Garlic - rust never sleeps
Though garlic is traditionally (in Europe) planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest, May is actually a good month to get it in the ground. Bulbs can get a head start forming roots, and garlic should be ready to harvest earlier in December, which is more convenient if you’ll need the beds for summer crops like tomatoes. If bed space is limited, I’ve seen it grow well in a large barrel in a sunny spot - sun is important.
Planting in poor soil is a mistake. Though good drainage is vital if bulbs aren’t to rot (you should be easily able to push your finger right into the soil), that doesn’t mean thin sand will grow a good crop. The better the soil, the better your crop will be. Plenty of compost is needed, ideally along with monthly seaweed feeds during the growing season.
Another mistake was planting too close together. It’s tempting to cram in bulbs and save on weeding, but garlic’s natural habitat is the mountains of East Asia, snowy in winter but dry in summer. Fungal diseases are the main issue in our climate, especially if we have a wet spring. Planting 10cm apart, in rows 20cm apart, allows for more airflow to help prevent this.
Prepare beds with a little lime and potash about a week before planting. And use a dibbler (a stick that pokes a hole in the ground, into which you put you seedling, or in this case garlic clove.) If you just shove the clove straight into the ground the roots will force it back up again and it’ll grow on the surface. The tips of the cloves should just be at ground level, and make sure you plant them right way up. Mulching as you go with peastraw or another light, airy mulch helps you see where you’ve been, avoiding confusion or double-planting.
When to harvest? Don’t wait until the leaves totally die off, there should still be some green leaves, Instead, feel around underground to tell when your bulbs are ready. They should be nice and fat but still sealed within the outer skin. When left in the ground too long (or if they’ve dried out too much during the growing season), outer bulbs start to split off from the mother. Handle newly harvested garlic gently and cure it slowly over three weeks or so in a dry, airy place.
Kāpiti gardeners often struggle with rust on their garlic due to wet springs or summers. Rust, which causes rust-coloured spots on foliage, is spread by spores and thrives in humid conditions - and there’s not a lot we can do about the weather. But there are some things you can do to prevent rust:
Kath Irvine of Edible Backyard, a font of garden knowledge, has written an e-book about garlic, available to download on her website for $6. If you haven’t seen her website or been on one of her courses, check them out – I’ve learned so much from her.