Garlic is by far one of our favorite crops. Once you’ve prepared your soil, you can literally put it in the ground and forget about it for about six months (except for a few weeding sessions).
You can then harvest, make garlic braids, and decorate your home – certainly one of the most perfect crops. We start planting around April.
Garlic likes full sun and well-drained soils. We have “average” soils at home, heavy clay on a bedrock of dolerite. In some plots it’s like gardening in lego blocks – clods of clay, so we’re adding things like sand and some mineral inputs (more on this below) to fix it, slowly but surely. Always do a soil test before adding any starting material to make sure your inputs are perfect.
We added some sharp and washed sand (ideally we would have liked potting sand) that we had on hand. The work of sand is to increase drainage, air pockets and therefore the friability of our heavy clay soils.
Then we put a mixture of copper sulfate and gypsum, which will improve the structure of our soil and ensure that we grow nutritious food. The soil test we got informed us that we needed both of these and also provided particular amounts. Your floors may need something completely different, so be sure to get them tested.
Finally, we added a layer of compost (a few centimeters) to provide additional food to the soil and “massaged” with the garden fork to integrate these inputs and aerate the soil.
Most importantly, we do not turn the soil over, we shake it with the garden fork and work / walk backwards so as not to compact the soil with our body weight.
Then we document everything we did in our garden book so that you don’t forget – because no matter how much you think you will remember – you will forget.
It might sound obvious, but make sure you plant your garlic with its flat butt down (this is where the roots will grow from) and a pointy hat facing the sky.
Plant only your biggest, healthiest cloves – if you have smaller ones, take them back to the kitchen and eat them.
Fun fact about elephant garlic (pictured in my hand), it’s technically not even garlic and is actually classified as a type of leek.
How deep should they be planted? At least their height in depth – I’ve also heard of some people planting them deeper (twice their height). The good news is, they’re pretty sturdy, so you can afford to play around with those details to see what performs the best.
Plant the bulbs as close as possible. Imagine an adult bulb (the bulbs are the complete ‘box’ that houses the individual garlic cloves) and plant it to leave room for the bulbs to fully develop and add a few more millimeters – this way you can literally pack hundreds or thousands of bulbs into a compact space.
One of the main threats to healthy garlic is getting your feet wet, which can lead to white root rot. This disease basically erodes your garlic bulb and you end up with nothing or badly damaged property.
If you get this (I’ve been there, don’t worry), it’s important to avoid growing anything in the allium family (onions, shallots, chives, etc.) for seven years in one place. because there is a good chance that it will come back.
To prevent this from happening, buy only clean planting material without a history of white root rot and plant them on small mounds to help the excess water drain from the roots.
If you have very well-drained soils, you don’t need to do this – the lucky duck.
- Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a landscaping and education company that regenerates the land and ways of life.