Tips for growing garlic from a guru

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Tino Carnevale visits garlic grower Letetia Ware at her organic farm. Letetia supplies garlic bulbs to home gardeners who want to experience the diverse flavours of garlic in many of its forms.

Garlic is native to Uzbekistan and Kurdistan in Central Asia, and was traded to both Europe and Asia, where it has become part of their culinary staples, selected on taste. As a result, about 1000 cultivars of garlic now exist worldwide; in Australia we have about 100 or so.

Garlic is very prone to rotting off in wet winters, so Letetia grows all hers in raised beds. She prepares her beds first with a green manure crop that helps incorporate organic matter. The pH should be between 6 and 7.

Her top tips for garlic success are:
– Plant in rich, organic soil
– Soil needs to have a loose structure that is able to drain freely
– Minimise wind
– Keep well weeded and mulched

Planting garlic instructions:
1. Separate bulbs and make sure each clove is firm
2. Separate cloves into small, medium and large – you can eat the small ones as they won’t be planted
3. Soak the cloves overnight in diluted seaweed solution
4. Plant the same-sized bulbs in rows together
5. Rows should be 15cm apart and each clove 10cm apart
6. Plant them point up (base down) 2cm (first knuckle) into the soil
7. Mulch 2-3cm thick all over with a fluffy mulch (like sugar cane) to keep the moisture in and suppress weeds.

Harvest tips:
– Softneck garlic leans over as it ripens into a bulb
– The leaves will gradually yellow and reduce – when they have gone from 12 green leaves to 6 then it’s ready to harvest

Plant for a year-round supply using a combination of greenhouse (sub-tropical) varieties, which you can grow two crops a year from in glasshouses, plus some cooler-climate types.

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