Tis the season for colds and flu so what better way to make it through than chewing down on what you grew: garlic! The deliciously fragrant little cousin of the onion, always there like a true little hero to fill your kitchen and your heart with winter warmth when the harsh Melbourne chills start to settle in outside.
The important thing to remember about growing garlic, is that you’ll need to source untreated bulbs. Commonly, imported garlic is treated with chemicals to retard the sprouting process for longer shelf life. Even commercially available domestic garlic can often be subject to the same fate, so go with a local organics supplier or a trusted friend.
Before you go plonking them in however, ensure your soil is adequately prepared. Ideally this means crumbly to a depth of 30-50cm, with some ripe compost or manure blended through. In pots, you can simply use premium potting mix with slow release fertilizer. With your crop in a position of full sun, separate the cloves and place them around 5cm deep and 10cm apart. Make sure to save some for the kitchen though as your new bulbs may take up to 6 months to fully mature.
You’ll want to keep them well watered, however mother nature should have your back by and large through the winter season. Later on in the year, pay attention to the shoots. When they begin to yellow, dig around the new bulb with a small trowel and lift it from the bottom. Once you’ve cleaned them up and allowed them to dry for a couple of weeks, you’re good to go for a whole host of culinary endeavours. For the uninitiated, a good tip for removing the skin is to gently but firmly squeeze the clove and bend it back and forth. This will pop the skin off while also activating the flavourful compounds inside the garlic without exposing it to air. Voila!
Of course, a helpful side note for planning your patch is to get the garlic in where it’s heroic abilities are best recognized. This includes planting alongside tomatoes (to repel red spider mites), and various members of the cabbage family including broccoli, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts and kale (to deter cabbage loopers, aphids and cabbage maggots, among other things). Similarly, scattering your garlic in a non-uniform fashion will aid in the pest control process by limiting the ability of specialized pests to access a veritable feeding trough of their chosen grub.
For more on the magic of companion planting, you can refer to this handy chart, and until next time, happy planting!