May is Garlic Planting Time
Garlic has been grown and eaten since the time of the ancient Egyptians.
It is an easy herb to grow, requiring a minimum of space and fuss.
Select and plant only large plump cloves.
These will grow a lot of leaves, which will feed the bulb.
Large healthy plants will flower (for hard neck varieties) and then produce a large bulb full of garlic cloves.
Smaller cloves result in plants that are smaller and will only produce 'rounds'.
Rounds look more like onions and are immature garlic bulbs that do not have cloves.
They are poorly flavoured and should be replanted in the following season, where they will grow to a large bulb each.
When to plant
In most parts of New Zealand, May is already cold enough for garlic cloves to start sprouting.
The common advise of planting garlic on the shortest day and harvesting on the longest, does not allow sufficient time to grow large bulbs.
Planting in May gives the plant an extra full month of growth before its leaves die on the arrival of warmer weather.
This results in bigger bulbs.
If however, you miss planting in May, it is still alright to plant through June and even July.
The only place where garlic should not be planted in May is where the ground is freezen throughout the winter.
In these rare areas, wait until the spring thaw before planting.
How to plant
First, prepare the soil.
Pick a spot that has not been used to grow garlic or onion in the past couple of years.
Garlic likes neutral soils - acid soils should be limed a month before planting time.
Incorporate plenty of organic matter, such as compost into the soil.
For badly drained soils, it is better to build up.
On planting day, incorporate blood and bone into the soil.
Dig a shallow trough, about 7-10 cm deep.
Plant the cloves approximately 10-15cm apat, with the pointed part facing up, and about 2 cm below the soil level.
Water in well.
Then mulch with a thin layer of either with straw or dried lawn clippings.
In most years, there is no need to water the garlic.
The moist weather during late autumn, winter and spring provides sufficient water.
Sometimes if the autumn or winter has been too dry, it may be necessary to provide a little water.
Feed once a month with a balanced fertiliser.
The life cycle of garlic starts when cool conditions cause the clove to initiate root growth, followed by a new leaf shoot.
The food reserves stored in the clove is then used to feed the new shoot, which grows rather quickly.
Once exhausted, the clove will wither away, and thereafter, the plant will have to build on the head start it got from the clove and produce more leaves, which will eventually feed and grow the next season's bulb.
The bulb will only start to grow when warmer weather causes leaf growth to cease.
At this time also, the garlic will send out a flower stem from the crown.
It is best that this flower stem be removed at the earliest possible time.
Garlic has to be cross pollinated in order to set seed.
If you only grow one variety, the plants will never set seed.
The flowers then only serve to redirect the food from the garlic bulb.
The young cut flower stems can be put to better use - cook and eat them.
They will taste like asparagus!
Once bulb formation has started, the plant will direct all its resources to producing the bulb.
Then with the arrival of warm summer weather, the leaves will wither down, leaving behind the now dormant bulb to start the next season's growth.
Harvest when the leaves start to turn brown, just before Christmas.
On wetter and cooler years, it may be as late as January before the leaves start to die down.
Scratch the soil away to expose the bulbs.
Leave to dry in the sun for a few days.
The garlic should then be dug up and further cured in a cool, dark and dry place.
The curing process reduces the amount of moisture in the bulb and allows the skin to properly harden, to seal in the bulb.
Properly cured, garlic bulbs should be able to last one year.
To cure garlic, lay them down with their tops on, single layer on a bench.
This process may take 2-3 weeks.
Alternatively, the bulbs may be plait and hung from the ceiling.
Plaiting is best done on bulbs where the tops have not gone completely dry and hardened.
To plait, start off with 3 bulbs, labeled A, B and C from the left.
- Arrange them in a row with the tops facing away from you.
- Start the plait by placing the tops of bulb C over the bulb B's.
- Then do the same with the bulb A's - put it over the bulb B's tops, which by now should be in the middle.
- Bend the bulb B's tops over the bulb A's.
- Bend the right bulb C's tops over the bulb B's.
- At the same time, add another bulb to the plait and place its top next bulb C's top.
- Bend bulb A's tops over the combined tops.
- At the same time, add another bulb to the plait and place its top next bulb A's top.
Continue in this fashion until all bulbs have been used or the plait is at the desired length.
Then continue plaiting the tops for a few more times and tie off.
When using garlic from a plait, start from the bottom.
There is one variety of garlic that is worth mentioning, elephant garlic.
This is not a true garlic but rather, a relative of the leek.
It is milder than garlic and has a life cycle that is identical to garlic, so therefore, grow it as you would garlic.
Elephant garlic produces very large bulbs, often over 500g each when freshly dug up.
Each individual clove can eb larger than a whole garlic bulb.
When planting elephant garlic, space out the cloves a bit more to allow for the larger bulb.
Also, it is not a good idea trying to plait elephant garlic, for apart from it hard tops, a plait of only a few bulbs will be too heavy to lift.