Saturday, December 8, 2012

Grow your own garlic guide


The scientific name for garlic is Allium sativum. It is a species in the onion genus (Allium). I've been growing garlic in the Macedon Ranges now for 3 years. I've found garlic to be an easy crop to grow and definitely worth the little effort required to cultivate it. I've constructed this guide for anyone interested in starting a garlic patch of their own. It is comprised of knowledge I've sourced from my own experiences in growing garlic, advice from others and info from the good old Internet.  I hope you find this guide useful.

Sourcing garlic to plant

So you want to grow your own garlic. The easiest way to grow garlic is not from seed but from planting the separated cloves of a whole bulb. Each one will hopefully produce a new whole bulb if planted and cared for correctly. You can't just use any garlic, the stuff from the supermarket will almost never work properly as it is treated with a substance to retard its sprouting (thereby increasing its shelf life). You will need to source bulbs from online suppliers or perhaps from your local farmers market. The farmers market garlic may be a better option as you know that variety will work well in your locality. A good online supplier in Australia is the 'Diggers Club' (

Separating the bulb

Once you have your bulbs separate the individual cloves as show below. You need to be careful to completely separate them as two cloves still joined will not produce an ideal new bulb.

Where to plant

Not all advice I received from people who told me they 'know what they are doing' in regards to garlic was correct. One fallacy was that garlic can be planted in poor soil. This is definitely not the case. Garlic needs free draining soil with a PH of between 5.5 and 7. It also needs full sun as garlic is a poor solar collector. It also needs to be free of competition from weeds or other plants. Garlic is a good companion plant as it repels certain pests so it is good to plant it around other plants you want to protect. When thinking of where to plant it the main point are that garlic is a poor solar collector, poor competitor and a heavy feeder.

How to plant the cloves

You need to plant the cloves with the pointy side up (as shown in the picture above). The small piece of basal plate from the bulb is where the roots will form. I plant mine with the pointy tip of the clove covered with about 6cm of soil. Plant the cloves about 15cm  apart.

When to plant

The best time to plant depends on the variety of garlic and your location. For me here in Macedon the best time to plant is in mid to late Autumn. I used to plant on the Winter solstice (late June) and harvest on the Summer solstice (late December) as this was the way an old Italian gentleman who grew garlic insisted that it works. However I found that by planting in Autumn I would be harvesting earlier and with better results (less rotten bulbs and bigger bulbs). 

Watering and feeding

Garlic should be watered regularly during the growing season and kept well fed with fertilizer. When the leaves begin to brown then cut back on the water and feed. I've been lucky so far in that I have had wet enough weather so I haven't had to water much. Over watering the bulbs after the leaves have browned will cause the bulbs to rot.

When to harvest

Knowing when to harvest garlic is the hardest part. There are a few different theories on this such as
  • Harvest when there are 4 - 5 green leaves left
  • Harvest when all the leaves are brown
  • Harvest at a certain time (for example the start of Summer)
Basically the longer you leave it in the ground the better but if you leave it too long the bulbs can rot. I've found the best way to decide when to harvest is to brush away some of the dirt from around the bulb and visually inspect them. I usually end up harvesting mine in early December but you shouldn't take too much from that because the harvest time can be effected by the variety of the garlic, growing conditions and planting time. When harvesting  lift the bulbs with a shovel or fork to avoid stressing the bulbs which can reduce shelf life.

Storing garlic

Once you have lifted all the bulbs brush the loose dirt from them and lay them on some newspaper and leave them somewhere so that the skins dry. After that I gather them all and hang them in a dark, dry and cool place. Braiding the stems is only done for cosmetic reasons and is not necessary. If cured and stored in the proper way garlic should last six months which is definitely long enough to last to the next planting.



Garlic is a satisfying plant to grow as it tastes much better than the supermarket garlic and keeps for such a long time. It's easy to be self sufficient in garlic once you get to the stage where you are harvesting over 30 bulbs. The other great thing about growing your own is that you can grow varieties that you never see in the shops such as Italian red and Monaro purple which has a solid bright coloured purple skin. Good luck!

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