Time to start plant­ing 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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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