It’s not that hard to grow garlic: Here’s how to make your garden tasty

I am not going to lie, last year I grew really bad garlic. Lashings of rain led to boggy soil, which meant mean, little bulbs that didn’t even cure well. So disappointing.

But with Victoria’s garlic planting season kicking off next month, it’s time for fresh beginnings and this year I want to harvest the sort of garlic that Kristy and Neil Plumridge do.

The Plumridges pull up their garlic in November and December.Credit:Marnie Hawson

At their West Gippsland farm over about three weeks last November and December they pulled up thousands of firm, plump bulbs with everything you want from a head of garlic: well-formed cloves, papery skins, strong aromas.

And the Plumridges haven’t even been growing garlic for that long. For just four years, in fact. The couple will tell the story of how they swapped a full-time life in Melbourne for one that involves part-time farming in Yarragon at Saturday’s Meeniyan Garlic Festival.

They cut off the scapes in spring to direct the plant’s energy toward the bulb.Credit:Marnie Hawson

It hasn’t all been plain sailing but the Plumridges have generally found garlic to be something they “could grow as novices” with relatively few complications.

While their farm stretches over 90 hectares (220 acres), only a tiny fraction of it is devoted to garlic. Last year they had eight 40-metre rows. This year they might expand it to 10 rows. “You don’t need that much space to be a garlic farmer,” Kristy says. “Even with half an acre you can grow enough to contribute to the Australian food chain.” And with very much less space, you can grow enough to keep yourself in garlic all year round.

Kristy and Neil Plumridge, who also keep chickens.Credit:Marnie Hawson

With Australia importing most of its garlic from overseas, the Plumridges are part of a growing cohort of people cultivating an array of different garlic cultivars across the country. Not only are these harvests reducing food miles, they don’t require the fungicides, sprouting inhibitors and other chemical treatments commonly applied to imported garlic.

Another benefit is the scape. This bright green flower stem that emerges all slender and curly in spring can be sliced into salads or blended into dips. They can be sautéed, grilled, pickled and dehydrated. Really, there’s nothing you can’t do with a young, tender scape and Kristy is now on a mission to establish a festival devoted to them during the two weeks or so that they are in season.

They cure their garlic for at least a month, on racks Neil builds.Credit:Megan Backhouse

She has also teamed up with winemakers to turn the farm’s small cloves – the ones left over after planting – into a wine-infused salt. Like most garlic growers, the Plumridges use ­only the biggest cloves from those bulbs they save to replant because, generally speaking, bigger cloves turn into bigger bulbs.

But it takes time. In the first two or three months after planting garlic – which in Victoria is between March and June – it is the leaves and roots that do all the growing. Only when the days get longer and the sun warmer does the bulb start to swell. At this point in the calendar the Plumridges also nudge along their bulbs by applying a dose of liquid seaweed fertiliser.

A little later they also remove the scapes of their hardneck varieties, before these stems form umbels, to ensure all of the plant’s energy is directed toward the bulb, and, during the whole growing season, they keep on top of weeds to reduce competition.

They are also working on a three-year rotation system, to improve fertility and prevent the build-up of pests in their soil. While they used a rotary hoe to create their beds – in a paddock of pasture grass – they have tried to limit any additional soil turning to protect its structure.

They have a sandy loam soil that they have built up with compost and mulched with pea straw. The first year they planted 17 different varieties in late April, but have gradually whittled their range down to the five varieties that do best in their conditions, which include an annual rainfall of about 1100mm (but 1500mm last year), few frosts and a relatively long winter with temperatures about 5C lower than Melbourne.

The bulbs are harvested over about three weeks in November and December and for the latest crop – having run into curing troubles with the last one – Neil built curing racks from sheets of reinforcing mesh that he installed in a shed with plenty of ventilation.

The Plumridges say they have learnt a lot by talking to other growers. “A lot of people dream about moving to the country but you don’t know what it involves until you take the chance,” Kristy says. “Neil and I had a sense of naïve optimism that it would work and we have worked with people who know more than us to make it work.”

This year, I am going to make it work too.

The Meeniyan Garlic Festival is on Saturday February 18, 9am to 4pm in Meeniyan. Go to for more information. Go to for more information about the Plumridges’ farm and garlic.

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