I pondered on this question earlier in the year whilst in Thailand. Whilst sipping a Chang beer in Phuket, I started picturing living in Thailand full time and wondering what I could actually grow there. Its amazing for a lot of flowers and herbs, but not so good for crops that like a cold spell.
Garlic is traditionally grown in temperate regions with distinct seasons, especially where there’s a cold winter period. This cold phase, known as vernalization, often prompts the garlic clove to develop into a bulb. However, this doesn’t mean garlic is entirely off the table for tropical climates. Here’s an exploration of the possibilities:
- Tropical Garlic Varieties:
- While most garlic varieties prefer cooler climates, some types, often referred to as “tropical garlic” or “softneck garlic“, can be grown in warmer regions. Softneck garlic varieties are generally more adaptable to areas without a cold winter.
- These varieties might not produce bulbs as large as those grown in temperate climates, but they can still yield a decent harvest.
- Growing Challenges in the Tropics:
- Excessive Rainfall: One of the primary challenges in tropical climates is the abundance of rain, which can lead to fungal diseases in garlic. It’s essential to choose well-draining soil and consider raised beds or container gardening to ensure the roots don’t stay overly saturated.
- Consistent Warm Temperatures: Without a cold period, bulb formation can sometimes be inhibited. Some tropical growers trick the garlic by refrigerating the cloves for several weeks before planting, mimicking the vernalization process.
- Pests and Diseases: Warm climates can also have a variety of pests and diseases that are less common in cooler areas. Regular inspection and organic pest control methods can help mitigate these challenges.
- Planting Tips for Tropical Climates:
- Right Time: Planting should be timed just before the coolest months of the tropical region, often during the latter part of the rainy season.
- Soil Preparation: Soil enriched with organic matter not only offers nutrients but also improves drainage. Ensure the pH level is around 6.5 to 7 for optimal growth.
- Spacing: Good airflow can deter fungal problems. Space the cloves adequately, about 4-6 inches apart, and ensure they’re planted in an area with good air circulation.
- Mulching: Mulch can help retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature, all of which are beneficial for garlic growth.
- Harvest Considerations:
- Garlic grown in tropical climates may mature faster than in cooler regions. It’s typically ready for harvest when the lower leaves start to turn brown and wilt.
- Post-harvest, allow the bulbs to cure in a dry, shaded area for a few weeks to improve their shelf life.
While growing garlic in a tropical climate poses some unique challenges, it’s certainly possible with the right strategies and varieties. By understanding the plant’s needs and adapting to local conditions, gardeners in tropical regions can enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting their own garlic. For region-specific advice, it’s always a good idea to connect with local agricultural extension services or seasoned gardeners in the area.
Brian Sheridan has an allotment in Edgbaston and is a competitive grower. Brian is also a keen photographer and loves cooking. Brian and his wife Mary will also be running a stall at Edgebaston artisan market this year, selling products made from the allotment, including his award-winning relish!