How to grow your own Garlic this winter
It's not too late to get your crop of garlic planted this year! Roughly the old school timing for planting garlic in Perth is ‘in for Anzac Day, out for the Melbourne Cup’, but I grew a great crop in 2020 planted in Dunsborough in June, and another planted in Wandering last year in May, so hop to it. It means you may need to water your garlic for a bit longer in spring, before it starts to die back, so if you plant now you should be able to harvest it in time for Christmas - and who wouldn't want a home grown braid of regeneratively grown garlic for Christmas!
Garlic likes a neutral to slightly acidic pH at between 6.5 and 7, with plenty of organic matter and not too much nitrogen. Soils around Perth are generally quite alkaline (think high pH, such as limestone) so if your soil is higher than 7, you can use elemental sulphur to acidify it. Add about a 10cm deep layer of well rotted compost. You can also add about a 2cm deep layer of well aged or composted sheep or cow manure - not chicken or pig manure, as they are too high in nitrogen and will encourage lots of sappy growth that can leave your garlic plants subject to insect and disease attack.
If your veggie bed has been managed as a no till veggie bed, such as I described in this post on how to create a zero till veggie bed, then just add a layer of lupin mulch or pea straw on top of this bed, and plant your garlic blubs pointy end up about 7cm deep in the soil. If you haven’t set up a zero till veggie bed yet, then you’ll need to dig your compost and manure into the soil, digging it through as deep as your shovel, before mulching and planting. I plant the bulbs about 15 - 20cm apart in rows 20cm apart, and usually fit 4 or 5 rows per bed. Choose the biggest plumpest blubs if selecting from your own heads of garlic, or grab a bag of gorgeous garlic from Galloway Springs to get you the best stock for your garlic growing journey!
You can also experiment with companion planting, to see if you can get some other plants growing with your garlic to help diversify the habitat for microbes in the soil. Last year I tried vetch, which was great until around October, when it became so vigorous that it started to take over the garlic. This year I’m going to try serradella, which is a lower growing legume, so it will hopefully fix nitrogen while creating an understory for the garlic. I did have some success last year with some sub clover too - you want it to be a nice low variety. Have a play around and see what you can get growing under it, as long as it doesn’t compete too much with your garlic.
Through the growing season, feed the garlic crop with a liquid biological fertilizer and products containing humic and fulvic acid, such as seaweed and fish emulsion. I like to use seasol when the plants need some more nitrogen, seasol and worm castings fortnightly, and cs black fortnightly to build plant resilience. I have 3 beds in this year, with one being planted 5 weeks ago, one 2 weeks ago and one last night in the dark before the rain started - it will be interesting to see which grows better!
A note on understanding soil ph:
If your soil pH is above 7.5, then very important nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Calcium and the micro and trace elements are no longer available to your plant. If your soil pH is below 6.5, then your plant will struggle to access the major growth nutrients of Phosphorus, Calcium and Magnesium. Your soil may contain these nutrients, but the soil pH is restricting your plant's access to these nutrients. If you would like to test your pH you can correct it with as many treatments necessary to get it back into the 6.5-7.0 pH range. Use Gardener’s Lime to alkalise and Elemental Sulphur (no other type) to acidify.