 2 – 3 weeks before maturity. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy, all the time until this point. Mulch!
In it’s leaf and root growing phase garlic needs nitrogen for great leaves and phosphorus for great roots. Great leaves and roots will make big cloves. Add plenty of well rotted manure or compost to the soil well before planting and a good dose of phosphorus (blood and bone) in the future root zone. 4 – 6 weeks after shoots emerge, or at 10 – 15cm tall, give a nitrogen feed. And possibly another a month later. Stop all nitrogen feeding once bulb creation starts as it softens the bulbs and reduces their storage life.
As it’s approaching maturity, some types of garlic will send up garlic scapes – essentially a flower stalk. Russian garlic and sometimes the weakly bolting hardneck varieties will do this in this area. Garlic scapes are a seasonal delicacy. Cut them off and try them. Russian garlic, left in the ground as a perennial, will alternate each year between making cloves and rounds (round cloves like a mini onion) and will only go to seed (send up a scape) every other year.
At maturity, just before the garlic is ready to pull out, stop watering and let it dry out. This is as soon as the tops begin to yellow or the necks begin to soften. The plant doesn’t need much water at this stage and watering means the bulbs or roots will be sitting in soggy soil and may rot, or the bulbs will split apart. Ideally it doesn’t rain for these few weeks either. Ha!
As a general guide, Italian garlic is ready to pick when the outer leaves start to die off. Don’t wait for all of the leaves to die. Russian garlic sends up a scape, then is ready 2 weeks later. According to the Australian Garlic Industry Association, the “simplest and most reliable way to determine when to harvest is when the plant has 4.5 green leaves remaining.” Don’t delay picking as the bulbs can separate into individual cloves or become sunburnt, reducing their storage life. Also be gentle with the bulbs because bruised ones don’t store well.
After pulling out of the ground the garlic needs to dry and cure. The longer they can be left to cure the better they will store. 2 weeks minimum and 2 months is ideal. Good air circulation is essential for this. Tops and roots can be removed before or after curing. Bulbs should be kept shaded.
Well cured garlic stores really well. Cool, dry, shaded, ventilated conditions are needed for storage. Bulbs for replanting should be kept between 5 – 18°C. At 4°C rapid sprouting is triggered. For garlic destined for eating, freezing or pickling in vinegar are also options. Storing in oil should be avoided. This creates an anaerobic environment where the bacteria Clostridium botulinum can grow which causes the fatal food poisoning known as botulism.
“True” garlic. As a Mediterranean plant, Italian garlic prefers wet winters, dry summers and a lack of humidity. Not what we have. It can be grown very well here, but it will always succumb to unsuitable conditions (flooding rain or high humidity) well before Russian garlic does. Absolutely needs good drainage and airflow to be able to get away with growing it to maturity through our wet warm months. Grow it up on a mound!
Italian garlic is divided into hardneck and softneck types. The types are further subdivided into groups and each variety of garlic belongs to a group.
Hardneck types / topsetting / bolting
A. sativum var. ophioscorodon
- This type of Italian garlic has a firm central stem and few papery layers around each clove. If you’ve ever pulled all the cloves off a bulb of garlic and been left with the base and a stiff hollow central stem, that’s hardneck garlic.
- The most robust and complex flavours of all the garlics. Each variety has it’s own flavour profile and if you want your garlic knock-your-socks-off strong, this is the type for you.
- Has the shortest storage life of all the garlic types, only 3 – 5 months after picking.
- Easy to peel the cloves.
- Makes fewer cloves than softneck garlic but the cloves are larger. 6 -12 cloves per bulb.
- Grows garlic scapes under the right conditions which don’t always occur here.
- Suitable for freezing climates. Varieties that grow well here are usually in the Turban group.
- Groups are (weakly bolting) Turban, Creole, Asiatic, Middle Eastern, and (strongly bolting) Rocambole, Porcelain, Standard Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe.
- Hardneck varieties suitable for our local conditions:
Turban Group: Flinders Island Purple, Glamour, Italian Purple, Ontos Purple, Tasmanian Purple, White Crookneck.
Asiatic Group: Contains only one variety, Asiatic.
Softneck types / non bolting
A. sativum var. sativum
- This type of Italian garlic has no central stem and a lot of papery layers around each clove. If you’ve ever pulled all the cloves off a bulb of garlic and been left with just the base and there’s no central stem, that’s softneck garlic.
- Flavour is medium strength with a predictable and simple taste profile which is similar across all the varieties of softneck garlic.
- Has a long storage life, of 9 – 12 months after picking.
- Cloves are harder to peel than hardneck garlic.
- Makes the largest number but smallest size of cloves of all the types. 8 – 20+ cloves per bulb
- Does not grow garlic scapes, except under extreme duress and odd conditions.
- Suitable for warmer climates and tends to be more forgiving of unsuitable conditions.
- Groups are Silverskin, Artichoke, and Subtropical.
- Softneck varieties suitable for our local conditions:
Silverskin Group: Manuel Benitee.
Artichoke Group: Fino de Chincko Ajofrin, Germidour, Italian White.
Subtropical Group. Each of these have been bred for growing in northern NSW & QL. They are all perfect for here: Glenlarge, Italian Pink, Italian Red, Southern Glen.
Russian / elephant garlic
Not actually a garlic at all but more closely related to leeks. Russian garlic is ideal for growing in our climate and will happily grow as a perennial even when neglected. Just throw some mulch on it each year.
- Russian garlic has no central stem and stunningly enormous cloves.
- Flavour is very very mild with a hint of onion and leek and slightly sweet.
- Has a long storage life of 10 – 12 months after picking.
- Cloves are easy to peel.
- A few impressively large cloves plus a central round which will just keep on getting bigger if left to grow as a perennial. 4 – 6 cloves per bulb.
- Reliably grows garlic scapes.
- Suitable for warmer, wet summer climates and loves growing here.
- No groups or named varieties.
Big thanks to:
Ken Lewis from Stringbark Farm, Camilla from Autarky Farm, Pete Bufo, Paul from Barefoot Fruit & Veg, Kyles Woodbury formerly of The Vegie Gardener, John Vernon and the Bellingen Seedsavers blog, John Hodgkinson, Carole & Phil Helman, Charles Filet, Ian Thomas from The Gourmet Garden School.
Supported by Bellingen Shire Council via the Bellingen Shire Disaster Recovery and Resilience Grant Program Funding
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