Play it cool, plant some garlic
GROWING your own garlic is dead easy. Unlike most dormant plants, which are stimulated into growth by warmth and light; garlic is the opposite because bulbs need cold conditions in order to send out roots and begin to grow.
This is the main reason it is a mistake to store garlic in the fridge. After a couple of weeks in the cold, the cloves or bulb divisions start to shoot.
And if there is the slightest amount of moisture around, say in a plastic bag, the roots too will be sprouting furiously.
Usually a suitable time of the year to plant garlic cloves is from late autumn, in order to take advantage of winter’s cooling soil. In fact, the best yields of big, tasty and aromatic garlic always occur in places with cool winters, which makes Tasmania one of the best places on earth to grow outstanding crops.
There’s still time to plant garlic, because an ideal soil temperature to get it moving and growing fast is 7C or lower.
Better still, if this cold continues for about eight weeks it’s no problem in Tasmania. The yield of big, fat, solid, long- keeping bulbs can be enormous by late December.
Last July I planted our main garlic crop. I used enough locally grown bulb- divisions to create four rows, each 3m long.
The bed was small, less than half the size of an average bathroom. Yet when the crop was harvested it was so heavy I needed a wheelbarrow to cart it away while gloating about the financial savings. At the time, the supermarket price was between $ 30 and $ 40 a kilogram.
This enormous garlic harvest was spread out on the wooden floor of a sunny veranda allowed to fully dry off.
Later it was tied in loose bundles and hung undercover in a dry, airy shed. I’ve just planted our new crop using the best of last year’s harvest.
If you have no home- grown garlic bulbs to plant, go buy some.
However, make sure it is either Tasmanian grown or at least from other parts of Australia. Imported garlic can be a waste of time because this stuff has been treated to retard sprouting while awaiting sale.
Growing your own garlic is astonishingly easy because the plants require very little care or attention.
I never bother using fertilisers, just soil that has been manured the previous year to grow unrelated vegetables such as tomatoes or brassicas.
However, add lime to the soil because garlic detests acidic conditions. Also sprinkle a good fistful of sulphate of potash over every square metre of cultivated soil before planting out garlic bulbs. Both are minerals rather than fertilisers.
Simply push the bulbs into the soft soil, base- plate down so the pointed ends finish up just beneath the surface.
Spacing is about 100mm. Make sure there is a big gap between the rows, a distance of at least half a metre. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Garlic plants cannot compete with weeds. So a wide spacing between rows allows the soil to be quickly raked every few weeks to disrupt and kill weed seedlings as fast as they emerge.
The other reason for widely- spaced garlic rows is to allow for inter- row cropping later, with equally non- greedy companion plants.
This gives enough space to grow rows of weed- suppressing carrots, parsnips and beetroot from a spring sowing.
All of which have a low need for fertilisers, love to grow together and even protect each other.
This method of growing garlic with other friendly companions enables small sunny beds to carry huge crops of the most nutritious of all food plants without needing sprays or chemical fertilisers. That’s what I call highly productive organic growing.