If you’re aiming to grow the largest cloves of garlic you can, get them planted early. Garlic is a long-term crop, taking about six months from whoa to go, so choosing a space where it can be left to its own devices is important. If garden space is going to be an issue in spring, consider growing your garlic in pots and containers. select a very large tub (one at least 50cm deep and with a circumference of no less than 50-70cm. Garlic bulbs need plenty of room to develop and grow roots, so don’t be tempted to plant too many cloves in one pot.
Before you start (skip this process at your peril!) Work the soil over well, adding in plenty of compost or vegetable mix. If you have left-over bags of potting mix, add these to the soil. Sheep pellets also work a treat. Garlic does most of its early work under the ground, requiring nutrients early in life to start the fattening up of the cloves. Prepare cloves for planting by pulling them from the parent bulb. Discard the thin, central cloves and use them in the kitchen rather than planting them as they are unlikely to develop into gutsy bulbs. The fattest cloves are the best to use. Discard any brown or discoloured cloves that are showing signs of disease.
Planting step by step
Mark out rows using a string-line or the handle of the rake. Planting garlic in rows makes it easier to weed and apply mulch once the crop starts to send up shoots.
Plant cloves 5cm deep (that’s finger depth) and about 15-20cm (a hand spacing) apart. The pointy tip of the clove should point upwards.
Mark the rows with stakes, and label with the name of the garlic variety (if you know it) and the date you planted it. Shoots take 4-6 weeks to come through the ground and, without labels, it’s easy to forget you have planted the cloves.
Once the shoots are up, apply thick layers of mulch between the rows to help insulate the soil and keep weeds away. Watch out for greenfly and rust.
This super-sized, sweeter variety of garlic is one to seek out. Technically, this variety is actually a member of the leek rather than the garlic family but, due to its flavour, look and taste, it’s commonly called elephant garlic.
This is an early garlic harvestable before Christmas, months ahead of other garlic. It needs to be planted in March or April so if you haven’t got this variety in already, make a note to look out for it next season. Cut ‘early Pearl’ flower heads as they emerge to encourage larger bulb size. Alternatively, allow the heads to mature and harvest the bulbils for replanting.
Henry’s Soft Top
A south Island heritage, soft-neck garlic, ‘Henry’s soft Top’ produces big, fat cloves. It is from the collection of Henry Harrington, a well-known south Island seed-saver. It has a medium to strong flavour.
This is one of the most strongly flavoured garlics, with an intense, almost spicy flavour. An old-fashioned heritage, hard-neck variety, it has a wonderful purple and white skin. With strong medicinal properties, ‘Rocambole’ is a good one for which to keep an eye out.
A heritage, soft-neck variety, ‘Takahue’ is ideally suited to the north Island’s milder climate. It performs well, producing large bulbs with a strong to medium flavour. This variety has a brilliant stem for plaiting, and is long-keeping.
This is the main commercial variety grown in New Zealand and the one most commonly available. It is a French, white-skinned variety that grows medium-sized bulbs that keep well.
A popular variety with a soft-neck and very strong flavour, ‘silverskin’ is not as widely available as some, but worth hunting down if you can find it.