October 20, 2019


Freshly harvested garlic | Photos by the writer
Freshly harvested garlic | Photos by the writer

Want to grow chemical-free food but haven’t got a clue where, or how, to begin? The answer is garlic, and the time is right now.

Garlic is a mainstay in every kitchen. The more we have, the more we tend to use and this, with both taste and health in mind, is a good thing.

Bazaar-bought garlic, as we should all know by now, is probably not chemical -free. Whilst the pre-peeled cloves are tempting, especially for those who work and still have a kitchen to run, the various methods of ‘instant’ peeling — ranging from sulphuric acid baths to kerosene soaks — are enough to make anyone’s hair stand on end. Add to this, the vision of nimble-fingered, little children painstakingly cleaning garlic at slave labour rates.

Tips to grow chemical-free garlic in your gardens and pots

Growing and cleaning your own garlic isn’t that much of a chore when done on a daily basis. And when the growing medium and necessary care are of your own choosing, what a simple pleasure it can be.

Garlic grows best over the cooler winter months so planting it now, through until mid-December at the very latest, is ideal.

No fussing around with seed: simply purchase the nicest looking, firmest, healthiest, whole bulbs of garlic, carefully separate off the individual cloves (leaving the attached, protective layers of skin intact) and you are ready to get planting.

A sun-lover, garlic can be grown in well-prepared garden beds or in clay pots/other assorted containers as long as essential drainage holes are present and are always kept clear of blockages. If the growing medium becomes waterlogged, garlic quickly rots away to a black, mouldy sludge and none of us want this to happen.

Cleaned garlic bulbs, ready to be stored
Cleaned garlic bulbs, ready to be stored

If growing in a sunny garden bed, prepare the soil at least two to preferably four weeks in advance. Do this by thoroughly weeding the bed, removing any stones and other inorganic debris in the process. Garlic is greedy and needs lots of nourishment to form the plump bulbs we all desire. Dig in plenty of old, well-rotted, preferably organic manure and organic compost, home-made if you have it. Aim for a mix that is 50 percent soil, 25 percent manure and 25 percent compost — a mix that is rich enough for the garlic to gorge on throughout its growing period. An identical mix is also suitable for growing garlic in pots/containers.

The cloves should be gently inserted in the soil, flat end downwards, pointed end facing up, until they have a top covering of one to two inches of soil over them. They should be spaced about four inches apart and, if planting in rows, they should be approximately six inches apart. Planting them in raised ridges of soil aids drainage and helps prevent waterlogging. While good drainage is essential, so is regular watering as, without water the cloves will not grow or, if they do, will not produce a good result.

A garlic patch
A garlic patch

Pots/containers for growing garlic need not be very deep as this is not a deep-rooted crop. As long as the pot/container is four to six inches deep and the soil/manure/compost mix is suitable, a good crop is possible — provided it is kept completely weed-free at all times. The same applies to garlic being grown directly in the garden.

Wooden vegetable crates, such as those used for tomatoes, found in the bazaar are ideal for growing garlic. Additionally, to make maximum use of a small space, line a plastic laundry basket (the type with largish holes all around it) with double thickness sheets of newspaper, fill to within two inches of the top with the compost/manure/soil mix. Poke holes through the newspaper into the soil at two to three inches intervals. Now carefully insert garlic cloves into them plus on the soil surface at four-inch intervals, water as usual. In a very short space of time, the laundry basket will turn green with garlic growth.

If you want to grow a luscious crop of green garlic rather than actual bulbs, you can plant the cloves just an inch or so apart and cut off the fresh green shoots when they reach a suitable height leaving the cloves in place to grow another two or three crops of greens before they fade away.

Additionally, if you have roses in your garden, planting garlic around them is a major help in keeping all kinds of aphids and other nasty insects away. Garlic planted in-between rows of carrots keeps the dreaded carrot fly away, too.

Garlic cloves planted now will give you a decent crop of bulbs next April or thereabouts and, all going well, you will wonder why on earth you never tried growing it before.

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Published in Dawn, EOS, October 20th, 2019