In the last few years demand for Australian garlic has been growing and so has the garlic growing industry. From its fledgling beginnings in the 70’s the industry grew steadily until the mid nineties when deregulation of our agricultural sector saw the importation of cheap Chinese garlic and resulted in the virtual collapse of our own garlic industry.
However over the last few years our garlic industry has been bouncing back and at the same time demand for garlic at farmers markets and supermarkets has been surging ahead. This has coincided with the general increase in demand for local Australian produce, increased awareness of Country of Origin, a love of fresh food, a desire to reduce food miles, unnecessary handling, and a general increase in home cooking.
Most of the garlic grown in Australia has been early season varieties, Monaro Purple is one of the local early season garlics grown in the Capital region and across the Southern Tablelands. Early season garlics are planted in March / April and harvested October / November. A key factor of Australian garlic production is that the majority of garlic grown for the Australian market is from a small range of garlic varieties that are harvested at the same time, (November & December) and only store well for a few months. This generally means that most Australian garlic is no longer available for consumption by April/ May. That is, Australian garlic is generally available for a short season from late November to around April, with the majority consumed by February / March. (This is referred to as the narrow production window.). After that we are forced to turn to imported garlic which is heavily fumigated on entry into Australia. We know little about how these imported products such as Chinese garlic is grown and no idea of farming practices, use of chemicals or anything else about how the product is treated before it leaves for our shore. But, things are changing!
Over the last few years the industry association has been helping garlic growers to understand the different garlic groups and varieties; their different planting and harvesting times and correct curing and storing approaches, to ensure a year round supply. This means that instead of a once a year garlic planting, potentially growers can have 3 plantings a year and 3 harvests a year: very simply:
Braidwood has had a garlic growers group since 2012. I love growing garlic and I convened the group in 2012 as a community to share knowledge and experience of garlic growing and encourage new growers to enter the business. It was fairly clear that Braidwood could have a broader agricultural base than it currently has which could create jobs and bring income into the town. The group has participated in a project over the past two garlic growing seasons to “demonstrate the potential for garlic as a crop to enhance economic resilience, agricultural profitability and sustainability” All garlic grown as part of the project has been grown using organic principles. A key part of the project has been to develop grower knowledge of the different garlic groups and their different growing requirements. With the aim to see the Braidwood region position itself as a key producer of the late season garlic varieties that store well for 6 to 12 months. By growing these different varieties of garlic Braidwood should able to put garlic in to the market when little Australian garlic is available.
Over the weekend the wind up meeting for the garlic project (not the Garlic Growers Group) was held and the growers decided to move towards the development of a cooperative with the support of the Farming Together Program. This may well be the first garlic growers cooperative in Australia. Exciting garlic times are ahead.
All this talking about garlic is great but it's the garlic growing that counts. We are planting our mid season garlic this week, perhaps a little late, delayed by too much talking! If you too are thinking about planting a late season garlic crop or have already planted your early season garlic you might want to enroll in our online garlic course just to stay informed and have your garlic growing questions answered as they come up. Happy garlic growing.
If you are just thinking about eating delicious Aussie garlic, don't despair. In the next few years you will be able to get good Australian garlic from April to November if all goes well.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm