Garlic is known for is anti-bacterial qualities and adds a delicious kick to pasta, but did you know that in Australia approximately 95% of garlic sold in shops is imported? That's an awful lot of food miles tied to one little bulb.
Most garlic comes from China where chemicals that have been banned in Australia are still being used.
Imported garlic is also sprayed with a chemical called methyl bromide which plays an important role in preventing pests and diseases from entering Australia. However, this chemical is also a controlled substance under the Montreal Protocol because it depletes the ozone layer, and as a result Australia has been phasing it out since 2005.
It's great to buy Australian garlic when you can but it's not always available, so why not grow your own? It takes up little space, tastes better than shop bought garlic and is easy to care for.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Choose cultivars suited to your climate
To find garlic bulbs try your local nursery, look online or buy garlic from an organic farmer's market or shop. Experiment with a few different varieties and see which grows best. This year I'm growing Australian Purple.
Sow at the optimum time
Garlic is happiest if you plant it in autumn. If you live in a subtropical zone, delay your planting until the weather begins to cool.
Find a sunny position
To plant your garlic find an area where it is sunny and open.
Prepare your soil
Provide a well-drained soil with a pH of around 5.5 to 7 (acidic to neutral). Add some well-rotted organic matter such as green manure, compost and animal manures and ideally dig this in several weeks before planting.
Separate bulbs into individual cloves and plant with the pointy end up around 2-5 centimetres deep, and about 15 centimetres apart. They should sprout in about a week.
Mulch with a light, open mulch to a depth of up to 10-20 cm. Keep weed-free and well watered.
Garlic requires a cool period (0-10°Celcius) for around 1-2 months to grow well. Very little attention is required over this time. Keep the soil-bed weeded, and water if extremely dry. As the weather warms up some watering may be required if it's hot and dry.
image: ingoodheartfarm blog
If you would like to harvest your garlic as green garlic you can plant your bulbs about 10cm apart and harvest them early (in the spring) before the bulbs have divided. At this time they will look more like leeks. You can eat both the bulb and the green leaves.
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image: Stephen Melkisethian (Flickr)
You can harvest your garlic in the summer 7 to 8 months after planting when the tips start to brown. Don't wait until the leaves completely whither back as the bulbs will start to split. Wait for a hot dry day and use a garden fork to lift the bulbs. Avoid pulling them out by their stems as this will damage them.
image: Martin Delisle (Flickr)
Shake off the soil, clip the roots and hang them in bunches from the stems in a dry well-ventilated area. Stems can be plaited together and bulbs can be cut off as needed. They will last for up to 10 months. Remember to set some aside for replanting your next crop.
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