Garlic breath may once have been the butt of jokes due to its strong smell that persists long after the garlic itself has been eaten, but today garlic (Allium sativum) is a staple ingredient in most diets and no one seems to worry about garlic breath.
Locally grown and organic garlic is available especially from growers’ markets, local produce stores and garlic festivals.
Growing organic garlic in your own garden, however, makes it readily available and guaranteed free of unwanted chemicals.
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Much of the garlic sold in Australia is imported, mainly from China, and treated with bleaches and growth retardants to improve its appearance and shelf life.
If there’s one vegetable to grow at home to make a diﬀerence to your health and well-being, garlic is it. Full of flavor and a widely used ingredient in cooking across the world, it’s also rich in vitamins and antioxidants, making it a healthy addition to the diet.
In warm areas, some varieties need to be chilled in the crisper section of the fridge for four weeks before planting.
Common name: Garlic
Botanical name: Allium sativum
Family: Amaryllidaceae (formerly Alliaceae)
Aspect & soil: Sun; well-drained soil enriched with compost
Needs: Regular water
VARIETIES AND SPECIES
There are more than 100 garlic varieties grown in Australia and possibly 10 times that around the world. Until recently, many varieties of garlic were misidentified and wrongly named.
Garlic is usually divided into soft-neck and hard-neck varieties and can also be identified by its color, which can be white or tinged with brown or purple.
Soft-neck garlics have a soft stem and are preferred for braiding. They have large clusters of cloves, rarely form a flower stalk and do well in warm climates. Hard-necks have a hard stem that rises from the center of the garlic cloves and are best grown in cold zones.
The stem is the flower stalk.
For garlic aficionados, it is further divided into 11 groups based on genetic testing. Among the 11 groups found in gardens is the Purple Striped Garlic Group (including the variety ‘Dunganski’), which is said to be the source of all garlic varieties grown today. Other groups include Artichoke Group (‘Glen Large’) a soft-neck, Creole Group (‘Dynamite Purple’), Rocambole Group (‘Deerfield Purple’) and Turban Group (‘Tasmanian Purple)’.
One hotly sought-after garlic is the big daddy of them all. It is known as elephant garlic due to the huge size of the bulb. Despite its name, this garlic isn’t true garlic but a form of leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum). It’s a good choice for planting in warm districts but it can take more than a year for its large mildly garlicky flavored bulb to form.
Elephant garlic can be planted in spring or autumn. The plant reaches 1.8m tall in flower and the bulbs can be 25cm or more in circumference.
PLANTING AND GROWING
There’s a saying about garlic that it’s planted on the shortest day of the year (this year, June 21) and harvested on the longest day (December 22) but it isn’t necessary to wait for the winter solstice.
Garlic is a bulb and, like ornamental bulbs, can be planted from early autumn to early winter with harvest occurring six to eight months from planting.
Garlic is grown from cloves that are planted 2-5cm deep, pointy end up, and 15cm apart in well-drained soil. To keep the growing garlic weed free and to reduce moisture loss, apply light, open mulch to a depth of about 5cm across the bed. Water well while plants are growing and harvest in late spring or summer as the plants die back.
To grow your own, source local organic garlic. If you’re planning to grow from your own harvest, set aside about 10 per cent of the crop for replanting, selecting the largest cloves. This is necessary as not all garlic varieties develop flowers and most flowers that do form don’t produce viable seed.
HARVESTING, STORING AND USING GARLIC
Garlic is ready to be harvested around six to eight months after planting.
Signs that garlic is mature include the leaf tips yellowing and the leaves starting to collapse.
To harvest, pull up the bulb and allow it to cure if it’s to be stored. Cure garlic by hanging the harvested plants in a warm, dry, airy position for three to eight weeks. Then remove the top growth and roots to store the bulbs in a cool, dry, airy position until they are needed.
Garlic cloves are added to food whole, crushed or sliced. Garlic bulbs and cloves can also be frozen or smoked for long-term storage.
The sprouts make a tasty addition to salads or sandwiches and even the scapes (flowering stems found on some varieties) can be harvested and eaten.
The Rocambole Group has distinctive twisted scapes, which can form a complete circle before straightening and growing upwards.