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 in 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 (the same is true for onions). Do water your plants frequently.
• The cloves can rot in wet soil before they sprout. If you’re worried, start them in seed trays first. Rats, pukeko 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.
• Moulds are common on alliums like garlic and onions. Never plant cloves that are mouldy. Rust can be a real problem 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.