How to make a garlic plait

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It took seven months to grow but only three minutes to plait this garlic…I wonder how long it will take to eat it all?

Turning your home-grown garlic into a beautiful plait to hang in your kitchen or to give as a present to friends or family is very satisfying and not that difficult once you know how.

When your garlic is ready (see Knowing when to harvest your garlic) and it’s out of the ground, it’s best to let it dry somewhere for a couple of weeks in a spot out of the weather with good airflow to prevent your garlic going mouldy (which can happen if you plait it while the leaves are still fresh and green); a covered veranda or carport is ideal. Once it’s fairly dry, but not so brittle that the leaves break off, it’s time to clean it before plaiting.

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A cleaned bulb on the left

To clean my garlic I cut the roots off with some scissors and with a soft brush remove any dry soil that may be on the garlic. With some varieties of garlic it is sometimes possible to gently rub the outermost papery layer off with your fingers, however make sure you don’t peel off more than one layer as the dry skin surrounding your garlic bulbs help them store for longer.

Now you are ready to plait…in the video below I show how easy it is to do it!

 

 

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Knowing when to harvest your garlic

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Growing your own garlic is not difficult but does require a bit of patience as the time from planting till harvesting can take 7-8 months. If you harvest garlic too early, you are left with very small cloves that are frustrating to peel, harvest too late and your cloves will have burst apart making your bulbs look unattractive and you will also have reduced your garlic’s storage life. In order to know when the right time to harvest your garlic is, you need to understand a little bit about the growth stages of garlic.

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Garlic growing in mid-October. The weather is warming up, days are getting longer and bulbs are growing.

In Melbourne garlic is best planted in early Autumn (April-May). Planting at this time ensures that your garlic puts on lots of growth before turning its energies into forming bulbs. Once bulb formation is triggered by increasing day length and higher soil and air temperature, leaf growth stops. Garlic that is planted too late in the season won’t have enough leaf growth to support the formation of large bulbs. Temperatures above 33ºC signal the end of bulb growth and the start of drying off, this process is irreversible, so early, unseasonably high temperatures can sometimes result in a disappointing garlic crop, especially for gardeners in warmer climates as garlic bulbs can double in size during the last month of their growth.

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The ninth leaf from the top is starting to brown…still a while till harvest time.

Your garlic is ready to harvest when the sixth leaf (counting from the top of your plant) starts to brown off and there are therefore only five green leaves left on the top of your garlic plant. Each green leaf corresponds to a layer of protective skin that will cover your garlic bulb after harvest and is required for the optimum storage life of your garlic.

If you are growing a hardneck variety of garlic you will find flower stems (scapes) developing from your garlic plants during the last months of growth. It is best to harvest these on a regular basis (by pulling them carefully from the centre of your garlic plant) so that they don’t take the energy out of the garlic bulbs that are forming. Scapes can be chopped up and used as a garlic substitute in many dishes.

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Garlic scapes ready for harvesting.

For more information on growing garlic visit my blog article: How to grow garlic

 

Spring into the garden

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The weeping cherry blossoms are abuzz with bees

It’s the fourth week of Spring and it’s finally safe to say that winter is now behind us. The bee hive is buzzing, there are flower buds opening everywhere around the garden and the goats are shedding their winter coats.

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The back vegetable garden late September

Even though we’ve had plenty of rain in the last month, the increased temperatures heading into summer will mean the ground can quickly dry out. Now is the time to get your vegetable beds mulched using pea straw, straw, sugarcane mulch or if you can afford it, lucerne hay, which will also feed your vegetables as it breaks down.

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The potatoes which were planted mid August are growing strongly and have been hilled up with soil and then mulched with pea straw.

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I don’t usually mulch the garlic, but the soil in this bed dries out quickly (thanks to our gum trees) so I’ve given them a light cover with pea straw.

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The brassica bed with Tuscan kale, Red Russian kale, broccoli and cauliflowers will hopefully mature before the Cabbage White butterflies emerge and lay their eggs on the leaves, so won’t need netting. 

I love the start of Spring when vegetables nursed through the Winter start to mature. We’ve been feasting on asparagus the last few weeks, both green and purple. If you haven’t grown asparagus before, have a go, the two year wait before harvesting is worth the many productive years that follow of the best tasting, freshest asparagus you’ll ever eat.

September- broadbeans

The broad beans are worth growing just for their flowers delightful scent and the leafy tips of the plants make a wonderful addition to a spring salad.

Broad beans and snow peas are starting to pod too and we’ve eaten the broccoli and cauliflowers with a succession planting maturing soon. There’s plenty of kale, silverbeet, spinach and red chard and the endive is ready to be lightly steamed and mashed with potatoes (it’s a Dutch thing-don’t knock it until you try it!)

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Planted at the top of the driveway in a our best sunny spot, the oranges and grapefruit are thriving and we are juicing and eating citrus galore. Our citrus trees love the spent straw from the goats pen as a mulch.

How to grow garlic

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Garlic plaits

Sharing my harvest with friends and family is one of the many joys I get out of growing my own food. Garlic plaits would have to be one of my favourite things to gift my friends and family out of our garden. The best thing is, if you plant your garlic now they’ll be ready for Christmas.

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I save my largest garlic bulbs each year and plant out the cloves for next years garlic crop

Garlic is best grown by dividing an existing bulb and planting out the cloves. If you are growing garlic for the first time make sure you purchase your bulbs from a nursery or an organic source as the imported garlic you buy from the supermarket is usually fumigated to stop it sprouting. Garlic is divided into two main types, hard neck and soft neck. The main difference between these two is that hard necks produce a flower stem (called a scape) which can also be eaten, they have fewer but larger cloves which are easy to peel, have a well developed flavour but don’t store as long (usually 4-7 months). Soft necks usually don’t form a flower stem, they have more cloves but are smaller and more difficult to peel, however they store longer (usually between 8-12 months). At home I grow a hard neck variety called ‘Flinders Island Purple’, which is my favourite garlic, similar varieties include ‘Italian Purple’ and ‘Tasmanian Purple’. At work I also grow the soft neck garlic varieties ‘Australian White’ and ‘Italian White’ for their longer storage life.

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Garlic growing at the Gawler Cancer Foundation in late autumn

In Melbourne, April to early May is the best time to plant your garlic cloves. Garlic needs a free draining soil with plenty of organic matter and a pH of between 6 and 7. If you don’t know what soil pH is and how to test it, click here: Testing the pH of your soil

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My scarecrow is looking at a well prepared garden bed ready for planting garlic

Divide your garlic bulb in to cloves and select the largest ones to plant out. Plant garlic cloves flat side down, a few cm below the soil surface and space them about 15cm apart with 20cm between rows.

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Plant garlic flat side down and pointy side up

When you’ve planted your garlic give your garden bed a light watering then don’t water any more until your cloves have sprouted and you can see the first bits of green sticking up above the soil. Only water your garlic over winter if the soil feels dry. Now comes the waiting time…it will take about 7-8 months for your garlic to be ready for harvesting. In the mean time keep your garlic bed weed free as garlic doesn’t like competition. Good luck with your garlic growing and let me know how you go.

I’ll follow up this blog closer to garlic harvest time (late November) with advice on how to harvest garlic and also show you how to make your own garlic plaits.