For those people with a relatively small amount of land growing garlic may be worth considering.
Where I live, there are two stall holders at the local Farmers Markets selling garlic - both raw bulbs and smoked bulbs. It is popular with market goers - every year they sell out long before the next seasons crop has been harvested.
Garlic grows from the cloves picked off the bulb of garlic. One garlic bulb weighs approximately 40gms and should give around 8 cloves (to plant). Every clove will grow into a bulb.
Generally, the rule is to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year and harvest on the longest day. This does depend where you live; farther south where temperatures drop more rapidly a month earlier is recommended. It also pays to plant earlier if you have a heavier soil type which is difficult to work when it becomes waterlogged. I've been told you should plant garlic naked, to guarantee a plentiful crop. I'll be fully clothed planting mine - it's getting way too cold as the days get shorter.
Finding garlic seed bulbs is relatively easy, most garden centres stock seed bulbs, heritage varieties are available at specialist growers and the least expensive option is your local seed wholesaler, ours was able to source some good quality bulbs grown in Canterbury.
Try to avoid garlic from the supermarket or grocery stores; unless it is organic, it is likely to have been treated with anti-sprouting chemicals. Chinese garlic will have been fumigated as part of the import regulations.
Soil should be free draining, raising up the rows is ideal. Don't plant in a spot where you have had any of the onion family planted in the preceding year - leeks, onions or shallots.
Work compost through the soil loosening it up, this gives the emerging plants a good start. If you have a heavier soil type be extra generous with the amount of compost you dig in - garlic really hates to be waterlogged. Depending on the size plot you are planting this can be done by hand or with a rotary hoe.
Gently break off the fattest, healthiest cloves from the outside of the bulb. Plant these 5cm deep with the pointy end facing up (this is the end that will sprout). Space them about 15cm apart with your rows about 30cm apart to ensure good air circulation.
Maintaining your garlic is fairly simple:
- Keep it weed free. Mulching will help suppress the weeds and ensure the bulbs aren't constantly disturbed by weeding. Straw is a good option - place it between the rows and once the tops come up - put it between the plants.
- Late winter apply organic fertiliser. Blood and bone or fish fertiliser is a good option re-applied at monthly intervals. Most commercial growers use a fish based foliar feed - this can be applied more regularly. Stop fertilising in October.
- Irrigate the plants over the summer being careful not to over water - this can cause bulbs to rot in the ground.
Once the tops dry and start to droop it's close to harvesting time - about half the leaves will be will be brown and about half still green. This is usually around Christmas. It's a good idea to check their progress - gently dig up one of the bulbs. You are checking that they have reached a good size. Be careful, they can bruise shortening the length of time they keep. If they are wrapped tightly in layers they aren't quite ready, leave them until the end of January or middle of February. It's a good idea to keep checking them - once the bulbs split you have left harvest too long.
Dig them out and leave in the sun for a day or two to dry, too much sun could 'burn' the garlic. Once they are thoroughly dry, brush off the soil and cut the tops off (like they are presented in the supermarket) and store in a cool, dark, dry place.