In November I posted about rust on my garlic plants. Since I grow enough garlic to last us the year the damage this rust was doing and the potential loss of the whole crop was causing me massive stress. I got some great advice but the short of the story is nothing saved it. I hate posting about my failed gardening but I guess it’s better than a post about nothing so here’s what I tried to save the garlic. Hopefully it’ll be helpful to like minded garlic growers out there:
To try to stop the rust spreading I wanted to use methods that wouldn’t add anything toxic to the bulbs because obviously they’ll be eaten. There were two organic things I could spray with – sulphur and extract of dock root. I could also cut the leaf right back. To see the detail on the methods I tried, scroll down to the bottom. I tried all these different things in November but mid December I realised the plants weren’t getting any better so pulled it all up. Normally I would wait until just before Christmas before lifting them. Sadly the rust had really affected the growth – the bulbs were heaps smaller than usual, some looked like spring onions rather than garlic! The photos below might not show the size very well but the photo with the onion is just a regular sized onion and that garlic is tiny!
From what I saw initially there wasn’t any real difference between the three varieties I had planted and the five different methods I’d tried to stop the rust. I thought the Early Pearl variety had fared slightly better but a few weeks on these turned out to be the worst off. Early Pearl isn’t a keeping variety – they can be planted in May (rather than June) and lifted in November (I’ve found they still aren’t ready until December) and they are to be eaten early rather than keeping them for storage. In December they were tiny bulbs and by mid January I had to put most of them in the compost as they had dried up to nothing.
The other two varieties I’d planted were Rocombole and Takahue. Rocombole is a stronger flavoured garlic but doesn’t last as long as Takahue will. I’ve found the mix of these three – early, strong flavoured and longer keeping works well for us but it looks like I’ve lost my Early Pearl bulbs for replanting this season. It’s absolutely disappointing to throw away a couple of dozen bulbs of the Early Pearl garlic – these were bulbs grown over the last few years, bulbs saved year on year and planted in June last year. They grew for six months and now have come to nothing. Not only does that mean we won’t have that garlic to eat for the next several months, I’ve also lost the bulbs to plant for the next season. I don’t know what will happen with the other two varieties – hopefully they won’t go the same way.
Findings and what does this failed harvest mean for next year?
- None of the methods I used did better than the other but I think to gain benefit I should have acted earlier. At the first sign of rust I could have tried the sulphur/dock mix and repeated the spray weekly and I might have had more success but by the time I did use it the rust had really overtaken the plants and stopped decent bulb formation. I think nothing I did would have saved the plants by this stage – whether organic or not.
- There was a difference across the varieties. The Early Pearl garlic was affected more than the other two. The next few months will tell how they hold up. I’m inclined to not continue with the early variety as it’s quite mild tasting and I haven’t found it to be ready to lift earlier than the others (which is it’s advantage) and the fact it doesn’t keep well is a disadvantage.
- I’ll plant garlic again in June this year. I’ve been growing garlic for seven or so years and this is the first time I’ve had such a bad harvest. We eat loads of garlic and, like all our food, one of the main reasons for growing it is to know that it hasn’t been sprayed or fumigated. It’s always been an easy plant to grow but supposedly the warmish wet conditions in Auckland this winter were what set off the rust.
- Next time: the 2016 crop was planted into a raised garden bed. I’d only half filled the bed with soil as I was buying it and wheelbarrowing it down to the garden. While I thought the sides of the bed would provide some protection from the wind I think it ended up being a negative help by stopping wind flow. As in the point above, the conditions in Auckland were perfect for rust so my lack of air flow didn’t help. This time I’ll leave them more exposed to the elements as they’ve been in previous years!
- I’m not sure how well the garlic will last so I plan to try Anitas suggestion and confit some and freeze some – I don’t want to lose the whole lot. I’ll update on how successful that was.
Detail on the rust prevention methods –
I had planted three types of garlic which were in rows so to properly test the rust control methods I sectioned off the rows into five blocks – each variety would get tested with each method. I don’t have a photo of this and hopefully it makes sense. (However, as nothing worked better than the other I guess it doesn’t matter if my methodology doesn’t make sense at this point). My five trials were –
- Cut the tops back – I had read that cutting back the affected leaves could help the plant so for one section I cut the leaf back quite close to the base.
- Sulphur – I sprayed one section with Kiwicare organic super sulphur, following the instructions.
- Extract of dock root. I got feedback from an organic grower of garlic about a method I could try to spray on the plants. Sadly I’ve got dock I could use for this. I had to dilute down his ratios so this is what I ended up with –
- 10g of finely diced dock root in 100 mls of water soaked overnight. I then diluted it with more water up to 1L. (10g of root was a massive amount – it was more than I needed for my 100 odd plants – 2g would probably have been adequate). This was sprayed onto the leaves top and undersides.
- A mix of the sulphur and extract of dock root as prepared above was sprayed onto another section of plants.
- Nothing. A good experiment should have a control so one section I did nothing to.