How to Grow and Harvest Garlic
Cultivation and consumption of Garlic and other members of the Allium family originated thousands of years back in the Middle East and northern parts of Africa.
Garlic is really easy to grow as long as you get your timing right. (See instructions later on). Garlic you buy from grocery stores normally don’t grow since it was very likely irradiated. This is a process very much based on X-Ray technology whereby certain imported fresh products are zapped to kill off potential soil borne diseases. During this process of irradiation the plants do get killed off therefore no future growing ability. Most garlic sold in shops in South Africa are imported from the east and to a lesser extent South America. At Glen Seeds we grow our own garlic locally in South Africa and therefore it can be sold without irradiation to you.
The Garlic growing season can be long, however when one take into account that Garlic does not take much space, require very little attention and mostly grow during the quieter winter period, the long growing season does not really matter.
Garlic is normally classified by size and although you plant all size types more or less the same; there are small recommended differences between timing for planting. The three size types of Garlic have other more pronounced differences:
- Small Bulb Garlic: Longest storage capability and normally most intense favour. Small bulb garlic almost without exception is “soft neck” varieties. When cured and stored properly small bulb Garlic can have a storage life close to one year. At Glen Seeds we grow and stock varieties such as Persian White and Egyptian White Garlic which is classified as small bulb varieties.
- Medium Sized Bulb Garlic: Flavour is less pronounced and storage life under correct conditions is up to 6 months. One normally gets the best yields from Medium Sized Garlic Bulbs. Medium sized garlic mostly comes in “soft neck” form. At Glen Seeds we grow and stock Egyptian Pink Garlic that falls in the medium garlic category.
- Large Bulb Garlic: Large Bulb Garlic such as Elephant Garlic which is available from Glen Seeds is the biggest garlic you can grow and the flavour is less intense of all the garlic types. Storage life is also the shortest at approximately four months. The large cloves make for easy peeling.
All varieties come in different colors that include white, light brown and pink, and variances in-between.
Soil Preparation and feeding for Garlic
Garlic can be grown in almost any type of soil, however if your soil does not have good drainage and they become water logged results will be poor at best. Garlic roots goes much deeper than their onion cousins and the bulbs form underneath the soil. Just like onions, garlic love a supplement of bone meal and feeding them with a general foliage spray 3 to 4 times during the growing season will increase your yields significantly.
Garlic sometimes takes a bit longer to mature. It is a great winter garden crop and needs to be watered all through winter. Garlic does need a dormancy period at the height of winter else bulb formation will not occur.
Keep your beds free of weeds, Garlic does not like competition from weeds at all.
Planting times for garlic in South Africa
Small and Medium: Mid Feb - Apr
Large: Mid Feb - May
Please note: Planting times supplied are in a general South African sense and are based on typical South African Highveld conditions. Your particular area of South Africa might vary. Some of our gardening friends plant Garlic up to June and still achieve respectable results!
Garlic Bulb Planting and Germination
Cloves should be planted directly.
Plant Garlic Cloves with pointed side facing upwards approximately two times the length of the clove underneath the soil surface.
Germination takes any time from 5 to 21 days. This is a fairly big variation and very much dependent on climatic conditions as well as the state of the cloves themselves. Do not easily give up on your garlic germination, as long as you keep your soil moist the plants will stick their heads out of the soil at a nature appropriate time.
Garlic Plant Spacing
Garlic can be spaced much closer than onions due to the smaller size of the bulbs as well as the relatively sparse leave growth.
Small and Medium: 7 – 10cm
Large: 10 - 15cm
Days to harvest
All types: 6 to 8 months.
Days to harvest for Garlic vary greatly, although the general rule is that Garlic in South Africa is being harvested during October, at Glen Seeds we had experience with garlic maturing already in August. This is 3 months earlier than normal! Although we are not exactly sure about the reasons for this, we suspect a fairly short and warmer than normal winter contributed to this.
Harvest and storage of Garlic
There is only one way to know if your garlic is ready for harvest and it is all in the leaves. When half of the leaves have turned brown, the garlic is ready.
Sometimes the leaves of soft neck varieties will fall over even before half the leaves are brown. In such event it is better to lift the bulbs sooner than later.
When it looks like your garlic is very close to being ready stop watering them. This is a recommendation but not a necessity and sometimes impractical since typically in South Africa the rainy season starts just as your garlic matures.
Loosen the soil with a garden fork and pull the bulbs out by the stems. Shake off excess soil. At Glen Seeds we are of the opinion that you can wash of excess soil, however very gently. Many gardening resources are against washing off onions and garlic when lifted however in our view it makes no difference as far as storage optimization goes.
Cure your garlic by leaving it for approximately two weeks is a shaded dry and well ventilated area. After this period you can tie your garlic in bunches and hang in a cool dry preferably dark spot. It will last for a long time especially the smaller types than can be stored for almost a year.
You can also dry your garlic. Peel cloves and cut into slices of approximately 1mm thick and oven dry. Store the dried product in an airtight container in the fridge and it will last for a very long time.
Click to view which Garlic Cloves are available to you now