It’s taken me all week to write this blog post because the internet has been so bad that I haven’t been able to download the photos I took. In the meantime, we had a dust storm yesterday (see photos left) in Broken Hill and north north-westerly winds of up to 67 km/h. I’m still adjusting to how windy this town can be.
We’ve planted our garlic cloves here in Broken Hill. It’s my first time to grow garlic so I feel nervous if it’s all going to work because the soil is not ideal (read below about its preparation and pH). Best case scenario we have 28 beautiful garlic plants come end of this year. Worst case scenario is that we get no crop and its been a learning experience. I guess we will win either way.
Here’s what we did.
Choosing garlic bed location
Garlic needs well-drained soil and needs to be protected from wind. We live in a town with sandy soils and the site I chose was on the fence line at the back of our house block. Our house faces north, so the garden bed is southern side. I chose this site because it would get plenty of sun and would be protected somewhat from southerly winds. The ground was bare and perhaps in hindsight maybe not ideal (I have no idea how long the bed has been bare).
Preparing bed with compost and mulch
We started making compost about a year and a half ago and had some with me when we arrived in Broken Hill. We had stored the compost in plastic bags and then in hessian but when we pulled it out of the bag to prepare the garden bed in late March it hadn’t completely decomposed (maybe don’t store in plastic bags!) It smelt good though. We dug a space about 1m x 1m and a good shovel spade deep and put half a bag of compost in (say 25L) and then covered with sandy soil. We wet down and did this again and once more so there were three layers in total. We put some hessian bags down and covered it with some pool fencing to keep our dogs from digging up the soil as they would have a field day.
After asking some friends for advice about the compost that had not completely decomposed, we decided to put some cow manure down (just from the local nursery although things were starting to sprout shortly thereafter which I had to pull out – probably something in the manure). After the cow manure we left it about a week and a half and then put some bedding straw down as mulch by early April. I wanted to avoid using sugar cane mulch or pea straw as I’ve heard both can be hydrophobic and repel rather than absorb water (see for example Mickey Robertson from Glenmore House post where she talks about sugar cane mulch and David and Sara Gormley-O’Brien’s post on Three Acres and a Cow about pea straw being hydrophobic.) In Mickey Robertson’s post above she recommends using hemp or bedding straw. I was unsure what bedding straw was but after asking Mickey she suggested wheat straw but warned that it may have seed heads you need to pull out. I purchased some wheat bedding straw from Danns of Broken Hill. So far we haven’t had any wheat sprout.
Preparing Garlic Cloves
Before I left Canberra I went to the Canberra Farmers Markets and purchased four large sized bulbs from Ingelara Farm, a biodynamic farm at Bredbo, south of Canberra. I broke up the bulbs and chose 15 of the largest cloves. My permaculture teacher suggested that the Ingelara garlic won’t be acclimatised to Broken Hill conditions and to try source some locally. A new found friend in Broken Hill gave me three garlic plants from her garden and I purchased some Good Aussie Garlic which comes from South Australia but is sold here locally at Pots n Plants nursery. I chose 10 good sized cloves from this purchase to plant. A Tasmanian garlic grower suggests soaking the cloves in diluted seasol for 24 hours before planting. It ended up being about six days since I soaked and planted them (too sore and I had to wait till Tim could plant). We followed the instructions of the Tasmanian garlic grower and planted them in rows about 15 cm apart and 10 cm between each clove.
Measuring soil pH
The Tasmanian farmer suggests a soil pH of between 6 and 7 for garlic. When we did a test on the soil we had a measurement of 9 which is alkaline soil. I was not expecting that result because of the compost and manure! Applying agriculture sulfur to soil can help with lowering the pH level but again after some research it suggests this can take several months to take effect (see for example Adelaide’s gardening guru Nadja Osterstock’s post about how to treat Alkaline soil) I don’t want to miss the opportunity to plant the garlic I’ve purchased so I’ve decided to plough ahead regardless and plant the garlic. As per Nadja Osterstock’s advice, I’ll try and compensate the alkalinity by spraying foliage with worm tea or seaweed (once the cloves start to sprout).
The road ahead
At this point in time, we’ll watch and see what happens and try and keep the water up, especially once spring comes and the hotter weather sets in. I do hope it works! Are you planting garlic this year?