Year-round Garlic

By Heather from Urban Harvest

GARLIC has benefits for humans, animals & the garden. Has vitamins A, B1, B2 & C, is good for circulation & high blood pressure, and allicin (released when chopped or crushed) has immune-boosting, antibiotic & antifungal properties. Feed to chooks to minimise intestinal parasites, fleas and mites. Plant garlic among roses and fruit trees to repel pests such as aphids; crushed garlic solution makes a good spray-on insecticide for plants.

Allium sativum (the Roman name) is ancient: believed to have originated in Central Asia (Kazakhstan etc), was found early on in Siberia and China. It was also depicted on the Egyptian pyramids and was supplied by the authorities to the pyramid building labourers to keep them fit and healthy.

All imported garlic is required to be fumigated with methyl bromide, a harmful chemical that’s been banned from agriculture in many countries. Some is also bleached. Good reason to grow your own. Note that some commercial garlic is also treated to prevent sprouting – so you can’t grow from it!

Easy to grow; can even grow in pots. Garlic is relatively pest and disease free. Full sun is best for big healthy plants; part shade is OK. But it loves the cold. Garlic plants need all winter and spring to grow. The bulb part is the last part to grow, only expanding in late spring – early summer, as the now-developed leaves are catching the sun. If you pull up the plant a couple of months early the bulb will be very small.

Soft-neck varieties garlic usually have lots more cloves, very small ones in the middle, usually no flower stalk, generally keeps for longer. Hard-neck garlic has fewer but larger cloves, forms a flower stalk in the middle, is easier to peel, but generally doesn’t keep as long. There are early, mid-season and late varieties so you can have an extended harvest.

When garlic sprouts, it is begging to be planted! But it’s better to plant before it sprouts, and give the roots a head start to feed the green growth when it comes. So even though traditions ays: “Plant garlic on the shortest day. Harvest it on the longest day”, it’s best to plant garlic earlier than now (March/April/May) to give them a chance to grow before the sunlight decreases. If well cared-for you should get a bulb harvest. Other varieties for ‘green garlic’ only – more below.

Ensure the soil has plenty of organic matter (add compost/manure if needed). Pull weeds (dig them in!). Break up the soil at least 5cm deep. A bit of lime sprinkled helps too, as garlic likes sweet soil (higher pH).

Only break the bulb into cloves just before you plant. As with normal selective breeding, the bigger/fatter cloves will give you bigger/fatter cloves! “Plant the best; eat the rest.” Push each clove into the soil, pointy end up; if already sprouted have the green tip just poking above the soil. Plant 15cm x 30cm apart (a hand apart) to minimise root competition.

Water well, and keep your growing garlic watered especially if the weather is dry. Remove all weeds – bulbs won’t grow big if there’s competition from weeds (or other vegies) for the water and nutrients.

One month before harvest, reduce/stop watering.

Early harvest varieties: Oct-Nov. Late harvest varieties Dec. Harvest when two of the leaves go yellow; timing can vary slightly from year to year. In hardneck varieties, flower stalks will appear, let them grow a bit then pull them out (and eat them – garlic scapes, yum!); if the flower stalk grows too much it reduces the size of the garlic bulb you harvest. Lift carefully, first loosening the soil around the bulb with a fork. Keep leaves and stalks attached. As with any bulbs, the dying leaves feed the bulbs. Clean off mud/dirt from the roots (stiff brush; jet hose only if you’ll dry it immediately). Take care not to bruise the bulbs. Lie or hang them in a dry place for 2-3 weeks. You can use garlic as soon as it’s been harvested, but if you ‘cure’ them for a couple of weeks they will form the papery outer skin and store for longer.

Your bulbs of garlic, if kept dry, will keep for between 4 and 10 months depending on the variety and time of harvest. Keep them somewhere dry, not humid, and well ventilated/breezy. On the kitchen bench in an open basket is good, but the darker the better as light will make them sprout sooner – which you don’t want as when they sprout they lose freshness and flavour.

Plait and hang your garlic – handy & attractive (below is a link to how-to video.) Do not keep in the fridge.

Some long-keeping varieties keep for as long as 8-10 months after harvest. But by late winter most varieties will be sprouting. You can still eat them (but the green part is slightly bitter so can be removed if you prefer).

Yes, garlic can be frozen. Peeled or unpeeled cloves in freezer bags. They will be a bit mushy when thawed, but their flavour remains good. Another method is to chop garlic and wrap it tightly in cling wrap, then simply grate or break off small amounts of chopped garlic as needed. Can also be dried, pickled, preserved in oil, etc.
BULB++ You can eat more than just the mature bulb! ‘Green garlic’ – the green stems and immature bulbs during the ‘garlic gap’ (when your last stored bulbs run out before the new season); mild but distinctly garlic flavour, fresh crunchy texture. Garlic flower stalks (scapes) – delicious sauteed and stir fried! Bulbils (the tiny bulbs at the top of the flower stalks) – mild and tender.

Work out how many cloves of garlic your household needs each week. Multiply x 52 weeks.
Plant the required number of cloves (number of bulbs you’ll need depends on the variety you choose, e.g. some varieties average 10 cloves per bulb).
Say you use 8 cloves per week x 52 = 416 per year. Divide by 10 (if your variety will give you a harvest of 10 cloves per bulb) = 41.6. So, plant 42 cloves. You should harvest 42 bulbs @ 10 cloves per bulb.
BUT THAT’S JUST YOUR FAMILY. Remember to add more for visitors, chooks and to share, and lots more if you want to eat fresh ‘green garlic’ as well as frozen/preserved garlic during the Aug-Nov ‘garlic gap’.

Year-round Garlic

Garlic growing
Garlic Australia
Imported imposters
Pest repellent spray recipes
Green garlic
Plaiting garlic
Preserving garlic
M & J Fanton, The Seed Savers’ Handbook, 1993 (2001 edition)

Also see this useful link – Planting Garlic.

From the editor:

1. Please see The Power of Potassium (by SGA).  I added banana tea which is rich in potassium and my garlic leaves are relative less sappy and greener than the others.

2. Additinal reference: PennyWoodward’s Garlic Group Flavour Chart showing the different varieties of garlics.