Thoughts on Growing Garlic

I’ve learnt a lot about growing garlic this year….well at least I think I’ve learnt a lot.  Previously I’ve always just grown one variety of garlic which generally did OK for me.  This year though I decided to branch out and try some new varieties.  This has meant I had different varieties to compare the performance of and muse about.  If nothing else I have a few new theories to test next year.  Firstly though it would be nice to review last year.

When this years crop was ready for harvest I still had a little of last years crop left – admittedly they are very small fiddly heads, but they are still usable.  As a result I am happy to report that last years crop lasted the entire year.  A very big YAY.

As you can kind of make out above, I plait my softneck garlic and store it in the laundry which maintains a reasonably mild temperature year round.  I did get a bit of almost sprouting – not actual shoots but some green bits in the middle of many of the cloves.  This was from June onwards but it didn’t progress beyond a little bit of green.  It also didn’t seem to affect the flavour much.  That year I grew just under 100 heads.  Many of these were fairly small.  If you are able to grow bigger heads you may get away with less but I think 80 – 100 is about right for a years supply for a family of four reasonably enthusiastic garlic eaters.

This year I grew 5 varieties of garlic, but due to the labels being moved by small hands I have to admit not being able to discern which is which beyond a fairly basic level.  A couple of the varieties were so similar they were incredibly difficult to differentiate between (and in fact may actually be the same variety – for further details about what I planted see this post.).  What I was able to differentiate between were the purple and white varieties.  The purple variety I grew was Purple Monaro which, allegedly, is a hardneck variety but it didn’t flower in my garden.  The white varieties I grew were Italian White and Italian Common which seem to be incredibly similar and performed very similarly in my garden.  Both are softneck varieties.

In a nutshell the softneck varieties did much better than the hardneck ones.  However neither (with the exception of some heads) did as well as my fathers.  He had brilliant returns from both his hard and soft neck varieties.

When I grow garlic I do it on the 12-15cm grid planting the cloves about 2-3cm below the soil level.  When he grows garlic he sows the cloves (often the smallest ones) in herb pots, planting them out once they have germinated and grown on a bit.  He plants in about a 15cm grid.  When he sows his garlic he plants the cloves as you would plant shallots – ie with the top of the clove being at or slightly above the level of the soil/potting mix.

His garden is at 600m above sea level, mine is about 70m – if that.  His garden is on average about 4 degrees Celsius cooler than mine, possibly more at night.  His garlic gets full sun, mine gets about 6 hours a day.

I reckon the preparation of our beds is pretty similar and whilst its difficult to assess watering levels I reckon they’d be pretty similar too.

So which of the differences in our gardens is most likely to account for the differences do you think? I do like Michelle and Daphne’s thought (in the comments of this week’s Monday Harvest post) that the hardneck varieties do better in cooler climates.  Despite what Sydneysiders may think Melbourne has a pretty mild climate.  I also think that sun has something to do with it too.

What I would also like to know though is why some of my heads of the same variety are a lot bigger than others.  The size of the cloves I planted was fairly uniform but perhaps there were different nutrients in different parts of the bed?

Regardless though I think it is safe to say that softneck varieties do better in Melbourne’s climate relatively mild climate.  Although I liked how the how easy it is to peel Purple Monaro I will take the larger cloves on my two ‘Italian’ varieties any day.  From now on I think I will stick to the soft necks, they might not have romantic names but they do seem to be far more productive.

I’m not the first Melbournian muse about garlic growing- City Garden, Country Garden wrote an interesting post on this a couple of weeks back.  I would love you to add your thoughts on garlic growing as well – what worked for you and what doesn’t.

This entry was posted in Alliums - Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Autumn Planting, Spring Harvesting, Summer Harvesting and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Thoughts on Growing Garlic

  1. Leanne says:

    I’m still waiting to harvest my garlic – so could be too soon to speak… I always give the bed lots of preparation before planting, mulch well with newspaper and peastraw. Feed with worm or sheep tea while growing. Fingers crossed my bulbs are big. It will be thrilling if they are large bulbs.
    Love Leanne

    • Liz says:

      Thats interesting about the mulch – I didn’t mulch much this year as last year quite a few of my head rotted and I thought the area would drain better without mulch. I do think I’ll go bakc to mulching next year though.

  2. I had variety in the size of bulbs of the same type but in general some varieties were consistently better than others. Our poorest crops were from the ones transplanted after being first grown on in the greenhouse in pots. The trouble is that this year growing conditions were so poor when the pot grown garlic was put out and also we had a really dry winter which meant the cloves planted directly outdoors didn’t have to sit in soggy ground so it would be silly to draw any conclusions as to which method is generally most effective.

    • Liz says:

      Its really interesting that my father has most success with the method you have least success with. Plants are tricky things sometimes aren’t they. Its always fascinating how much variation there are in the idosyncracies of different varieties.

  3. Frogdancer says:

    Well… I can tell you that black aphids didn’t work for me!
    The only garlic I harvested was a patch that was hidden in a wicking bed behind some celery. All of the other 120 plants were sucked dry.

    • Liz says:

      they are really horrible aren’t they. I have to admit I spray them with pyrethrum because they are just so damaging and there’s only so much time one person can spend trying to persuade the ladybirds to move onto the garlic.

  4. Louise says:

    Very helpful musings, thanks for the summary. I have only tried garlic twice and both times found the result very dissappointing but may well try again. Beautiful pic of the purple head.

  5. Barbara Good says:

    Good timing on this post, I just pulled up the last and best lot of garlic. I didn’t plant anywhere near as much as you, but from the bed I emptied this morning I got twenty really good sized bulbs, some were as big as my hand just about. There were a couple of little ones, but I suspect these were from the smaller cloves (I’ll remember to be more selective next year) and a couple were planted a bit close to each other. Of the other two areas I planted out with garlic, one was attacked by masses of black aphids – Frogdancer I know what you mean about them being sucked dry! The other lot were in a pot and I don’t thing they liked that.

    The most successful lot was planted along the fence with only a few hours direct sun a day so I was surprised how well they did. I also totally neglected them, no water, no feeding, but as we had a wet winter I could get away with that a bit more than in others years I suspect. Anyway, it won’t last a year, but I was certainly pleased with the results, especially as a complete novice garlic grower.

    • Liz says:

      That is really interesting about them not getting much light – i will definitely experiment with that next year. I’ve always assumed they need heaps of sun but clearly not from your experience.

  6. Just pulled out my garlic today and had success for the first time in three years. About 90 bulbs. Not whoppers but good enough. I don’t know much about garlic so your post has been very interesting. Thanks.

    • Liz says:

      Yay – really glad they worked for you. Did you get the Italian Common from New gippsland? If so if stores well so hopefully you’ll have garlic for a good while.

  7. Thanks for the mention Liz! I harvested the rest of mine on Friday and the result was pretty similar to yours, I’ll try to put up a final post on it this week. I did have the same experience of the same type in the same conditions producing quite different sized bulbs…strange! We may not have found all the answers this year but it’s been really interesting to analyse it with you.

    • Liz says:

      Pleasure – I think next year I’ll plant fewer varieties and experiment more with position and soil preparation. In the meantime perhaps i need to hunt out some Italian neighbours and get their thoughts on the matter.

  8. Sarah says:

    I’ve never managed to get pot grown garlic to do well. But the weeks since I planted this year’s garlic have been so wet, I’m beginning to wish that I had put some in pots as a back up. The ground is so soggy, I’m sure the cloves must be rotting away. You’re doing well to be self-sufficient in garlic.

    • Liz says:

      I grew some in polystyrene fruit boxes last year that did quite well. I did it again this year but planted it super close to eat green and that worked quite well as well. At least you’ll know if they’ve rotted at this point and hopefully Spring will be drier and it wont harm the developing heads.

  9. Dave says:

    I’ve had to do a lot of experimenting to see what types of garlic perform well here. I found that some of the hardnecks do well with our milder winters, some did terribly. But then our winters aren’t consistent, with some being colder and wetter than others. So some garlics do better some years than they do in others.

    I am still experimenting with soil prep and adding nutrients. Giving the garlic bed nitrogen in early spring seems to help here, given my soil conditions.

    • Liz says:

      Ah i like the nitrogen idea as my plants did start to look a bit bedraggled at the start of Spring and it probably would have helped them a long a bit. I think this year I will stick with one or two varieties that did well this year and in previous years and experiment with nutrients and position etc and see what I learn from that.

  10. Bek says:

    Thanks for the great post and gorgeous garlic pics, and well done on your last year’s garlic lasting 12 months. I will definately be growing hard and soft neck varieties next year. My garlic experience is practically non-existant, so I have no advice to offer.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Bek. I hope this years harvest lasts as well – I know the Italian common shoudl be I have no idea of the keeping qualities of the other varieties I’ve grown.

  11. Funny how we always want we can’t have… we can’t grow softnecks, so are envious of your ability to! Ironically, it’s the softneck varieties that are supposed to store better than the hardnecks. Lovely pix!

  12. Phillip Stewart says:

    I have been growing softneck garlic for about four years. I live on Qld’s Fraser Coast. I was lucky enough to be given my original corms from a local gardener who had been growing his own garlic for many years. His view was that his crops improved over time by virtue of always planting the best corms from the previous crop. Each successive crop is that little bit more heat tolerant. Something along the lines of Darwin and his theory of natural selection. I have found this particulary so with Coriander which with each successive season is that much slower to bolt.

  13. Phillip Stewart says:

    Liz, my wife and I went shopping at our local deli/grocer yesterday and she (my wife) asked me did I have any garlic. Australian garlic was for sale at $49.99 per kg so I was tempted to offer up some of my “seed” stock. Restraint not my strong suit either (I can resist anything except temptation!) but I had to say “No”. It is a slippery slope when you start down that path.

    • Liz says:

      I have to admit being quite pleased with the $50 a kg price – I was getting quite despondant about the $10kg price at the supermarket.

  14. Pingback: Planting garlic | Suburban Tomato

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *