Every vegetable takes the grower on a journey. From the first spark of interest, we are hooked by learning to plant, there's that exciting hint of green as the plant top pushes up through the soil, our daily observations, and finally to when we harvest and preserve. There is a relationship between the plant and the gardener, whether the plant grows for merely weeks or for stretched out months.
Garlic is a long growing journey, taking place during the coldest of months. In our cold temperate climate, Garlic is the standout hero. Garlic is born to grow here. It suits this climate, well, down to the ground!
Garlic does like a cold, reasonably wet and long winter, so down here in the south east of Australia, it makes sense that there are many garlic farms here. Last year, we got our best crop ever, and rainfall was above our 1000ml average for the year. So the garlic loved all this rain so much!
Garlic also gives us a lot. As well as it’s delicious flavour component, it gives up opportunities for us to enjoy the plant in many different ways throughout the journey (aka. growing season).
Now is the perfect time to plant your big garlic bulbs. From the end of March to the end of April (some people even plant at the beginning of May) is the ideal time to put the garlic in. Please wait until the hottest weather has passed, this will inhibit bulb growth.
Smaller cloves will form only small bulbs, which makes them a bit of a waste of space in the veggie patch, try to use large bulbs when planting. But keep the little bulbs as you can plant and use these differently (see below).
Plant 10cm apart 3-5cm deep and mulch over the top to keep weeds down. You must weed generously over the 6-7 month period that garlic is developing underneath the soil.
Add manure to the mix when preparing the bed, because garlic is a heavy feeder and will grow much bigger bulbs if aged manure and homemade compost are added.
Please plant with the pointy end up, as the roots will form down the other end.
Don’t throw out those tiny and small cloves attached to your big bulb, instead plant them close together in a herb pot and then you can harvest the garlic green shoots, a little bit like harvesting chives. Garlic Chives if you will! Keep snipping through the cooler months and they will keep re-shooting. This is great, because you can add that lovely garlic flavour without actually having garlic yet!
When the garlic is getting ready to shoot and makes seed, it develops a “scape”, which is the flower stalk forming through the middle of the plant, the flower sits on the top of the plant. This usually happens in Spring. If you let it go to flower and seed, the plant may go woody, so its advised that you snip the scapes off (see pictured) when the flowers are still small. But its not a waste at all, because you can harvest these scapes, which have an intense garlic flavour, blitz them with butter in a food processor and make the best garlic butter you will have ever tasted. You can also add them to frittatas and omelettes. Plus, you feel you are that one step closer to harvesting all those bulbs.
When it's time to harvest garlic...
When the top of the plant yellows and begins to dry, you can then harvest the bulbs underneath, for us, this is usually somewhere between Christmas and New Year, but with some early varieties it may be the beginning of December. Simply carefully dig around the area at the bottom to reveal the bulb and then gently pull it up. You can use a little hand shovel, but I prefer the sensory benefit of pulling them up with my hands. It’s then time to hang them up somewhere cool and dark and let them dry fully. After that, you can plait them, or cut the dried stems, clean off a little of the paper (not too much) and store them in a crate (see pictured). We find it much neater that way. We save the biggest bulbs for next years sowing then eat the rest!
Some ideas for using garlic
We’ve already been over Garlic Chives, Garlic Scape Butter and harvesting bulbs, but there are so many ways that you can use garlic.
You can roast garlic in whole cloves, so they burst open (when you push them with a back of a spoon) for any dish in the oven.
Garlic infused honey or oils are quite popular.
Put them in a decorative jar and gift them to friends, especially for Christmas!
Dehydrate the bulbs and store them in the pantry forever (well, not forever, add them to any dish at your leisure). This way you can make garlic flakes or garlic powder.
The best part about growing garlic is that you can get that garlic flavour at multiple times throughout the year, without even harvesting yet. Once you start to grow, you’ll never be without it.