Update on my rusty garlic

Update on my rusty garlic

garlic
garlic harvest

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!

old-garlic
Early Pearl garlic v rust wasn’t a success

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.

 

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3 Comments

  1. OK… I have these comments I found by Seetha Davenport, of Seetha’s Seeds, Tutira, Nz- I hope they are helpful. At least the information comes from sort of local experience, and Seetha is an excellent gardener who runs her own seed business…… Here you go –
    Rust species, Puccinia allii, lives on LIVE allium (onion, leek, garlic, elephant garlic, chive, bunching onion, and spring onion) plant matter. If you grow other alliums in the garden particularly leeks as their growing season are the other half of the year from garlic, you may find the spores will remain in your garden and re-inoculate your crop. Fortunately, once the plant dies, so do the spores of the rust fungus. My research initially led me to believe that only this specific species affects alliums, but I have seen in our garden rust spread from non-allium plants such as grass to our garlic. I now keep an eye out in spring for any rust on any plant and if it appears I try to remove the plant on a calm, no wind moment, and bag it to be taken out of the garden.
    Rust is a fungal spore that spreads on the WIND especially in moist environments when leaves are wet for more than 4 hours at a time. The longer the leaves and any surrounding weeds stay wet the more that the rust will spread. Wet springs bring more rust than dry ones. We have successfully for the last four seasons planted our garlic up wind (from our prevailing wind in spring) from leeks and we plant our main crop garlic and elephant garlic up wind from our early garlics. This technique is very effective at limiting the spread of the spores as the wind is blowing the spores away from the plants!
    Garlic rust has two types of spores, orange and black. The black spores are the ones that hunker down and wait for the right climatic conditions and then start to produce the orange spores. These spread all over the leaves and significantly impact the growth of the crop by blocking photosynthesis and stressing the plant overall.
    Plant spacing and placement in the garden is very important. Traditionally, we have planted garlic as close to 10-15cm apart in a biointensive grid pattern. Those days a long gone, as this means all their leaves are touching, and the rust can then spread like wildfire. We now plant garlic in rows at 25cm spacing, and the cloves in the rows also at 25cm spacing. We use mulch (grass clippings, hay or straw) and weed regularly to allow for as much air movement as possible so plants can dry faster. We also plant each garlic bed spread out across the whole garden with no two beds next to each other. In the past, we would have a garlic patch, this meant that if rust presented, it would soon spread to the whole plot. With the spreading out technique, if one bed gets rust, other beds don’t. In the home garden even if you are only planting a small number of cloves, I would recommend spreading them out so you don’t have all your plants together.
    Early planting is probably the most effective thing we have done to date. Planting your early garlics in March and your main crop garlic and elephant garlics in May gives the plants a head start on growth. By November when the spores seem to get out of hand, the crops are more developed and better able to size up, regardless of rust.
    Variety choice is important. We have consistently found our early garlics (Early Pearl and Early Purple) to be less affected by the rust than the main crop varieties. Elephant Garlic, is actually a leek and neither leeks or elephant garlic are affected by rust, so choose wisely when planting. A failsafe choice seems to be elephant garlic.

    Practical steps you can take in your garden:
    Prevention is key. Once you have rust it is impossible to get rid of in an organic system. Focus on healthy soil. We know that healthy soil leads to healthy plants, and this is your best defence from any pest or disease. We use our home-made compost, micronized lime and liquid seaweed at planting time. We also apply Environmental Fertilisers foliar sprays throughout the season and in recent years we have used their certified organic solid fertiliser as well.
    Do not overhead irrigate in mid to late spring. Moisture on leaves is the danger time when rust spores multiply and spread.
    Plant your garlic up wind from all other alliums. Space your garlic at least 20-30cm apart to allow for faster drying in the crop, as the spores will travel in the wet. Spread the garlic cloves out across the garden, not all in one place even if your planting is small.
    Clear out all other allium plant material at least two weeks prior to garlic leaf emergence. And check the garden for any pant with rust present, remove any affected plants regardless if they are an allium or not. If this is not possible, keep a very close eye on the other crops and make sure they are rust free.

    • This is really helpful, thanks! Hopefully someone else will make use of this. I’m not going to grow garlic this year – I’ve had year after year of failure and it’s such a big investment of time and space for it to not work 🙁

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