Garlic farming in Kenya (Kitunguu saumu) and all you need to know
Garlic farming in Kenya requires well tilled, well drained soil. It is usually reserved for traditional vegetable gardens. Garlic can be grown in containers. However, many containers would be needed if more than a few heads of garlic were desired.
Garlic is a member of the allium family, which also includes such root vegetables as onions, shallots and leeks. However, unlike these other vegetables, garlic seed cloves need to be exposed to freezing weather AFTER they are planted. This helps them form nice, big bulbs with lots of cloves. If they aren’t exposed to freezing weather for at least a few days, the usual result is poorly formed bulb that generally consists of just one or two giant, malformed cloves.
Garlic is not planted from seed, but rather from individual garlic cloves. Each clove will produce a single plant with a single head of garlic. The garlic head is made up of several garlic cloves clustered together. Each of these cloves can be separated from the head and re-planted, creating more and more heads of garlic. This process makes raising garlic a self-sustaining endeavor.
Garlic has a wide range of applications. It is used as an ingredient in a wide variety of our homes recipes. Because it’s used in so many recipes, most home cooks keep a head or two of garlic in the kitchen.
Additionally, garlic has also been used for several medicinal and practical applications. It has been said that raw garlic can prevent acne and repel mosquitoes. It also has antibacterial properties and has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries.
Garlic contains a fair amount of sugar, which will caramelize if roasted in the oven. Cloves can be left whole or sliced, crushed, minced or diced. Garlic is a hearty vegetable that can easily be dried and stored for months on end.
Garlic Farming in Kenya
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. You will have better luck if you can find garlic varieties that are grown in your area. Choose heads of garlic that are firm and have tightly clustered cloves. There should be lots of dry, paper-like skin covering the cloves and heads. When you get home, separate the cloves and leave them on your kitchen counter with the skins intact. The bigger the cloves, the better the chances of growing high quality garlic.
Make sure the soil is adequately prepared in your garden. It should be tilled until loose and airy to a depth of 6-8 inches. The soil should be relatively dry and free of rocks and plant debris.
Row of Planted Garlic
Use a hoe and create a trench 3 inches deep. Good soil drainage is the key to successfully growing garlic. If you live in an area with dense, compact soil such as clay, you can create a row 6 inches deep and put down a layer of small rocks or gravel in the bottom of the trench. After you’ve created an appropriate row, backfill it with loose, airy dirt that is fine in texture. Avoid stepping on the row or compacting the soil in any way. Using you finger or the handle end of a hoe or trowel, poke a hole in the dirt 2 inches deep. Place a single garlic clove root-down with the point pointing up into the hole. Cover the clove with loose, airy soil. Continue using this method to plant the row, spacing the cloves 6 inches apart. If you are planting garlic in more than one row, space the rows 2 feet apart. After you’re done planting, LIGHTLY water in the rows until the soil surface is slightly damp. Be extra careful not to over-water. If the seed cloves sit in cold, wet soil for very long, they will begin to rot.
Now that you’re done planting garlic, it’s time to protect your crop from harsh winter weather by adding a thick layer of mulch. When the soil is fairly dry, apply a 4-6 inch layer of grass clippings, straw or chopped up leaves on top of the rows. This will help insulate the seed cloves and protect them from cold winter conditions. This mulch should be removed on the first warm day of spring, when air temps hit 55-60 degrees F. The garlic will begin to sprout as temperatures warm.
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 in the winter months when garlic is covered with mulch. If you experience little rainfall in the spring, 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.
There are three main garlic varieties, each with their own unique properties.
- Softneck Garlic
- Hardneck Garlic
- Elephant Garlic
Bowl of Garlic Cloves
Softneck Garlic is probably the most common type of garlic. It is the variety found most often in the grocery store. Softneck garlic usually features a white, paper-like skin. The head is comprised of several layers of garlic cloves surrounding the core. This is probably the easiest type of garlic to grow in a backyard vegetable garden. Varieties of softneck garlic feature a fairly strong taste and sweet, pungent odor. Most garlic heads that have been braided together are softneck varieties. Some varieties of softneck garlic include California Early, California Late and Creole.
Hardneck Garlic is a less common garlic type. It features tan or purple markings. Varieties of hardneck garlic usually produce larger and fewer cloves on each head. They feature a fairly strong taste and sweet, pungent odor. Hardneck garlic also generally has thinner, skin that is easy to remove. Hardneck garlic does not usually store as well for long periods of time as softneck varieties. Some varieties of hardneck garlic include German Extra Hearty and Roja.
Elephant Garlic is a variety commonly found in grocery stores. It features a very large head that is comprised of very large cloves. In fact, some cloves of elephant garlic can reach about the same size as a whole head of softneck or hardneck varieties. Some people assume that because of it’s large size, elephant garlic has a much more intense flavor than standard garlic varieties. These people would be WRONG! Elephant garlic is known for it’s very subtle flavor and mild odor. In fact, some garlic purists equate the taste of elephant garlic more with leeks or shallots than with other types of garlic.
Growing Garlic Plants
After you pull back the mulch in the spring and the temperatures are moderate, a light application of an all purpose fertilizer can be applied every 30-40 days. Look for 5-5-5 or 10-10-10 fertilizer. These three numbers indicate the amount of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium that are contained in that particular fertilizer, respectively. For instance, a 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potassium. A 5-10-10 bag would contain 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potassium. Use your hands and sprinkle the fertilizer granules on the ground around the emerging garlic, making sure that the granules do NOT come in contact with the plants themselves. This may burn the plants or have other negative consequences. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for the amount of fertilizer to apply and divide that number by half. Most fertilizers are applied at a rate of 1 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet. Therefore, you should apply at a rate of 3/4 of a pound per 100 square feet. Try to apply the granular fertilizer a day or two before rain is expected. The rain will help the fertilizer to penetrate the soil.
Because the heads are buried in the soil and are not visible, the right time for harvesting garlic is determined by the appearance of the foliage. Once the foliage has turned brown and died back, it’s probably time to harvest.
Newly Harvested Garlic Head
The timing of the harvest is very important. If you gather the garlic too early, the cloves will be smaller and less compact. If you wait too long to harvest the garlic, the heads may be split and the cloves may have begin to rot. The best way to “time” the harvest correctly is by the appearance of the foliage. However, soil moisture levels can drastically affect the timing of the harvest. If the soil is fairly wet for a long period of time due to heavy rainfall, the garlic may be ready to be harvested while the foliage is still slightly green. On the other hand, if you are experiencing dry conditions, the foliage may die back before the best time for harvesting garlic has arrived.
Before the garlic is ready for harvest, the plants will send up a scape, which is a long, round, green, curly, whimsical-looking shoot. It comes up from the center of the plant and has a small bulging area at the end. If left alone, this will open up into a flower. You’ll want to cut off the scape, which will re-focus the plant’s energy into producing a bigger and better bulb.
Pay attention to the soil moisture levels when the foliage begins to turn brown. Let these moisture levels help you determine when it’s time to harvest. You can also cut off the tops of one of the plants when they begin to turn brown. Peel back the sheaths, one layer at a time. If there are 3-4 sheaths, you can go ahead and harvest. If, on the other hand, there are 5-6 sheaths or more, leave the garlic in the ground another couple of days and check again.
Another rule of thumb is to harvest your garlic when there are still 4 green leaves on the tops. As the plant matures, the leaves on the tops will turn brown. However, they won’t all turn brown at once. Typically the thinner leaves will brown first. By harvesting garlic when there are still 4 green leaves left, you will ensure that there is enough wrapping to protect the bulb for long storage.
To harvest the garlic, dig into the ground around the plants with a pitchfork, being careful not to damage the bulbs. After turning the soil over, collect the heads of garlic.
After harvesting garlic, it’s critical to cure the heads in a warm, dry place for at least a week. Do not wash the heads at this time. Instead, hang the garlic up to dry or spread the heads on a table. A garage or shed is a good location for curing. It will keep the bulbs dry and out of the sun. If the garlic heads sit too long in the sun, they will actually burn slightly, which may produce a bitter taste. Once the garlic has cured for at least a week, use a dry brush and brush the dirt off of the heads. You can then trim off the roots, being careful not to damage the cloves. The garlic heads are now ready to be braided together and hung up for long term storage. Properly cured garlic will last for several months if hung in your kitchen or pantry away from the stove. Long term exposure to steam or excess moisture might damage the bulbs and cause them to spoil more rapidly.
Health and Nutrition Benefits of Eating Garlic
- Garlic is known best for keeping cold at bay. Eating a clove of garlic when you feel like you may have an onset of cold, improves your immune system and strengthens up the natural defense system of the body.
- Garlic is also credited with anti-oxidants that help fight cancer and cancerous tumors. Medical science has proof that garlic contains compounds like diallye disulphide and s-allycystein, which have anti-tumor properties and help in slowing down the growth of tumors and also reduce their size.
- Garlic has compounds that help prevent any kind heart disease. It helps in lowering the cholesterol level in blood, which in turn makes sure there is nothing to block the arteries. It helps keep the aorta of the heart flexible and enables it to pump the blood effectively.
- Garlic also helps in the control of blood pressure or hypertension. A chemical known as Ajoene is found in garlic which helps in thinning the blood, thus reducing clots from forming and reducing hypertension. Garlic was used in ancient China to treat people suffering from angina attacks and poor circulation.
- Garlic is effective against fighting off a host of infections. It is known for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties and has been used since a long time to treat wounds, typhus, cholera, intestinal parasites, recurrent yeast infections and candida albicans.
- Garlic can also be used as an effective aphrodisiac and may be used to treat impotence. Garlic produces an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase, which is required to get an erection. Garlic stimulates the production of this enzyme in people who have lower levels of it.