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Growing Garlic For Year-Round Supply

growing-garlic
Photo by Daniel Rasmussen Tasmanian Garlic Company

growing-garlic
Photo by Helen Lynch
growing-garlic
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Clockwise from above: Garlic ready to be cured; Lokalen; Spanish Roja; Garlic grown as part of the Braidwood Garlic Growers Group; Duganski garlic.

growing-garlic
Photo by Letetia Ware Australian Gourmet Garlic
growing-garlic
Photo by Daniel Rasmussen Tasmanian Garlic Company

Garlic planting time is coming around, as is the time when many garlic varieties are sprouting or starting to rot. For many of us this means going without garlic, or searching far and wide for growers who still have stock. Imported garlic is often available at this time of year, but is best avoided as it has usually been irradiated and treated with a range of chemicals to stop sprouting, and to kill bugs and germs.

To make our garlic supply last all year round there are several factors to consider. We need to:

  • cure and store garlic well to ensure it lasts as long as possible
  • choose a range of garlic varieties with different harvest and storage times
  • preserve garlic to stretch its lifespan.

CURING AND STORING

To make garlic last as long as possible, you need to follow some basic steps to ensure it’s cured and stored well. Garlic is rarely consumed fresh – it’s usually eaten after going through a drying process, which starts during the last stage of bulb maturation in the ground. Drying begins when lower leaves start to die o§ prior to harvest, generally during the last two weeks in the ground. Harvest the bulbs when the leaves start to turn brown.

CURING

Once harvested, the bulbs can be lightly brushed clean of dirt and hung, as is, undercover in bunches, away from direct sunlight where there is air flow and low, stable humidity. If there is likely to be humidity or dampness, or big variations in temperature, then roots should be trimmed. Roots can attract moisture, which in turn attracts bacteria and fungus which can cause rot. Watch out for any mould on leaves or skins, and cut affected bits off immediately so that it doesn’t spread.

When humidity is not anticipated, the garlic stem and roots can be left attached when the bulbs are hung. This drying stage removes the moisture from the skins, the basal plate and the stem, which allows nutrients to pass from the leaves down into the bulb and improves the storage life. Leave the bunches alone for around three to four weeks for Turban varieties, and ensure the temperature is constant and humidity relatively low. Optimal curing conditions require a temperature range between a minimum of 10–15 °C up to a maximum of 30°C, and relative humidity of 45–50%.

STORING

The most common way to store garlic is to plait it after it’s been dried. The attached stems are used to create a braid, and the roots are removed or trimmed close. This is by far the simplest method, and keeping the stems attached to the bulb helps to extend its life. The preferred storage conditions for plaits are similar to the curing conditions described above.

Garlic can also be stored by cutting the roots and stems off, and putting it in a place where the air can still get through (e.g. slatted boxes, stockings or nets). Storage is generally an extension of curing. It will only keep the bulb viable for the natural life of the garlic: short season garlic – the majority grown in Australia – will remain viable in a plait until the following autumn planting season.

Most backyard growers stick to varieties that don’t last past May. If we want to be truly self sufficient in garlic supply we need to look at other varieties and ways to make it keep longer.

growing-garlic
Plant, harvest and storage chart for NSW. For charts of other states go to www.tasmaniangoumetgarlic.com.au. Photo by Letetia Ware

CHOOSING YOUR VARIETIES

Most Australian garlic varieties grown for the table are early-season Turbans. These are easy to grow, adaptable to a wide climate range, and planted and harvested early. They are good all-rounders and work with a range of cuisines. They include the Monaro Purple and the Italian Purple; both have a short storage life.

To extend your supply of garlic – to last all year round – consider other varieties which are harvested later in the season and store well. The following store for longer, and maintain their crisp character and freshness long after the Turbans have sprouted and are ready to go back into the ground.

Spanish Roja (Creole group). A mid-season garlic – planted in May and harvested in December/January, although it can be planted as an early garlic. Stores well for six to eight months, and sometimes as long as twelve.

Dunganski (Standard Purple Stripe group). A late season garlic – planted in June, but can be as late as July, and harvested in February. Requires a very cold winter chill combined with a hot, dry spring. Stores well for eight to ten months.

Lokalen (Silver Skin group). A late-season garlic – planted in June, but can be as late as July, and harvested in February. Stores well for ten to twelve months. Has a distinctive flavour.

Planting will depend on your climatic conditions, but garlic usually requires a good winter chill, a mild spring and regular watering through the growing period. Application of generous amounts of boron is recommended. Garlic hates competition, so weed it well.

How long each variety stores for not only depends on the group it comes from, but on the quality of the drying, curing and storage: it’s essential to maintain a dry, disease free, stable temperature and low humidity environment.

PRESERVING

Preserving can also help prolong the life of your garlic, and extend its availability in your household. While not complicated, preserving is precise and there are differences of opinion about how to get the best results.

If you grow your own garlic, cure and store most of it but keep some aside for preserving. If you don’t grow your own, buy up big at the beginning of the season. Find a reliable local grower, growing clean (chemical free) bulbs and see if you can buy at least five kilograms more than you would normally buy.

All preserving recipes start with clove peeling, which can be a pain but is unavoidable. Cloves are easiest to peel early in the season when fresh and not really fully dried, or late in the season when ready to be planted. If you have trouble, pop a bulb in the microwave for around twenty seconds – this makes peeling easier but would never be contemplated by a garlic fanatic, as there is a slight chance of the process affecting flavour.

Confit

Take a lesson from the French and confit at least six bulbs. This is a process of slow cooking in olive oil. The perfect con- fit garlic is achieved with a good quality virgin olive oil; don’t use a strongly flavoured oil as you want the garlic flavour to dominate. Great for bruschetta, or spoon the oil and cloves into stir-fried greens or mashed potato.

Ingredients

garlic cloves, peeled

olive oil

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 100 °C.

Place cloves in a shallow ovenproof dish and cover with oil. Place the dish in the oven for at least one hour. Don’t let the garlic colour, but it needs to soften thoroughly so that it’s spreadable.

Decant the cooked garlic into a clean glass jar and keep it in the fridge; make sure the garlic is covered by the oil. This will keep for several weeks, or can be frozen for several months. You do need to be careful to avoid botulism.

growing-garlic
The garlic harvest team at Winlen House. Photo by Helen Lynch
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The curing process. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Pickling

There are many reliable recipes on the web. Some combine garlic with herbs and spices, others with flavourings. Pickling recipes that include a quick blanch/boil for the cloves, or cooking them a little in the pickling solution, are preferred. Cooking reduces the capacity for the garlic to carry bacteria. Be careful with every bit of preserving you do, to make sure the rules of preserving are followed religiously. Keep everything as clean and as germ free as possible!

Drying

Drying to preserve garlic is best done when the bulbs are already quite dry. However, it provides a different sort of product, which can be a challenge to reuse short of rehydrating and using as you would fresh garlic. You have to try it to see if you like it. Peel the cloves, slice them in half, place them in a food dehydrator and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

By experimenting with different garlic varieties, making sure you cure and store it well, and using some simple preserving techniques, you could have a year-round supply for your family and friends.

Helen Lynch and Bronwyn Richards run Wynlen House Slow Food Farm (see www.wynlenhouse.com), and are part of the Braidwood Garlic Growers’ Group which is experimenting with garlic varieties so that Australian garlic can be available commercially year round.

For more information see:

Australian Garlic Industry Association at www.australiangarlic.net.au

Braidwood Garlic Growers’ Group at www.braidwoodgarlic.com.au

Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic, suppliers of seed garlic at www.tasmaniangourmetgarlic.com.au

Garlic: an Organic Guide to Knowing, Growing and Using Garlic, from Australian Whites and Tasmanian Purples to Korean Reds and Shandongs by Penny Woodward (Hyland House Publishing Pty Ltd 2014). Available in the Pip shop at www.pipmagazine.com.au/shop/garlic-by-penny-woodward

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