Autumn is definitely here in Sydney. Although the days are still warm, the afternoons are getting that lovely crisp, fresh feel to them. Sweet relief from the long hot summer. Autumn means it’s garlic planting time.
Early written records about garlic describe more medicinal uses rather than culinary. Garlic is thought to have originated from central Asia and was grown in ancient Egypt where it was placed in tombs and given to the slaves to eat while building the pyramids to prevent infection (how kind of them). Science now backs up the historical use of garlic as a ‘cure all’. The allicin in garlic (which is basically the garlic smell) has been shown to be a powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It is an antioxidant and can lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and has shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer if taken daily! Wow. I think we all need to get our garlic breath on and live a bit longer by growing our own garlic and eating it! Aside from the health benefits it is said to have other magical properties. Folklore tells us that to keep witches away we should hang some on our door. It is the ultimate vampire repellant (but doesn’t work on those hot vampires in Twilight, thank goodness…wouldn’t want to repel those ones) and will keep away naughty nymphs that terrorise engaged maidens and pregnant women. When worn it also protects agains the Evil Eye, which I can only assume is like getting the stink eye, but worse. It’s also said to be effective for giving Roman soldiers courage.
When to Sow
Traditionally garlic is planted on the autumn equinox. The autumn equinox is the point at which the day and night are equal in length, then the days following shorten (until after the winter solstice when they begin to lengthen again). This is the logical time to sow, as garlic grows in response to the shortening of daylight hours. From the autumn equinox they just get shorter. In Sydney the equinox falls on the 21st of March at 9:45 am to be exact, which is this Saturday. Timeanddate.com is a useful website for info on sun/moon events, dates and times and will be able to tell you when if falls in your area. Not being one for getting nit-picky about things, garlic can be planted any time from now. Garlic likes a cold, dry climate which is also why it is grown as a winter crop, and also why you should never store garlic in your fridge. It will be sure to sprout.
Types of Garlic
There are two general types of garlic. Hardneck and soft neck. Hardneck varieties have a stiff stem that comes out of the middle of the bulb. They are said to have better flavours than the soft neck varieties, however they produce smaller bulbs and generally don’t store as well. Softneck varieties are suitable for braiding and in the right conditions will store for up to nine months. Hardnecks need quite a cold winter to get large cloves, whereas softnecks will tolerate milder winters, still producing large cloves.
Where to Get Bulbs
To grow garlic you sow individual cloves. Ideally, you should be able to sow from bulbs collected in the previous years harvest. If this isn’t an option you can buy from reputable seed suppliers who should not only be able to offer certified organic and disease free stock, but multiple varieties that are better suited to certain climates/areas. The Diggers Club is one such supplier in Australia. Alternatively you can buy garlic from organic farmers markets etc. Stay away from imported garlic as it will have been fumigated with methyl bromide, which is not only highly toxic, but retards sprouting.
Bed Prep and Position
Garlic likes a rich well drained soil in a sunny position. Be sure to dig in well rotted organic matter before planting. To maintain good crop-rotation and pest management techniques, do not plant them where you last had onions. Garlic needs a cold period for 1-2 months where temps get between 0-10° to get good sized bulbs so plant in the coldest spot in your yard.
Sow cloves pointy end up so that there is about 5cm of soil above the tip 20 cm apart.
Garlic doesn’t do as well in areas with heavy rain fall as they are prone to fungal diseases. Water to keep the soil moist but not boggy. If the soil was well manured before planting additional fertiliser should not be necessary throughout growing. A weekly-fortnightly seaweed/worm juice tonic is beneficial. Keep the bed well weeded as garlic doesn’t like to compete for nutrients. It will not come as a surprise that the larger the leafy top, the larger the bulb below.
Garlic is ready to harvest late spring early summer. You are probably doing the mental maths realising that means it is in the ground for up to 8 months. Yep. No wonder good garlic is expensive. Don’t water them a few days before picking to improve storage life. The bulbs/cloves don’t develop until the weather gets warm, so if you pull it up early you will be disappointed. You can tell when it is ready to pick when the leaves start to yellow and die. Pick when some of the leaves are browning but there are still a few green leaves left. If you pick too late the bulbs can shrivel and won’t store well. Gently dig bulbs out, avoiding bruising, and lay them flat or hang them in an airy spot out of the weather for two weeks to let the skins dry out and harden. Once they have hardened and the skin is papery, brush any dirt off and trim the dried roots before placing into storage.
Honestly, I’m not 100% convinced that companion planting works in Australia. Apparently it works a treat in the norther hemisphere but here, not so much. Despite my skepticism I figure it can’t hurt, so I do it anyway and if nothing else it increases biodiversity in the garden, which we know is a good thing. Garlic grows well with beetroot, silver beet and lettuce. It’s beneficial to roses and raspberries by detering aphids. Garlic shouldn’t be planted near peas and beans as it leeches a substance that can stunt growth.
Being autumn, it is also pumpkin harvesting time. If you have a whopper, be sure to enter our ‘Biggest Pumpkin in the World Competition’. There is a great prize and you have to be in it to win it. For more info follow the link here or click on the picture below. If you would like to receive articles like this one straight to your inbox, sign up for free by clicking here.