Growing garlic, from soil to market

Saturday October 15 2016

Unlike other niche market crops, garlic is not hard to grow because there are a few important requirements that can be easily met, such as fertile well-drained soil, adequate moisture and planting the right seeds.

Garlic. Unlike other niche market crops, garlic is not hard to grow because there are a few important requirements that can be easily met, such as fertile well-drained soil, adequate moisture and planting the right seeds. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

 JOSEPH MWENJA
By JOSEPH MWENJA
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There are so many prospective farmers looking for information on garlic. This is very clear from my four-year experience as an agribusiness consultant specialising on the crop.

But garlic, unlike other niche market crops, is not hard to grow because there are a few important requirements that can be easily met. They include fertile well-drained soil, adequate moisture, and, of course, planting the right seeds (disease-free germinated cloves).

To begin with, start by conducting a soil test to ensure that soil-borne diseases like basal rot (Fusarium culmorum), white rot (Sclerotium cepivorum) and nematodes are not present. The pH should range from 4.5 to 8.3, but a pH of between 6.5 and 6.7 is ideal.

For plant spacing, take into consideration the irrigation method to be employed, weeding methods of choice and the target yield – quantity vs quality. Plant between 100-200kg of cloves for one acre.

It is advisable to plant garlic in double rows or in wide beds of four to six rows with 10 to 20cm between plants. Tighter spacing in the beds will produce a greater number of smaller bulbs for a higher yield in terms of tonnage per square foot of land.

If you are not constrained on land, plant garlic in well-tilled beds of two or four rows, with about 20cm spacing between rows and between plants. This bed size is ideal for manual weeding and production of large bulbs.

Prepare your land by ploughing and harrowing, then broadcast 10 tonnes of well-composted goat manure in advance. Avoid areas under trees or other sources of shade.

Buy your germinated cloves from a reputable dealer. Avoid buying the seeds from the market place or unscrupulous dealers because they may not be disease-free.

Once you have the cloves, break-up the bulbs not longer than 24 hours before you plant them while being careful not to bruise or damage them. Place cloves 3-4cm below the surface, root down.

GARLIC DISEASES

You will need to water your garlic during dry periods throughout the growing season, and stop completely during the last few weeks.

Carefully remove any weeds whenever they appear, and avoid prolonged use of herbicides as they retard plant growth.

During growth, lack of water is the most common stress because garlic does not compensate for drought periods by prolonged growth. Even a short period of drought affects the yield, especially during bulb expansion because lack of water predisposes the crop to infestation by insects.

Common garlic diseases include, but are not limited to basal rot, white rot, downy mildew (Peronospora destructor), botrytis rot (Botrytis porri) and penicillium decay (Penicillium hirsutum).

A farmer puts out his garlic harvest to cure it.

A farmer puts out his garlic harvest to cure it. Garlic bulbs are usually cured before storage for three to four days under a shade, with the process involving provision of adequate ventilation and dry air to harvested garlic so that the storage quality of the crop is improved. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Since most of these major garlic diseases are soil-borne, proper site assessment and yearly rotations are crucial in maintaining a healthy farm. Prevention is of paramount importance as controlling soil-borne diseases and nematodes can be very expensive.

Rust (puccinia porri) is the most common disease in many parts of the country. It appears as small orange blisters on the leaves of the plant. Once you notice signs of infection, spray Folicur as soon as possible following instructions from the manufacturer.

Garlic will tell you when it is time to harvest. Start harvesting when the lower leaves begin to yellow and fold and the garlic grows “weak at the neck” and begins to fall on the ground. Harvesting too early decreases total yield and reduces quality of the bulb. It will also cause rapid deterioration during storage.

HIGH DEMAND CROP

The biggest mistake Kenyan farmers make is harvesting too early and not curing the garlic properly. Additionally, they cut off the necks immediately after harvesting creating a fresh wound that rapidly dehydrates the bulb leading to shrinking and poor quality garlic that fetches low prices.

Garlic bulbs are usually cured before storage for three to four days under a shade. This involves the provision of adequate ventilation and dry air to harvested garlic so that the storage quality of the crop is improved.

You can store your well-cured garlic for up to six months before you sell. So don’t rush to sell when supply is high and prices are low.

Kenya imports up to 80 per cent of garlic from China. That can tell you how much demand we have locally that we are unable to meet.

However, farmers need to offer good quality to enable us retake our local market from the Chinese.

Farm gate prices must also be competitive so that local traders can buy from farmers.

After packaging and importing all the way from China, garlic wholesales at about Sh200, meaning that our farm gate prices should be much lower.

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The writer is the founder/director of Garlic Farm Kenya Agribusiness consulting firm based in Nakuru.