September 2015

Onions, shallots and garlic production on leased land around Blenheim

Robert Harrison-Jones and his brother Alan Jones own and run Garlico in Marlborough, growing up to 60ha of garlic, shallots and onions for seed every year on leased land around Blenheim. They also have an agricultural contracting business doing mainly “primary” work such as ploughing and heavy discing, making all-year-round use of their two permanent employees and three large John Deere tractors and trailed machinery.

Robert and Alan are second-generation garlic growers in Marlborough with a business started by their father Peter. They have been in business partnership since 2003 with Alan looking after most ground activities and Robert the packing shed, spraying and irrigation, although there is overlap.

Three crops are grown each season, on new leased, irrigated ground each year – garlic and shallots for domestic sale and onion seed grown under contract for export. The first activity is ground preparation for planting of two varieties of garlic in June, covering 28ha. The varieties are Ingra and Pesto. and Garlico saves and treats its own planting cloves every year.

Planting rate is 16 cloves per metre, which is the cloves from between one and two bulbs from the previous season, separated and prepared for planting. Machine sowing means all 28ha can be sown within a week.

Garlic growing demands healthy green tops free of white rot and nematodes, high daylight hours, water and nitrogen. The bulb only begins to fill out during the last few weeks of the growing period.

Garlic harvesting is done during January, all mechanically lifted, dirt separated and binned for drying. Yields are up to 17 tonne/ha green weight, about half of which is lost during drying and trimming.

Garlic will keep some seven to eight months in cool, dry storage. It needs at least three weeks of drying and storage to develop a strong garlic flavour. The storage bins are used by the packhouse during the autumn and winter so that garlic can be cleaned and packed for distribution and sale – either in 10kg boxes of loose cloves or in 100g bags for pre-packed sales in supermarkets.

Shallots are an expensive crop to grow and Garlico plants around 12ha annually, harvested at the end of March. They are from the allium family which includes onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, ginger and spring onions. According to Vegetables New Zealand, only 30ha of shallots are grown annually in NZ, by eight growers.

The third crop is onion seed, covering 20ha annually, which has to be picked by hand during February by 35 to 50 pickers. Mechanical harvesting would leave too many seeds on the ground.

A variety of seed is grown for five seed companies. The seed heads are collected into bins which are then sent to seed dressing companies.

Onion seed requires pollination by bees from mid-December for about 6 weeks which is the reason Garlico went into partnership with beekeepers Renee and Dale De Luca.