Growing Organic Garlic

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"Plants require 17 essential elements for growth: carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), and zinc (Zn)".

Each year, the fertilizer industry transforms millions of tons of air, natural gas and mined ores into products based on the three essential plant nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  For nitrogen-based fertilizers, the largest product group, the process starts by mixing nitrogen from the air with hydrogen from natural gas at high temperature and pressure to create ammonia. Approximately 60% of the natural gas is used as raw material, with the remainder employed to power the synthesis process.  The ammonia is used to make nitric acid, with which it is then mixed to produce nitrate fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate (AN). Ammonia may also be mixed with liquid carbon dioxide to create urea. Both these products can be further mixed together with water to form UAN (urea ammonium nitrate) solution.

Phosphorus-based fertilizers are produced from mined ores. Phosphate rock is primarily treated with sulphuric acid to produce phosphoric acid, which is either concentrated or mixed with ammonia to make a range of phosphate (P2O5) fertilizers.    Potassium is the third major plant and crop nutrient. Potassium-based fertilizers are also produced from mined ores. Several chemical processes can be used to convert the potash rock into plant food, including potassium chloride, sulphate and nitrate.  

What Are The Advantages Of Using Organic Fertilizer?

Fertilizers vary in type and composition and since the range of soil types on which they can be used is also wide, firm recommendations for their application to specific crops can only be made if the local soil and climatic conditions are known.  Based on studies in performed around the world, the use of nitrogen improves garlic performance - which includes matured bulb diameter, individual bulb weight, number of bulbs, and cloves weight per bulb.

An adequate supply of nitrogen (but not an excessive supply of nitrogen)  is associated with vigorous vegetative growth and more efficient use of available inputs finally leading to higher productivity.  Production of maximum bulb yields could be due to taller plants with higher number of leaves leading to increased formation of vegetative structure for nutrient absorption and photosynthesis and increased production of assimilates to fill the sink which result in increased bulb size and weight.

 

Garlic plant growth characteristics can vary tremendously from one location to another.  Over the years we have observed significant variations for garlic characteristics such as the relative growth rate, plant height, number of leaves, leaf area, and leaf size.  Chemical fertilizers have become widely used in garlic production in some areas, as it is well known that the use of fertilizer helps in production and is somewhat a quick method for achieving maximum yield.   Nitrogen is generally found deficient in most of the soils around the world, particularly in the areas where farmers practice intensive cultivation and grow high yielding varieties.  The availability of nitrogen is of prime importance for growing garlic as it is an integral part of chlorophyll molecules, which are responsible for photosynthesis.  Nitrogen is among the most important nutrient elements in garlic and other crops and actively acts in numerous metabolic processes. 

Ideally, organic fertilizers should be used in garlic production.  In addition to releasing nutrients, as organic fertilizers break down, they improve the structure of the soil and increase its ability to hold water and nutrients. Over time, organic fertilizers will make your soil–and plants–healthy and strong.  Because of the organic matter present in organic fertilizer, soil structure is improved and as a result the soil’s ability to hold onto water and nutrients increases.  Synthetic fertilizer consists of chemical molecules without carbon. These molecules can sometimes be disruptive and are not accessible to microbes. On the other hand, organic fertilizer is rich in organic matter, which helps microbes thrive. Organic fertilizer contains carbon as part of its chemical makeup; and it is the carbon, along with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that feeds microbes and enables them to make nutrients available for plants in a naturally occurring biological process.  Synthetic fertilizers runoff into our waterways harming marine life and water quality. Organic fertilizers do not run off as easily (if at all) and are associated with soil structure. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic fertilizer also increases species biodiversity by 30% compared with synthetic fertilizer.  Although organic fertilizer can be more costly than synthetic, it can reduce the need for pesticides and the overall nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium requirements. Because of the reductions, organic fertilizer can be cost neutral and sometimes a cost savings.  Some synthetic fertilizers can cause plant damage to leaves and roots. This is less likely with organic fertilizers.

Many of us are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of the foods we are buying at the grocery store,  including garlic.  Apparently, the majority of the world’s garlic is grown in China, and is sprayed with chemicals and bleached white with chlorine during importation quarantine processes. Not to mention the thousands of food miles clocked up travelling long distances in storage.  Health concerns over the use of pesticides and genetically modified produce, have lead many people to consider growing their own vegetables.  The benefits of growing an organic garlic include: Easy access to fresh produce, Improved taste due to freshness and lack of chemicals,  Improved nutrition, No harmful pesticide residue, Reduction in exposure to harmful chemicals, Keep the ground water safe, Protect the environment and the creatures who call it their home, and Improves biodiversity.

Know your farmer.  If you are growing your own garlic, ensure you are purchasing organic seeds that were raised without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Many  smaller operations, such as GroEat Farm, take great care in growing their own food.  

 

Garlic is easy to grow, though one of the biggest mistakes growers make is not providing enough fertility to their soil, or adding too much nitrogen.  The garlic plant is a 'heavy feeder,' so it will not grow to full potential if nutrients are not present in the soil.  If the soil’s fertility is too nitrogen-rich, however, garlic will focus on vegetative growth, resulting in large, lush-green leaves above small bulbs.  Excess nitrogen also decreases storage life.  Incorporating rich, well-balanced compost to the soil including organic slow-release fertilizer, can ensure a successful garlic crop.

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One of the most difficult things to determine for an organic gardener is how much organic fertilizer to use in their garlic plot.  

Organic fertilizers such as compost, manures, blood / bone meal are derived directly from plant or animal sources.  Organic fertilizers usually contain nutrients in low concentrations. Many of these nutrients have to be converted into inorganic forms by tiny fungi and soil bacteria before plants can use them.  As a result, they are more slowly released to the growing plants.   Organic fertilizers have advantages for growing garlic.  They don’t make a “white crust” on the soil surface as inorganic fertilizers sometimes do. They add structure to the soil, improve water flow into the soil and, in time, help the soil become more “fluffy”. Organic material feed beneficial microbes present in the soil.   Keep in mind fresh, non-composted manure can damage your plants as well, because some manure contains harmful amounts of salts. Manure can also be a source of weed seeds.

Blood meal releases nutrients over a period of two to eight weeks.  Burned eggshells, fish emulsion, urea (urine) (46-0-0) are the fastest-acting organic fertilizers, lasting only a couple of weeks.  Organic amendments highest in phosphorus include rock phosphate (20-33 percent P), bone meal (15-27 percent P) and colloidal phosphate (17-25 percent P).  Organic amendments high in potassium are kelp (4-13 percent K), wood ash (3-7 percent K), granite meal (3-6 percent K) and greensand (5 percent K).

Inorganic fertilizers such as ammonium phosphate and ammonium sulfate are often referred to as synthetic fertilizers due to the high-energy manufacturing process. Synthetic urea for example is created from synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide and can be produced as a liquid or a solid. Urea is naturally produced by our bodies as urine or pee when the liver breaks down protein or amino acids, and ammonia. The kidneys then transfer the urea from the blood to the urine.  

Inorganic fertilizers contain only a few select nutrients; Typically Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).   For a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 12-10-8, this means 12 percent is nitrogen, 10 percent is phosphorus and 8 percent is potassium. In simple terms, this means each 100-pound bag of the fertilizer would contain 12 pounds of nitrogen, 10 pounds phosphorus and 8 pounds potassium.     In additional to NPK, plants also need micronutrients such as boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn), nickel (Ni), chloride (Cl), and sulfur (S).

REFERENCES

  • W. Purseglove, Tropical Crops Monocotyledons, Longman, London, UK, 1972.

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