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If you watch certain garden shows, they will tell you that you shouldn’t even try growing garlic in our climate. ‘Stick to garlic chives they say’, but seriously it’s not the same thing at all. Well I am the kind of person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I will be determined to prove you wrong.
For a long time growing garlic in Brisbane has been a huge fail for me (much like potatoes). Admittedly I never actually did my research and would just head to local organic markets buy some bulbs and chuck the cloves in the ground. Or if cloves sprouted in my fridge I would throw them in the garden. I don’t recommend this technique at all.
Then I decided to do my research and figure out if there actually was a garlic we could grow. Some things we need to consider.
- It doesn’t really get too cold
- the cool season is very short
Tips for growing garlic in the subtropics
- Choose short day varieties that grow quick (We love Glenlarge)
- Prep your bed with loads of compost and manure
- Plant late March for early September harvest (depending on variety)
- Lots of water and sunshine
- Give them space, they don’t like competition at all
- Stop watering about a month before harvest
- Harvest when they’ve dried out about halfway before they fall over (depends on the variety)
Varieties of Garlic for Warm Climates
The two varieties I’ve grown here are Glenlarge and Italian pink (Elephant one is another one said to do well but I haven’t tried it). We stock a small amount of Glenlarge in our shop which will become available in late February (edit: we no longer grow Italian pink as it wasn’t as prolific as the glenlarge).
Aside from being quicker to grow, the main difference between these varieties and other traditional types is that they are short day or day neutral variety. This day type indicates that the amount of sunlight they require to develop a bulb and as they will predominately be growing and developing over winter they need to be shorter day length.
When to plant
I planted mine on the Autumn Equinox (or the first full moon in March) but you’d be right to plant them right up until the end of April. Any later than that you may find they don’t form before it gets too hot and the rains start.
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Preparing your bed
Garlic are heavy feeders so you want to prep your soil with lots of compost and well rotted manure, this is going to give you the best chance. A lot of people find they fall over really early and end up with miniature bulbs, this is often due to them running out of steam. Our best crop came from where we had buried fish frames. Take the time to really make sure your soil is in tip top shape before planting otherwise they will fail to do much.
You also want to make sure you choose a full sun position. We found any that were slightly shaded just failed to do much at all.
Planting your garlic
You want to focus on the outer edge of cloves as your best guys. The inner cloves won’t produce a great bulb but I still plant these anyway. You can break off your cloves and soak in some Seaweed solution overnight. (edit: our 2020 harvest didn’t show any difference in bulb size of soaking vs non soaking but germination was quicker).
Plant them with the flat side down, pointy end up and just below the surface of your soil. Space around 15 cm apart in rows of 40cm (check the planting instructions for your variety) (edit: I planted mine way too close in 2020, my spatial eye was off, I did them in rows of 20cm 5-10cm apart and they still did OK but I wonder if they would have been better with proper spacing).
Water in and wait.
My Glenlarge appeared a week after planting and the italian pink is slowly rolling out after two weeks.
Looking after your garlic
In the growing stages of garlic you need to keep up lots of water to them. We also do weekly liquid feeds with compost tea or seaweed solution. If you’re finding they aren’t thriving then up it to a more potent liquid fertiliser will probably need to be applied.
About a month before harvest, ease up on the water, I switch off the irrigation when I first see signs of it starting to die back.
Be aware of space invaders
I had some issues with a tree sucking the life out of our garden bed and the garlic did not like it one bit. Make sure your bed is free from nutrient thieves to ensure a bumper crop. I always plant mine solo which goes against everything thing else I grow.
Because all the information online indicates that you should be harvesting your garlic in November, it’s easy to miss the boat. Which I did particularly with the Glen Large in my first year of growing. I left some in a little too long that the cloves started separating. They are fine, we ate those bulbs straight away but if this has happened to your entire crop you may struggle to store them for a long time.
I found optimal harvest for our crops was between late August and mid September – almost bang on 6 months. I harvested as soon as the leaves started to go slightly brown and droop. Each leave indicates a clove, what you’re looking for is half of the leaves browned off. Any that have completely fallen over are usually too far gone and the outer cloves are starting to separate (which are fine, just eat them first).
In our first year of growing (with a few fails along the way) All up we got around 30 bulbs from the original 4 bulbs that we planted. Albeit they all weren’t as huge as the ones we originally planted they should definitely last us a good percentage of the year. The second year of growing we got 60 bulbs from the 5 that we planted.
Curing & storage
Another big issue with garlic in the humid climates is storing it and making sure it’s fully dry and doesn’t go mouldy. I initially had my garlic outside in the sun to dry it, but then I read you could then get sunburnt bulbs! So I bought it under cover and hung them up in a spot that gets a pretty good breeze but protected from rain (which we weren’t getting anyway). I did this until the stems were completely dry, then attempted to plait them and failed miserably. Any that I had against the wall as opposed to hanging in the middle of the carport didn’t seem to store as well. I leave them like this for months before storing away.
Saving for next year
Much to hubby’s disgust, I pull out 3 bulbs of each variety that are the biggest and the best. These I keep in anticipation for planting out for the next year. The second season was a lot better for the glenlarge, not so great for the italian pink. I am not sure I’ll do them again but try a different variety instead. Long term, I store them in my dungeon of an office which is dark, cool and dry. They started to sprout at planting time last year but other than that they kept well, however, my italian pink didn’t store as well as the glenlarge.
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Our 2020 Crop
From last year I managed to save around 70 cloves of garlic that I planted in the garden in my front yard. 50 Glenlarge and 20 italian pink. The Italian pink didn’t keep as well and I had to ditch a bulb as it rotted, I am not sure whether it was if I didn’t cure it long enough, or it’s just the variety (I believe it was hanging against a wall not getting full airflow when I was curing it).
I planted a little too closely (I had the right dimensions in my head but my spatial awareness on the day was off) but it did well overall. The Glenlarge are the stand out winners.
Are you growing garlic this year? Any tips you’d like to share?