Time to start planting garlic
GROW YOUR OWN GARLIC
Garlic is traditionally planted on the shortest day of the year, but any time from now until the end of the July does it proud. If your soil is frozen solid for much of winter, you can also tuck the cloves into cell trays or recycled seedling punnets and transplant it carefully once it’s about 5cm high (or the roots are hanging out the bottom of the plastic tray).
• To prepare the soil, weed your beds and add a sprinkle of granular fertiliser or a shovelful of organic manure. The more goodness in your soil, the better. Dig in well-rotted horse manure, compost, seaweed, fish guts – anything really. Just make sure it’s worked it well. Dig it in to a good spade depth and let it settle for 10-14 days prior to planting.
• Garlic needs full sun and free-draining soil; it won’t do well in light sandy soils, nor heavy, soggy clay.
• Source top-notch organic seed.Your garlic will only ever be as good as the seed you start with. Use only New Zealand grown garlic as seed, or buy seed garlic from garden centres now. (The bulbs should have trimmed roots on the base, whereas imported garlic is scraped clean.)
• Split whole bulbs into individual cloves. Save only the fattest outer cloves for planting – about 4-5 per bulbs. Eat the skinny inner cloves.
• When planting: bury or press the cloves into the soil so they are 2-4cm deep, with the pointy end of the clove facing upwards. If they aren’t covered with soil, they have a habit of rising up through the ground in a frost and end up sitting too close to the surface to root firmly.
• Give them some elbow room. Space cloves at least 30cm apart. It’s a common mistake to plant them too close. When fully grown, garlic gets as big as a healthy leek plant.
• Expect to see green shoots within 3-4 weeks.
• When and what to feed with. At the beginning of the season, garlic needs nitrogen, so use any fertiliser you have at hand. It does the bulk of its growth in September and early October, so liquid fertiliser helps then too. But after October, lay off the nitrogen as you want the bulbs to swell up under the soil surface, not put on more top growth.
• Keep regularly weeded but don’t mulch with compost during the season; this can lead to collar rot (same for onions). Do water your plants frequently.
• Troubleshooting tips. The cloves can rot in wet soil before they sprout. If you’re worried, start them in seed trays first. Rats, pukekos and rabbits can also dig up the cloves – if you have issues with vermin and feathered varmints, lay chicken mesh over the trenches after planting. Once they’ve sprouted, they’ll leave the plants alone.
• Disease issues. Moulds are common on alliums like garlic and onions. Never plant cloves that are mouldy. Rust was a real problem last season and this ruins the bulbs for storage. It’s a fungal disease so you could try using a general fungicide, but that somewhat defeats the point of growing your own organic garlic! If you had rust last summer, source new seed stock and plant them in a different spot.
S.O.S! (SAVE ON SOUP)
Take one parsnip, two celery sticks, half a swede and two carrots and what do you have? According to my nearest supermarket, you have ‘‘pre-packed soup mix’’ with a bonus bit of plastic food wrap and a polystyrene tray! Come again? I understand that people who live alone might like to buy (and eat) veges in small quantities, but that’s bad value, with unnecessary rubbish. And where’s the onion? Who makes soup without chopped onion?
One of the advantages of vege growing is that, even when it seems like there’s nothing to harvest, there’s always enough for a hearty soup. I finely chop whatever I have at hand (at the moment that means lots of parsley in every pot). Kale, which I still find intolerable raw in salads, adds nutrition while my current glut of celeriac means I don’t need to buy celery (lucky, because I don’t have any in my garden). Save the green parts of leeks to make vege stock and the skinny cloves from garlic seed bulbs (see over the page). Incidentally, sow peas now for pea and ham soup. Sow as thick as microgreens, and harvest by the clump to throw into soups just before serving.
CHECK STORED SPUDS, ONIONS & PUMPKINS
The old adage that one bad apple spoils the lot is also true of stored vegetable crops such as potatoes and onions. Once rot sets in, the spores spread rapidly and can ruin everything you have in storage, especially if the first tuber or bulb to disintegrate is out of sight at the bottom of the box. I went through my onions (pictured) this week and quite a few felt slightly soft, so we ate them before they went to waste.
PUT A STOP TO RODENT RAIDS
You can hardly blame them, but rats and mice are no fools when it comes to winter foraging. I’ve been trying to grow apricot and plum trees from their shelled pits and this week a mouse found my seed tray and carefully dug up every single kernel. If you have a garden shed, they will find a way in then eat anything in sight, from seeds to nuts, pumpkins and cheese helpfully spiked on a small trap. Lay bait now in pet-proof bait traps. I also keep my seed packets, open and unopened, inside a metal lock-box that they can’t get their paws into. It was an investment that has paid off.
DIG HOLES TO PLANT NEW FRUIT TREES
One of my favourite old pieces of gardening advice is to ‘‘dig the holes before you buy trees’’. I mean, who does that? Who among us has never succumbed to a spot of impulse shopping, especially on the fruit tree front? But if you do know what you want – and where it’s going to go – then start digging big holes now because new season’s fruit trees are starting to arrive in garden centres now.
This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz