Planning your garlic crop – start in February!
Although it may be several months before we plant out garlic, preparations must start now. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, you may need to order in garlic heads, and secondly you may wish to give your garlic a false winter (vernalisation) by placing it in the fridge for 40 days prior to planting.
So, February is all about producing a schedule and ordering garlic heads to pop into the fridge or the ground well before the shortest day. If you are going to vernalise, you will need to order garlic online or pick them up at a garlic festival such as the Meeniyan Garlic Festival in South Gippsland on February 20th. The nurseries get their garlic in too late to vernalise.
Australians have become increasingly interested in and adept at growing garlic because they understand that imported garlic should not be consumed and usually cannot be grown. Imported garlic is sprayed with methyl bromide to guard against imported disease, and sprayed with shoot inhibitors to increase shelf life, neither of which any health conscious person wants to consume. If you buy garlic from a supermarket, make sure it is Australian.
Garlic has very specific growing requirements. It grows best in areas with cool winters and hot summers such as we have. Prior to the shortest day (June 20) garlic needs to establish its roots and leaves. Generally, depending on the cultivar, and whether or not you vernalise, garlic should be planted between late March and early May. June is too late. High temperatures during these months will set back the development of the garlic. For this reason I favour vernalisation. After the shortest day, as days lengthen, garlic needs temperatures between 5 -10 degrees C for 4 -8 weeks for clove formation, followed by bulb formation. Bulb swell increases with lengthening days and warmer weather. Adequate rainfall especially in spring, but throughout the growing season, is essential. Watering well during hot weather before the shortest day will help cool developing roots.
It is important to select a cultivar that meets your requirements as well as being suitable for Melbourne. Growing a cultivar that is unnamed will not serve you well because you will not know whether it is an early, mid season or late planting variety or in which month it should be harvested. Garlic left in the ground too long may develop side shoots which significantly reduce their storage life. To store well, a garlic head needs tight clove formation and to be harvested with 4 – 6 green leaves. As these dry, they form the outer skin of the garlic and the more skins they have, the longer they last.
There are 11 families of garlic, 7 of which are grown in Australia, and hundreds of cultivars. Garlic comes in many ‘flavours’ and ‘heats’, in a variety of colours, in a variety of clove sizes, in heads producing anything from 4 -20 cloves and with a storage life from 4 -12 months. Careful selection and storage could mean you have garlic available year round.
In each newsletter from now till November, there will be a step by step guide to what steps to take each month.
Check out the Australian Garlic Industry Association website for places to purchase garlic.
Written by Robin Gale-Baker