I’ve planted garlic each year for the last several years and find it an easy plant to grow and enjoy – it doesn’t get bothered by pests and just needs to be feed a few times while growing. This year I’ve got rust on the plants which I’ve never seen before. The plants have quickly turned from lush plants to sad sad specimens. I’ve been reading about what might have caused it and what I can do. It seems that it’s caused by a fungus that loved the especially wet weather we had over winter in Auckland. As if soggy soil for months wasn’t bad enough! I planted them into a raised garden bed this year which was only half full of soil. While I thought the sides of the bed would add some wind protection they might have also stopped air flow. Good air movement in those wet conditions might have prevented the rust from forming and spreading to all the plants.
It happened very quickly – below middle is a photo taken in early October. If I looked closely I might have seen the rust developing and been able to do something about it but it wasn’t until late October that I noticed it. Even then it took me a few weeks of thinking ‘what’s happening here’ before I looked it up. By then (now) I think stopping the rust is too late.
Reading online the advice seems to be to pull up the garlic now as the bulbs aren’t going to get any bigger and prevention is the only solution (ie don’t let it happen next year) which isn’t very helpful. Agreed, I don’t plan on this happening next year! I could try spraying with sulphur according to some articles but I think I’ll just pump on some more liquid feed and reassess them early December. I think the rust has spread to far to be fixed but hopefully the bulbs can be saved even if they are smaller than usual. This fungus affects alliums so tonight I took a photo of my leeks which are growing nearby to show the difference between my rusty garlic and nice looking leeks. It wasn’t until I looked at this photo (beside) that I saw a few spots of rust. So it’s a heads up for me this year about this potential problem. Fortunately they are at the harvest stage – I pull one out when needed but I’ve made a note to check my onions more closely in the morning as I hadn’t noticed these spots on the leeks when looking over the garden so hopefully the onions aren’t affected.
In the early stages I think rust can be turned around – there is bound to be something natural that could be used. Even a good dose of seaweed tonic might keep it at bay.
The rust on the garlic and the potential loss of my crop for next year leads me onto storage of last years bulbs. It was about October that I started noticing a nice garlicey smell in the garage (where my garlic is hanging). It took me a few weeks before I thought to check on my two big bunches. When I did I found that alot of the bulbs had dried out, either fully or partly. That smell should have been my clue, especially as the same thing happened last year. I had 20 or so bulbs left and out of those I probably had to throw away a quarter as they had fully rotted. The remaining ones I picked over and saved what I could. I minced up the good cloves with a little olive oil into a smooth paste. This should provide two benefits – not only have I got garlic ready to put into meals which means I’ll use it more often but it’s also extending the time I’ve got garlic to use until I’ve got this years ready to eat (well, fingers crossed!). I froze half so hopefully that survives the freezer ok. Storing garlic this way could reduce the healthy benefits of it but the alternative is no garlic from October until December so I’m happy to risk it. Next year I’ll check on them earlier and try freezing the cloves whole before they start deteriorating. Once the rot sets into a bulb it spreads from clove to clove quickly so I need to check on them late September. Some varieties store better than others but I think by this late stage in the year I’m better off putting some aside as frozen or in a paste to make sure they aren’t wasted.
Some of the cloves I discarded hadn’t fully rotted – these I’ve kept aside to make a spray for the garden. The spray can be used on aphids, white fly and caterpillars. I’ll use these cloves and skins to make a concentrate I just need to add water to when required. I’ve had aphids on my virburnum and pittosporums but a spray with water and liquid soap works well enough when the numbers are low. I hate wasting a plant that’s made the effort to grow so to be able to use the decayed bits of garlic makes me feel less annoyed about not keeping a better eye on it.