Garlic Seed and Cyclone Update🌱

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As we send this newsletter out it marks 2 weeks without power and internet at our home and business. For us this also means no running water and we are trying to figure out how to fix our water system so that when power does come back on, we will be able to fill our water tank and stop ultra-conserving water.

It has been a very interesting time for us, as also for the first week we did not have cell phone capabilities. So yeah, crazy times when most of todays modern conveniences we take for granted were in one full swoop poof gone! And yet, we are so grateful as we feel very fortunate. We have our lives and we also have our home and gardens undamaged by the cyclone.

Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti region have been badly affected by Cyclone Gabrielle and lives have been lost. We have been grieving the loss of our dear friend and one time employee Shona Wilson, who lost her life in her home due to a landslide caused by the cyclone. Our hearts and condolences go out to her family at this deeply sad time. We know this is just one personal story of loss for which there are many.

It feels like a time to rise up and help out even though some would say we need help ourselves. We have been putting our heads together here as to how we can do this. With both sides of SH2 severely damaged, we can’t drive to town to help with the clean-up, but we have been doing what we can here in our local community and Kiersten-Anna and I will be volunteering at the Tutira Civil Defence Hub this week as we all pull together.

The local community has been amazing with those with diggers and tractors and chain saws working to clear the roads. Everyone seems to want to help each other and we have met more of our neighbours and felt a greater sense of community since we have been cut off from the wider community. At home, Roddy has been working tirelessly to set up rain water collections on every gutter and roof and Kiersten and I have been bucketing water from barrels, the bush bath, anywhere we can to recycle water and to get it to our tunnel house plants and keep our autumn seedlings and shadehouse plants alive. Although the rain over the weekend brought an element of fear, as to what further damage may be caused, we were blessed to fill our rainwater tanks and have some water for laundry and plants, all done by hand. With all the extra work this has been created it is good to have my mum, Suchitra, here to help with River, our daughter, and to offer her wisdom. Back to basics, back to the ways of old. This is our new normal.

We would like to help those in need. We have been aware for some time that the times are changing. People are hurting financially from the cost-of-living crisis, living through the Covid experience and now this cyclone disaster. People need to deepen their connection with nature and access to high quality seeds now more than ever, so that more people can take up gardening and provide some of their own produce while releasing their reliance on over-priced supermarket vegetables. Even though we are concerned about how we will pay for replacing our just completed water system, our hearts are moving us to extend help to others. We have decided to drop our seed prices. We want to be part of a solution that highlights the fact that we are all connected and rely on each other on this earth. We have decreased the price per packet to $3.00.

So, if you are not hurting financially, please hit the donate button and top up your order to what it would have cost prior to our price decrease, or if you choose, give more. We leave it up to you. If you are hurting and still can’t afford our seeds at $3.00/packet, please email us, we want seeds to be available to all. How can you help if you don’t have extra funds? Please spread the word, share our social media posts, tell all your friends, we have NZ grown seeds and we are selling them at an affordable price.

Despite all the destruction, we feel prosperous and are grateful for all that we have. We would love to sell more seeds for less, spread the love around and be able to afford to employ another employee and really crank out the seed. It is all possible with your help, our valued customers. We rely on you to spread the word of the good work we are doing at Setha’s Seeds, we cannot do this without you and we do hope that all of you are safe and sound and have your loved ones close.

Update on our dispatch system:

NZ Post is still not able to operate in our area due to the badly damaged roads, and they have not given us a timeline on when this will change. Fortunately, have had a very generous offer from two woman on the same day! Sarah Frater, a kindred spirit from the amazing fruit tree business, Edible Garden, got in touch to see if she could help by dispatching our seeds! And a few hours later our dear friend Cathy Morgan asked if she could help with the very same thing. So, we have a plan!

A local plane operator Jamie Gunson, who is organising flights to Tutira, to bring people things they need to get back up and running have agreed to take our garlic to Napier on a back load! Cathy and her husband Blair will collect the garlic from Napier and get it sent to Sarah at Edible Garden where she and her amazing volunteers will package up all your orders and send them out to you! So here we go, garlic is listed and get in quick as we usually sell out overnight. We are so grateful to Sarah, Cathy, Blair and our local friend Chloe Hill who has been communicating with Jamie Gunson, without all of your help and effort, this would not be possible. Also, a big shout out of gratitude to Jamie Gunson for working with us to get our garlic out to everyone.

We are only dispatching seed garlic to begin, as our early varieties are best planted in March/April. 

When you place your order for garlic, please ONLY order garlic. If you want to buy seeds as well, we ask you to please do two orders to keep the shipping separate for the seeds and the garlic. We will not be able to send out seeds until we get power back here and can print seed packets etc. We will need to adjust our garlic price to allow for a little more to account for extra freight to get everything to Sarah. Please bear with us, and trust that soon we will be able to start getting the seeds out to you. In the meantime, let’s be grateful that the garlic can go out, so that it can be planted at the correct time.

 A note to let you know that our garlic labels are unable to be printed at this time, we have all the planting instructions available on our website and if you order Early Pearl it will have a “W” written on the bag for white and if you order Early Purple it will have a “P” for purple.

I was writing our newsletter to send out to you when we lost power back on February 13th. Please see below our original newsletter with more information about the state of our garlic crop this season and all the knowledge we have to share around growing garlic in the presence of rust.

Original newsletter before the cyclone hit:

We know many of you have been waiting for our seed garlic to come available, and the moment has arrived! We are able to offer for sale our Early varieties and Elephant Garlic, please not best to plant the Early varieties in March/April. We will list later in the year closer to their planting times our Multiplying Onions, as we only harvested them last week and they are still curing. We successfully grew and have gotten a crop of all our main crop cultivars, although the amount we grew is still too small for commercial sale. We hope to have Rocambole, Henry’s Soft Top and Takahue available again in the future, but the Early Pearl and Early Purple specifically are holding their own better with the rust.

We have had the wettest season to date for us as growers in Hawke’s Bay and this did impact on the garlic and well as other seed crops. Rust presented early this season and after two years without rust pressure, we were disappointed to go back to using strategies like trimming outer leaves as well as looking to other ways to help hold back the rust. We decided in late October to try the Biodynamic preparation Equisetum 508, which is used to minimise the spread of fungal diseases on plants when used as a foliar spray. We believe this along with twice trimming the outer worst affected leaves helped to get the crop to maturity.

We feel confident the strategies we have put in place to produce a crop in the presence of rust are effective. We have learned a lot along the way and want to share this knowledge so everyone will still be able to succeed with their garlic crop!

A few notes to please consider:

  1. Numbers, please be considerate when ordering, we like the garlic love to go around, so lots of gardeners can get some stock to plant. Try not to order too much seed. And try to make it a goal to save some of your own garlic for seed next year!
  2. Photos of our seed garlic. We take a new photo each season to show you the current stock. We have included a matchbox for size reference. Due to so much wet weather at harvest time, a lot of the garlic has opened up as you will see in the photos. We have had this happen before, and it still always works to save as seed, it just looks a little different.
Here is what we have learned. First, I will share what we know about Garlic Rust:
  1. Rust does NOT transfer to the seed, thankfully you can still plant cloves from plants that were affected with rust.
  2. Rust species, Puccinia allii, lives on LIVE allium (onion, leek, garlic, elephant garlic, chive, bunching onion, and spring onion) plant matter. If you grow other alliums in the garden particularly leeks as their growing season are the other half of the year from garlic, you may find the spores will remain in your garden and re-inoculate your crop. Fortunately, once the plant dies, so do the spores of the rust fungus. My research initially led me to believe that only this specific species affects alliums, but I have seen in our garden rust spread from non-allium plants such as grass to our garlic. I now keep an eye out in spring for any rust on any plant and if it appears I try to remove the plant on a calm, no wind moment, and bag it to be taken out of the garden.
  3. Rust is a fungal spore that spreads on the WIND especially in moist environments when leaves are wet for more than 4 hours at a time. The longer the leaves and any surrounding weeds stay wet the more that the rust will spread. Wet springs bring more rust than dry ones. We have successfully for the last five seasons planted our garlic up wind (from our prevailing wind in spring) from leeks and we plant our main crop garlic and elephant garlic up wind from our early garlics. This technique is very effective at limiting the spread of the spores as the wind is blowing the spores away from the plants!
  4. Garlic rust has two types of spores, orange and black.  The black spores are the ones that hunker down and wait for the right climatic conditions and then start to produce the orange spores. These spread all over the leaves and significantly impact the growth of the crop by blocking photosynthesis and stressing the plant overall.
  5. Plant spacing and placement in the garden is very important. Traditionally, we have planted garlic as close to 10-15cm apart in a biointensive grid pattern. Those days a long gone, as this means all their leaves are touching, and the rust can then spread like wildfire. We now plant garlic in rows at 25cm spacing, and the cloves in the rows also at 25cm spacing. We use mulch (grass clippings, hay or straw) and weed regularly to allow for as much air movement as possible so plants can dry faster. We also plant each garlic bed spread out across the whole garden with no two beds next to each other. In the past, we would have a garlic patch, this meant that if rust presented, it would soon spread to the whole plot. With the spreading out technique, if one bed gets rust, other beds don’t. In the home garden even if you are only planting a small number of cloves, I would recommend spreading them out so you don’t have all your plants together.
  6. Early planting is probably the most effective thing we have done to date.  Planting your early garlics in March and your main crop garlic and elephant garlics in May gives the plants a head start on growth. By November when the spores seem to get out of hand, the crops are more developed and better able to size up, regardless of rust.
  7. Variety choice is important. We have consistently found our early garlics (Early Pearl and Early Purple) to be less affected by the rust than the main crop varieties. Elephant Garlic, is actually a leek and neither leeks or elephant garlic are affected by rust, so choose wisely when planting. A failsafe choice seems to be elephant garlic.
Practical steps you can take in your garden:
  1. Prevention is key. Once you have rust it is impossible to get rid of in an organic system.  Focus on healthy soil.  We know that healthy soil leads to healthy plants, and this is your best defence from any pest or disease. We use our home-made compost, micronized lime and liquid seaweed at planting time. We also apply Environmental Fertilisers foliar sprays throughout the season and in recent years we have used their certified organic solid fertiliser as well.
  2. Do not overhead irrigate in mid to late spring. Moisture on leaves is the danger time when rust spores multiply and spread.
  3. Plant your garlic up wind from all other alliums. Space your garlic at least 20-30cm apart to allow for faster drying in the crop, as the spores will travel in the wet. Spread the garlic cloves out across the garden, not all in one place even if your planting is small.
  4. Clear out all other allium plant material at least two weeks prior to garlic leaf emergence. And check the garden for any pant with rust present, remove any affected plants regardless if they are an allium or not. If this is not possible, keep a very close eye on the other crops and make sure they are rust free.
  5. Seed selection, we are selecting the bulbs that held up the best to the rust.  If you are holding back seed from your own stock, pick the biggest bulbs. This is good practice whether you had rust or not.
  6. Planting on the day of Moon Opposition to Saturn has been recommended by Rachel Pomeroy (Organic NZ magazines Moon Calendar author until recently) as an ideal time to work with the Biodynamic calendar to help build strength against rust. Moon Opposition to Saturn is a great all-round seed sowing day as the Moon represents fertility and germination and Saturn represents form and strong structure.
  7. Consider applying Biodynamic preparations to your garlic crop. Preps 501 Silica and 508 Equisetum are discussed in biodynamic circles as being able to help prevent rust. Prevention is key, so consider spraying early on in the growth of your crop, before rust presents. If you miss that boat, as we did this season, spraying after the rust arrives can also be affective at keeping it at bay.