To have bountiful harvests when growing garlic in Kenya, you must have the proper knowledge of the local seed varieties, soils suitability as well as viable climatic conditions where the crop can do well. Below we look at the several stages of growing garlic in Kenya, highlighting the necessary procedures and what you ought to know.
There are three types of varieties of garlic: Softneck, Stiffneck, and Great-headed (Elephant). Most types are about 90 days to harvest, once growth starts.
- Hardneck varieties grow one ring of cloves around a stem, there is not a layer of cloves as there is in softneck varieties. They are extremely cold hardy, but do not store as well or long as other varieties. Flavor is more mild than softnecks. This variety produce tiny bulblets at the end of a tall flowering stalk in addition to a fat underground bulb of cloves.
- Softneck varieties, like their name suggests, have necks that stay soft after harvest, and therefore are the types that you see braided. Especially recommended for those in warmer climes, as it is less winter-hardy than other types. Strong, intense flavor. They tend to grow bigger bulbs because energy is not being diverted to top-set bulblets like hardnecks.
- Great-headed (Elephant) garlic is not recommended if you’re looking for a garlic taste. It’s less hardy, and more closely related to leeks than other varieties. The flavor is more like onion than traditional garlic. Bulbs and cloves are large, with about 4 cloves to a bulb.
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.
Garlic cloves are planted 6 inches apart in rows spaced 2 feet apart. Garlic is planted using seed cloves. The first step in planting garlic is to get your hands on some seed cloves. These can be purchased from a garden center or seed company. You can also head to your local grocery store or farmer’s market to get seed cloves. Pick out the type of garlic you want to plant. Plant the cloves 2 inches deep if you plan to mulch, 3 to 4 inches deep if you do not plan to mulch.
Be sure to plant each clove with the pointy tip facing up and the basal/root end facing down. Space the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart in rows spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. Commercial growers often plant the cloves and rows closer together; this leads to smaller bulbs but an overall higher yield in terms of garlic per square foot of garden.
Mulch and Manure Application
After planting your garlic seeds, you need to safeguard them from harsh conditions using a thick layer of mulch. You can use anywhere between 4 to 6-inch layer of either straw, chopped leaves or grass and place them above the rows. By doing so, the seeds will insulate protecting them from severe winter conditions. This mulch needs removal on the first day of spring when the temperatures are 55 or 6o degrees F as this is around when the garlic seeds will start to sprout.
After the removal of mulch and with moderate temperatures in spring, apply a light all-purpose fertilizer every 30 to 40 days. The best fertilizer is 5-5-5 or 10-10-10 which specify the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium respectively in that specific fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer by sprinkling its granules on the sprouting garlic and ensure that the granules do not touch the actual plant; this is because they may burn the plant or pose other harmful effects. Most manufacturers recommend applying the fertilizer at a rate of ¾ per 100 square feet.
The key to successfully watering garlic is making sure that the soil drains well. If your garlic sits in waterlogged soil for very long, it will begin to rot. Garlic needs relatively small amounts of water. No watering is necessary during rainy days when garlic is covered with mulch.
If you experience little rainfall in the, you can water your garlic crop every couple of weeks. A light watering down to a depth of 1 inch should be sufficient. If you get reasonable rain fall every 10-14 days, watering is usually not needed. Once it begins to sprout, you can begin watering garlic with longer and deeper soaks down to a soil depth of 2-3 inches.
If it has not been unseasonably dry in your area, it’s usually better to water too little rather than too much.
Pests and Diseases
- White rot fungus. This disease, caused by the Sclerotium cepivorum fungus, is the most serious disease of garlic, and it can also strike all Allium crops, including onions. White rot-infected garlic plants can be identified by leaves that turn yellow and plants that wilt and die back partially. As the roots rot, infected plants uproot easily. This disease typically develops from the middle of the season up to harvest. Be sure you obtain cloves from certified disease-free stock, because once a field has been infected with white rot fungus, it can take decades for the infection to completely clear.
- Nematodes. These microscopic pests, Ditylenchus dipaci, are another chronic problem for garlic. These tiny worm-like creatures live inside the garlic plant itself, eating it as it reproduces. Nematodes do not need water to survive and they can live in the surrounding soil for several years. Nematode infestation can build up for several seasons without much damage, then strike and take out an entire crop. To control nematodes, make efforts to plant clean stock, inspect growing plants frequently, and remove any plants that look diseased.
- Onion thrips. Thrips are the most common insect to plague garlic. Thrips have rasping-sucking mouth parts that first damage the leaves then suck up the seeping plant fluid. Severe damage can cause the garlic plant to wilt and die. The wounds to the leaves may then create entry points for other diseases. To control thrips, keep areas free of moist, wet mulch that provides breeding areas, and trap the insects with sticky traps.
Before harvesting, scapes can be snapped off at the curl and sold, allowing the plant to put more energy into the bulb. Scapes are gaining market momentum for their spicy green garlic flavor.
Garlic is ready to harvest when there are four or five brown leaves. Since garlic bruises easily, leaving it vulnerable, gently knock off dirt and then lay the plants in bunches in a barn or, better yet, in hay wagons or a truck bed. That way you can easily pull the garlic out to let it dry in the sun for a few days — just not in scorching heat.
Garlic should be dried for four to six weeks. If garlic is not properly dried, mold or rotting can occur. There is a small chance of developing blue/gray mold and fusarium during the drying process.
After drying, garlic can be stored without refrigeration for at least six months.