I was always told to plant my garlic bulbs on Saint Patricks Day – but any time in March or April will do. Like its cousin the onion, garlic has been an essential ingredient for thousands of years and not just for the delicious taste.
Well known as a cure for a sore throat or sniffles (try garlic, ginger, honey and lemon tea), garlic is rich in Vitamin C, B6, manganese, trace elements and antioxidants and has been proven to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and bone health. There are studies investigating whether it can deter Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, and detoxify heavy metals in the body. Homegrown it’s a juicier, crunchier, tastier and sharper flavour than your store-bought produce, with all the benefits of chemical-free home organic growing. Not to mention how fun it is to harvest and plait your garlic into ropes to hang in your kitchen, old-world style.
Allium sativum is a slow grower but well worth the effort! Taking 8 - 10 months from planting to harvest, garlic is suitable for containers, surrounding the base of trees, or in their own veggie patch. Garlic grows long flat leaves to 40cm high, with little spread. Because of garlic’s long growing period, it’s often useful to plant quick-growing shallow-rooted crops such as lettuce in between, to use up the ‘wasted’ space and help keep competing weeds down.
Just like the kitchen, there’s more than one purpose for garlic in your garden. It isn’t just vampires who don’t like the smell – neither do plenty of bugs, including cabbage moth, aphids, stink bugs – and it’s even supposed to deter underground animals! Make your own organic garlic-based bug spray, or plant garlic around fruit trees to ward off aphid attack. Planting garlic underneath rose bushes is supposed to enhance their fragrance. Just don’t plant it next to a rosemary bush – I did that one year and had no bulb growth at all!
HOW TO GROW:
Garlic grows best in soil which has been dug through with well-rotted manure or compost, and likes full sun.
Buy a fresh, whole bulb of Australian or organic garlic from your grocer or garden shop and split it into individual cloves, leaving the ‘paper skin’ on. Warning: avoid the cheap garlic! According to the Australian Garlic Producers group, 95% of garlic sold in Australia is sourced from China and has been gamma-irradiated to prevent sprouting. If it won’t sprout on the way on the long-haul freighter to your kitchen, then no amount of love or water will get it to grow in your garden either – it’s sterile.
Plant cloves, pointy end up, 10 cm apart and 1cm deep. You can plant them in a circle around your citrus tree, or in straight lines in your garden plot. Rows are recommended to be 40cm apart (presumably to plant your intermediate crop) but I’ve grown garlic well in rows only 10cm apart – you can fit more in and there’s less weeding to do!
Mulch your garlic and water it regularly, without ever letting your soil completely dry out so the plants don’t get stressed. After about 6 months each garlic plant will send up a single flower; when the flower dies and the stalk starts to dry, usually November to January, they’re ready to harvest. Loosen the dirt around the bulb before gently pulling out, brush the dirt off the bulbs and allow them to rest in the sun for a couple of hours so the papery skin ‘hardens up’. Then – if you want – try and braid them!
Did you know that you can eat garlic leaves? Snip with scissors like chives and add to scrambled eggs or salad for a lighter garlic flavour. But don’t forget that leaves are needed to create energy to grow the plant – snip sparingly or it will stunt bulb growth!
Refrigerate bulbs before planting? Garlic needs cold weather, so it’s often suggested that bulbs should be stored in your fridge for four weeks prior to planting, especially if you garden in warmer climates. An airtight container seals in the moisture which stimulates root growth; after chilling, the plant grows vigorous shoots – however, this may be at the cost of later bulb development.
Natural garlic pesticide spray
Got a bug infestation? Get your kitchen blender! Mix together 500ml very warm water, 3 cloves garlic (paper skin removed) and 1 teaspoon natural soap, and leave for half an hour. Strain the juice into a squirt bottle (throwing the dregs into the compost). To repel bugs (either already on the plant, or to prevent them from coming) spray your plant in the early morning or evening (not the middle of the day when the heat can cause the droplets to burn the leaves like a magnifying glass).