Now’s the time to plant your garlic
Itching to plant your garlic? Go ahead. There’s no need to wait until the shortest day to plant garlic, as tradition dictates. Plant them now to get them off to a good start. Many gardeners swear the earlier you plant them, the better. At the very least the bulbs have time to send out roots before the really cold weather sets in. Then come spring, they’re ready to shoot off. Buy seed garlic from your local garden centre or use organic, New Zealand-grown bulbs from fruit and vege shops. Divide the individual cloves just before planting, and discard any that are soft or damaged. Plant the biggest bulbs in a sunny spot in fertile, well-drained soil that has plenty of compost dug in. The compost provides a slow release of nitrogen, which the garlic likes. Garlic does not grow well in standing water, so plant in raised beds or containers if your soil is frequently soggy. Sandy loam is ideal, although a free-draining clay soil is fine. Push each clove, unpeeled and pointy end up, into the soil about 5 centimetres deep and 10-15cm apart. Garlic needs ample moisture during its spring growth period for the bulbs to fatten up, so make sure you’re on hand with the hose or watering can if days are dry. As soon as the leaves appear, foliar feed fortnightly for a couple of months, at which time bulbs will be starting to form. I like to use a mix of 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed and 1 tablespoon fish emulsion with a litre of water and spray. I also sprinkle some wood ash over the soil too. Remove any scapes (flower stalks) that form, as the plant will use up valuable energy to form flowers rather than bulbs. Keep the soil around your garlic well weeded too, as garlic hates competition. Stop watering when the leaves begin to yellow. Garlic is then harvested when the leaves start to brown. When the lower leaves are brown but the top five or six are still green, that’s the time to harvest. Harvest on a dry day. Dig the bulbs out gently with a garden fork, being careful not to bruise any, or they won’t store for long. Lightly brush off any soil, then leave the bulbs outdoors in a shaded spot for a couple of days to dry out, or under cover if rain is likely. Don’t leave them in full sun or they’ll cook. Cure your garlic before storing by hanging in bunches in a cool, dry place with good ventilation, or place on a mesh rack in a similar situation. Make sure there is adequate airflow and that the bulbs are positioned out of direct sunlight. Once cured (after two to four weeks), the stalks can be cut to 1cm from the bulb, or plaited. Store in a dry room.
Bursting with flavour: Garlic likes fertile, well-drained soil.