Grow­ing gar­lic: a golden op­por­tu­nity for SA farm­ers

South Africa im­ports most of the gar­lic sold in the coun­try, but the lo­cal in­dus­try can thrive if farm­ers work to­gether and pro­duce good-qual­ity crops. Jac­ques Terblanche of Grace­land Gar­lic Seed ex­plains to Ger­hard Uys how pro­duc­ers can op­ti­mise gar­lic p

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents -

Jac­ques Terblanche, who co-founded Grace­land Gar­lic Seed with his fa­ther, Der­eyck, pro­duces seed for grow­ers on 3ha in Springs, Gaut­eng.

Ac­cord­ing to Terblanche, many fac­tors have to be con­sid­ered when plant­ing gar­lic. Al­though the crop can be grown suc­cess­fully in a wide range of soil types and in al­most any cli­mate, it fares best in well-drained soils with a pH of be­tween 6 and 7,5.

“Sandy loam is ideal. Soils with high or­ganic mat­ter con­tent are pre­ferred, due to their in­creased mois­ture- and nu­tri­en­thold­ing ca­pac­ity. These soils are also less prone to crust­ing and com­paction,” he says. Very heavy soil types hin­der bulb ex­pan­sion, par­tic­u­larly if al­lowed to dry out, re­sult­ing in ir­reg­u­larly shaped bulbs. In­ten­sive soil man­age­ment prac­tices are re­quired on light sandy soils with low mois­ture-hold­ing ca­pac­ity.

“Soils should be pre­pared in ad­vance to elim­i­nate peren­nial weeds,” says Terblanche. He rec­om­mends plough­ing to a depth of 15cm to 20cm, then har­row­ing, leav­ing the soil in good tilth. The sur­face should be lev­elled out and worked well, leav­ing a smooth sur­face to en­able ef­fec­tive ir­ri­ga­tion and drainage.


Egyp­tian white, Egyp­tian pink and gi­ant gar­lic have been planted for many gen­er­a­tions in South Africa and these cul­ti­vars have adapted well to lo­cal cli­mates.

“Gar­lic prefers the shorter and cooler days of win­ter and is frost-re­sis­tant,” Terblanche ex­plains. “For a bet­ter chance of a good crop, it’s im­por­tant to stick to the cor­rect plant­ing time, from Fe­bru­ary to May, but this de­pends on where in South Africa you farm.”

He adds that good-qual­ity seed forms the foun­da­tion of a good har­vest.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to har­vest a great crop from poor seed. A com­mon mis­take that peo­ple make is to buy fresh gar­lic off the shelf and plant cloves taken from those bulbs as seeds. These are of­ten ster­ile and won’t pro­duce siz­able bulbs. It’s bet­ter to buy seed from a rep­utable sup­plier.”

When planted, each clove forms a clone of the mother plant.

“Cloves should be planted at a depth of be­tween 3cm and 5cm, and 8cm to 12cm apart, with the point of the seed up­wards. Den­sity is usu­ally 250 000 seeds/ha.

“Qual­ity, dis­ease-free seed is ex­pen­sive, but po­ten­tial farm­ers shouldn’t be put off by this. Rather start off small and build up your own seed­bank in your first year. You can al­ways buy more seed to add to your ex­ist­ing seed­bank in your se­cond year.”

Egyp­tian gar­lic va­ri­eties can pro­duce a yield of up to 6t/ha, with the gi­ant va­ri­ety pro­duc­ing up to 12t/ha.


Com­mon pests and dis­eases to look out for in­clude thrips, cut­worm and white rot, which is caused by the fun­gus Sclerotium cepivo­rum Berk.

“Ex­cel­lent prod­ucts are avail­able to com­bat these by means of bi­o­log­i­cal or chem­i­cal con­trol,” says Terblanche. “Also, ro­tate and don’t plant in the same soil con­sec­u­tively. Keep your lands weed-free by us­ing me­chan­i­cal meth­ods as well as her­bi­cides. Iden­tify pests or dis­eases as early as pos­si­ble; it’s eas­ier to con­trol them then.”

Gar­lic prefers moist soil, but the plants should not be soaked in wa­ter. The crop should re­ceive ap­prox­i­mately 25mm of wa­ter a week, de­pend­ing on the soil type.



Dur­ing its ini­tial growth phase, as the plant emerges and spreads its leaves, the crop might re­quire gen­er­ous ap­pli­ca­tions of ni­tro­gen. Phos­pho­rus should also be ap­plied for op­ti­mal root devel­op­ment, and potas­sium added for leaf growth and healthy bulb for­ma­tion.

“Be­fore ap­ply­ing fer­tiliser, ver­ify phos­pho­rus and potas­sium lev­els with a soil test. Broad­cast any re­quired phos­pho­rus or potas­sium, fol­lowed by shal­low in­cor­po­ra­tion into the soil be­fore plant­ing. The amount of ni­tro­gen re­quired will vary with soil type, the pre­vi­ous crop grown, the amount of or­ganic mat­ter present and the cli­matic con­di­tions dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son.”


Gar­lic is ready to be har­vested when 30% of the plants on a land have turned brown and started dy­ing down. Har­vest­ing can be car­ried out man­u­ally or me­chan­i­cally but should be done care­fully to pre­vent dam­ag­ing the bulbs.

Af­ter the plants have been pulled from the soil, they are laid out in bunches to dry for up to three days and then hung in a cool, well-ven­ti­lated place. Once

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