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GARLIC is a spice crop that also has health benefits. It has oxidants that reduce the ageing process. It combats illnesses such as the common cold and it reduces blood pressure and cholesterol,thereby reducing the risk of high blood pressure and brain diseases. Because of garlic’s anticoagulant property, and therefore thins the blood, it is said to be useful against the COVID-19 pandemic. The common varieties of garlic are Elephant, French White and Egyptian Pink.I bought some garlic bulbs in 2020 at a popular chain store and planted the resultant bulbils in my backyard garden.I thought it would be as easy as growing onion, which is in the same family as garlic. To my surprise, only very few bulbils germinated within a month of planting while some took more than three months and the remaining majority did not germinate at all!I remained perplexed. Later when I visited my relative in South Africa, who is also a keen gardener, I was advised not to use the garlic bought from shops as planting material because it is treated with a chemical to enhance its shelf life. Hence the chemical inhibits its ability to germinate.While in South Africa, I identified Livingseeds, a seed supplier, as a good source of garlic seeds. However, in Zambia, garlic seeds are rare to find, so most of the garlic consumed is either imported,grown from either smuggled seeds or recycled seeds.My research into garlic production revealed that one needs quality seed and that
it was after all not as easy as growing onion. Among other requirements, the right time of planting, temperature regulation, uniform water application and soil types are critical.Garlic is a long season shallow-rooted vegetable and takes at least 90 days from planting to maturity. It thrives in calcium-rich, well-drained loamy soils with a high levelof organic matter. The soils must remain loose and not compacted throughout the long growing season to allow for the expansion of bulbs that have to be cleanly dug out during harvest.Garlic is best grown on raised beds to avoid waterlogging.A farmer can apply moderate levels of basal fertiliser after application of adequate amounts of wellrotten manure or compost.When planting, disease-free and viable bulbs are separated into bulbils or individual cloves. Since small bulbils produce small bulbs, it is better to plant selected big bulbils at a minimum spacing of 15cm x 30cm to the depth equivalent to three times the length of the bulbil or approximately 5cm deep with the sharp end facing upwards.In Zambia, garlic can be planted at the end of the rainy season from March to April to allow it to develop bulbs when the day length is right in summer. Just like onion, garlic does not perform well during the rainy season because of the high prevalence of fungal and bacterial diseases.After planting, the beds are covered with mulch (such as grass, leaves or wood shavings) to conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature and control weeds. The mulch must be maintained throughout the growing season. Garlic doesn’t thrive under extreme high temperatures and hence moderating the high summer temperature is important.Planted garlic bulbils take approximately 10-40 days to germinate. So the farmer must be patient.The beds are then watered evenly during the growing season. A thorough watering once a week is recommended. A constant level of soil moisture is important as water stress has a negative effect on yield.Over-watering bursts garlic skins, develops mould fungus and generally results in poor quality bulbs. Under-watering,on the other hand, results in underdeveloped bulbs.Two weeks after planting,well-rotten manure or compost can be applied as top dressing.Garlic also responds well to foliar fertiliser sprays every two weeks of growth, and nitrogen is the most important nutrient in its production but must be stopped at the right time in order to favour the growth of the bulbs and not the leaves.Hence top dressing fertiliser is only required when the plant is growing new leaves.During leaf formation, the soil must be kept moist just like in any leafy vegetable like rape or spinach. When it gets
warmer and day lengths are longer, the plant starts to form bulbs, after which no more fertiliser is required.Because it is shallow-rooted,garlic does not compete well with weeds, so it must be kept mulched and weed-free.Overall, the best management techniques must be applied from planting to when the leaves start browning. One common disease in garlic is fungal rust, which makes the leaves to turn brown. A fungicide like copper oxychloride controls rust.It is critical to identify when the crop is ready for harvest.As the bulbs mature, leaves brown off and hence it is better to keenly observe the plant. When 50 percent of leaf number six from top to bottom is brown on 50 percent of the crop, then it is time to harvest the crop and this harvest will store well for a long period. Hand forks are used to loosen the soil while harvesting without bruising the crop. It is advisable not to wash off the soil from the crop but put the crop away from sunlight for a day for it to wilt. Curing then follows for three weeks to two months by hanging the crop from the stalks in a shed with good air circulation. If garlic is not properly cured, it will not store well and may have “empty” cloves.Seed companies in Zambia can do better to breed quality garlic seeds so that this important crop can be locally grown. Garlic grown from locally available seeds will prevent diseases that may come with imported seeds.Accidental importation of genetically modified varieties that can contaminate the environment can also be avoided. The author is a sustainable agriculture and rural development professional.
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