Growing good garlic starts with good soil preparation

GOOD STUFF: Garlic likes full sunlight and well-draining soils. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.
GOOD STUFF: Garlic likes full sunlight and well-draining soils. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.

Garlic is by far one of our favourite crops to grow. Once you do your soil preparation you can literally pop it in the ground and forget about it for about six months (with the exception of a few weeding sessions).

You can then harvest, make garlic braids and decorate your home - definitely one of the more perfect crops out there. We start planting around April.

Garlic likes full sunlight and well-draining soils. We've got 'so-so' soils at our home, heavy clay on dolerite bedrock. In some patches it's like gardening in lego blocks - clods of clay, so we add things like sand and certain mineral inputs (more on that below) to remediate it, slowly but surely. Always get a soil test before you add starting things to make sure your inputs are spot on.

We added some sharp, washed sand (ideally we would have liked potting sand) that we had on hand. The sand's job is to increase our heavy clay soil's drainage, air pockets and therefore friability.

Next up, we put a mix of copper sulphate and gypsum, on which will improve our soil's structure and ensure we grow nutritious food. The soil test we got informed us that we needed these two elements and also provided particular quantities. Your soils may need something completely different, so be sure to get your them tested.

Lastly, we added a layer of compost (a few centimetres) to provide some extra nourishment for the soil and 'massaged' with the garden fork to integrate these inputs and aerate the soil.

Importantly, we're not turning the soil, we're jiggling it with the garden fork and working/walking backwards so we don't compact the ground with our body weight.

Then we document everything we've done in our garden book so we don't forget - because no matter how much you think you'll remember - you'll forget.

Planting time

It may sound obvious, but make sure you plant your garlic with their flat bum down (this is where the roots will spring forth from) and pointy hat facing the sky.

Only plant your biggest, healthiest cloves - if you do have smaller ones take them back into the kitchen and eat them.

Fun fact about elephant garlic (pictured in my hand) it's technically not even a garlic and is actually classified as a type of leek.

How deep should you plant them? At least their height in depth - I've also heard of some people planting them deeper (twice their height). The good news is that they're pretty hardy, so you an afford to play around with these details to see what provides the best yield.

Plant the bulbs as close as you can. Imagine a fully grown corm (corms are the complete 'casing' which house individual garlic cloves) and plant to allow room for the corms to fully develop and add a few millimetres on top of this - this way you can literally pack in hundreds or thousands of bulbs into a compact space.

One of the main threats to healthy garlic is getting wet feet which can lead to white root rot. This disease basically erodes your garlic corm and you're left with nothing, or severely damaged goods.

If you do get this (I've been there, don't worry) it's important to avoid growing anything in the allium family (onions, shallots, chives etc) for up to seven years in the same location as there's a strong chance it will come back.

To prevent this from occurring, only buy clean planting stock with no history of white root rot and plant them on little mounds to help excess water drain away from the roots.

If you have really well draining soils you don't need to do this - lucky duck.

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a landscape design and education enterprise regenerating land and lifestyles.