This week, dodging the ongoing rain showers, I have been planting garlic. Growing garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the simplest forms of crop production, and I don't think I am alone in not wanting to eat garlic that has been bleached with chlorine, sprayed with dubious pesticides and fumigated with methyl bromide (in accordance with Australian quarantine standards), as much imported garlic is, these days (and most of our garlic is imported). Imported garlic is also often kept for long periods in cold storage (losing much of its nutritional value in the process) and treated with growth inhibitors.
Last year was the first time I grew a crop of garlic. I had a bulb of Australian-grown garlic that was starting to sprout, so I decided to plant it out in my vegetable patch. The best spot to grow it is in a bed with light, well-drained soil in full sun. Added aged compost or rotted animal manure will enrich the soil. I simply separated the bulb into individual cloves and poked them into the soil, with the pointed top of the clove just below the surface. Mulching is helpful to reduce weed competition, and regular watering is important. March to early April is the optimum time to plant the cloves. The area for planting should be changed each year for best results, as this will prevent the build-up of pests and diseases.
The cloves take around seven to eight months to turn into a bulb, so garlic planted now will be ready around September or October. The best time to harvest is when the tops start to turn brown - not when they have completely died back. They should be dug up very gently, so that the bulbs aren't bruised, as this will reduce their keeping quality. The next step is to dry the bulb for two or three weeks, outdoors but undercover. Last year, I hung mine from a clothes rack on the back verandah, pegging each bulb by its long, brown foliage. Alternatively, they can be dried on flat racks. After drying (which takes two to three weeks), the bulbs should be stored in net bags in a dry place. Bulbs store better when kept whole, rather then being separated into individual cloves.
The resulting garlic was delicious and I enjoyed using every last clove in a variety of dishes. Research has shown that garlic has a range of health-giving properties, being most beneficial when eaten crushed and raw, and tasting at its best shortly after being prepared; however, I also like to roast whole bulbs of garlic in the oven to produce a more mellow flavour to add to salad dressings and mayonnaises.
Various types of organic garlic cloves can be purchased now from suppliers to plant. It isn't advisable to plant garlic from a bulb bought at the supermarket, which could be imported and carry the risk of introducing serious soil-borne viruses (despite all the sprays they have been subjected to). If you don't wish to grow your own garlic but don't want to eat the imported stuff, investigate the range of organic Australian garlic on sale online later in the year when the harvest has come in.
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