Growing Garlic in Victoria
Garlic takes 9 months to grow! These pungent bulbs should be ready to harvest about a month before Christmas. Find a spot that you can do without until mid-next-summer. If you get your garlic from a decent nursery, they should be able to help you choose the right variety for your climate and soil.
Garlic is hardy and easy to grow, but there's a fair amount to do at different times. It’s a good idea to set yourself calendar reminders for it all at the beginning, and then just do what it says. It might seem like a lot to take in at first, but once you get the hang of it, growing garlic is actually pretty straight forward.
Do not plant supermarket-bought or imported garlic cloves. They are full of pests and disgusting chemicals. Read up on it and you'll never want to eat supermarket garlic again. These chemicals are often designed to stop the garlic from sprouting well anyway.
If your crop has mites, definitely don't replant that crop next season. Just eat it all. You know your plant has mites if young shoots emerge streaky and twisted, but then develop normally after that.
Plant them in a sunny spot. Come spring, they should be getting 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.
Prepare the soil by adding in lots of sheep manure, and letting it rot in for a couple months. Sheep manure adds nutrients, but it’s especially good for improving drainage. Poor drainage can lead to all sorts of problems and diseases in garlic. If you can’t get sheep manure, cow manure and horse manure are ok substitutes, but not as good. Don't use pig manure.
Two months before planting, sprinkle mustard green seeds around, and 3 weeks before planting, dig them into the soil. This prevents nematodes from interfering with roots.
Manganese and boron are important micronutrients when growing garlic. You probably have ample amounts already, but if you know this is an issue in your garden, make sure you sort it out before you plant your garlic.
Ideally, plant from mid-March. If you can, wait until the average temperature is between 10-20 degrees for 5 days in a row.
You shouldn't plant cloves which already have some green shoot showing. Cut a sample one in half and make sure the shoot is 2/3 way up the clove.
Soak the bulbs for less than 12 hours in seaweed solution before planting. This helps root development. Add a teaspoon of bicarb to the solution to prevent fungal growth.
Optional (and can be a little dangerous): dunk the cloves in alcohol for no more than 1 second just prior to planting. This will kill any mites living under the skin.
Start by choosing a spot with good airflow, this well help keep fungal infections away. Plant your cloves 15cm apart in each direction, with 2.5cm of soil above them, pointing upwards. Water very well, then mulch lightly. Don't water again until the sprouts are up.
Once the sprouts come up, feel free to add more mulch, but tease it up and out, to make sure it doesn't become too compacted or crowd out the shoots.
Be sure to practice good crop rotation and don't plant your garlic where you planted garlic or onions (alliums) recently. They transfer disease (such as root rot) very easily.
Garlic is best propagated from cloves. Keep your cloves from the previous year, divide them and plant them again. The bigger the clove you plant, the bigger your bulbs will be. Also, only plant the cloves from the outside of a garlic bulb, if replanting. Don't be fooled by large cloves which are actually doubles! Check the bottom of the cloves to make sure.
Weed weed weed! Well weeded garlic beds produce bigger, healthier bulbs. A good mulch will help smother the weeds.
Water garlic regularly. Avoid overhead watering, to prevent fungal growth. For best results, set up a drip watering system; your local nursery can tell you all about how this is done. Remember, once the weather starts to cool, you’ll need to water far less. Don’t water for the last two weeks before you harvest.
Spray monthly with fish emulsion during the earliest three months. This leads to bigger cloves.
A monthly application of sulfur (in dolomite) improves flavour, but is inadvisable if your soul pH is already a bit low. Soil pH tests are cheaply available at garden stores.
Potash makes bigger leaves and bulbs (cloves are just modified leaves) and phosphorous helps root development, so make sure whatever you feed them with has enough of those two.
Once your plants are up and established, be sure to mulch well with an organic mulch. Lucerne, sugar-cane or pea straw are all good options, but feel free to just use what you have on hand. A good, thick mulch will help smother weeds.
When the leaves start turning brown, you’ll know that its almost time to harvest. Hold off the watering and consider harvesting within 2 weeks. If you don't stop watering before harvesting, you risk "soot" infections. When you reckon you're ready to go, dig down to a bulb with your fingers and make sure it's a good size. If not, let the leaves go a little browner and try again. Once three leaves have gone brown, you should harvest no matter what.
Harvest by digging under each bulb and lifting up from underneath. Don't pull by the stem, as you'll damage the cloves and they won't keep as long. Shake off the dirt, then wash lightly and peel off the outside layer of skin. If you want to play it safe, let them dry with some dirt on, and brush it off when it's dry.
Garlic that has just been harvested has a very mild flavour and needs to be cured to develop its characteristic strong taste. Hang your garlic in a light, dry, airy spot for about 3-5 weeks. Poor drying conditions may cause mould to develop, just discard any mouldy bulbs.
If you planted "softneck" varieties, you can braid them before curing. They look fantastic hanging in a kitchen! A well-known practice of cutting the tops off the crops after harvest (in order to make a green manure) will shorten how long you can store the garlic. Don't do it! Leave the roots on to help the garlic cure faster.