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How does your garlic grow?

27 May 2022

For the garlic growers of Moa Valley Farm, soil health and farming organically are fundamental to their new venture. Words and Photos Diana Noonan

New life has sprung up in what was once a tired paddock on the banks of the Moawhango River, 20 minutes from Taihape. It’s the work of Rita Batley and Vanessa Witt who, together, are rejuvenating around a hectare of soil at Moa Valley Farm to produce nutrient dense crops. And their first fruits are harvests of 20,000 bulbs of garlic a year.

Vanessa, who has a permaculture background, describes their land as being “free-draining silty loam” with an initial deficiency in phosphorus. However, as she explains, it’s the soil’s biology that interests her most.

“My understanding of the organic culture is that you don’t put too much emphasis on chemical analysis. Instead, you work towards supporting the soil life you have. If you do this, then the microorganisms you encourage will seek out the chemicals and the nutrients that the plants need, and take it to them.”

Tilling

Although tilling at Moa Valley is undertaken with hand tools or small scale machinery, the rock-hard paddock was initially broken up with tractor work. Whatever was on hand was then used to add organic matter to the ground.

“We used whatever we could find,” says Vanessa. “That was sheep manure from Rita’s farm, some old bales of quinoa straw and some more straw from a local farmer, which we used for mulch. As time’s gone on, we’ve developed our use of cover crops so, now, we’re actually growing our organic matter on site.”

The days of tractor power are long gone, and in its place are recently acquired, small scale, motorised tools.

“We’ve bought a flail mower,” says Vanessa, “because it’s tough enough to deal with the tough, stalky cover crops we grow. We also have a power harrow that mixes up the top few centimetres of soil. With this low-key machinery, we get a nice layer of mulch through which we can plant our garlic cloves.”

Planting

Planting is carefully planned because garlic doesn’t enjoy competition, even from its own kind. In fact, spacing is everything...

Read the full story in our June issue – on shelves now.
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