This month’s farmer of the Valley of St Albans is Nick Shaw. Nick is a Horticulturalist and is passionate about plants. He teaches horticulture at Ryde College of TAFE where he teaches about plants so much of his life is about just that – plants.
Nick was inspired to gardening and horticulture by his parents. His father built and maintained a large garden in Balgowlah that was so attractive that garden tour buses of the time would stop out the front and take photos! Possibly even more than that; Nicks parents were great travelers around Australia decades before the ‘grey nomads’ – for instance in 1972 at the age of 12 they took him around Australia over a three month period in a long-wheelbase Landrover and a caravanette. These various travels (including up the Birdsville track when there were almost no tourists) undoubtedly set the subconscious seed for him to own a property in the country.
Nick purchased his property in the Valley in 1993. He bought a small acreage in the heart of St Albans village, and although not a builder he built his own house and I have to say a gorgeous little house nestled in the landscape much adored by locals. He planted a range of trees both productive and ornamental, landscaped his block, did some riverbank regeneration and established some gardens. Amongst the early plantings were 15 or so Pecan nut trees which today stand proud in his paddock, there is also a collection of Citrus. Sadly the plague of Cockatoos rendered the Pecans unprofitable.
So, Seven years ago Nick turned his hand to garlic and he has now become a very accomplished garlic grower. Since then he has been supplying garlic to locals of the valley and his friends as well as selling commercially to Sydney food co-ops. He also consumes a considerable amount himself too. Nick is passionate about eating local fresh organic produce and his rewards are not just the taste but the reactions of others that also love and appreciate his garlic.
Nick loves the solitude of the garden, the therapy it offers and being in nature. He also loves the valley and enjoys its serenity and its slower pace of life. There’s nothing he likes more than sitting on his deck, relaxing, reading the paper and looking over the valley, his gardens and his garlic patch.
The Garlic Patch
Nick grows purple monaro garlic, a species originally from the monaro area of NSW. He says though that his garlic definitely tastes different to this and claims to have developed a new variety of garlic that could be more accurately known as purple St Albans. This is because over the years each annual batch slowly naturalises and acclimatizes to the natural environment. The conditions here, the St Albans climate, winds, soils, organisms etc in other words “nature” all contribute to his unique and thus unnamed cultivar. Nicks garlic patch is about 75 square meters and produces about 1,000 garlic heads per year. Each year the garlic gets better Nick says and whilst all of the heads may not be gigantic, the flavor is unsurpassed. His garlic is also highly sought after, so the demand is greater than supply, with one seller wanting to buy his entire supply this year. Nick uses the process of natural selection to improve his garlic each year, keeping the biggest and best heads to replant for the following season. He plants in rows on his elevated riverbank paddock, however raised beds he says should also work well to grow garlic.
Nicks tips for garlic growing in the valley
Nick says with conviction that “everyone in the valley should be growing garlic. It grows well here and is relatively easy to grow” He hopes others will give it a go so shares some tips for those who want to try.
- Plant garlic in April, before Anzac Day is the old wives tale.
- Harvest in November
- Garlic likes a dark sandy loamy soil (Like we often have in the valley) with good drainage
- The alluvial soils in the valley really benefit from the addition of well rotted humas – organic matter. Each year apply good organic matter (Nick applies 1 cubic meter of cow and compost mix from ANL)
- Never let garlic dry out, keep up the water. Nick waters on average for about 90 mins a week with impact sprinklers.
- Grow in full sun preferably northern aspect. Winter sun is vital.
- Moving your patch every few years is often considered beneficial, but monitor the quality of the previous years crop.
- Don’t let weeds compete with your garlic. Nick uses a dutch hoe in the rows and weeds by hand in between the garlic heads.
- Mulch the rows to protect soil. Nick uses the leaves from his pecan trees to mulch the soil in his rows once the plants have sprouted adequately. This reduces drying out in times of drought. If you don’t mind expending the extra money – straw would be even better.
- Harvest on a fine day in November and clean your heads and let dry thoroughly before storing the heads or plating. Nick hoses his garlic well immediately after harvest, to clean most of the soil. Then leaves in the sun for at least four hours until completely dry.
- Sit in a dark dry place for a couple of weeks to dry
- He then very carefully removes some of the outer papery tissue and cuts off the flowers. He then stores or plaits his garlic for sale.
- Keep the biggest heads to replant next season.
- Store your garlic in a cool dry place. Garlic has a long shelf-life, another attractive feature of this crop. Nick stores in a cardboard box with holes poked in the sides, in a dark airy place.
“Never let garlic dry out, keep up the water. Nick waters on average for about 90 mins a week with impact sprinklers.”
Whilst we all know that farming is undervalued both financially and socially, garlic holds a handsome, price of up to $50 a kg (if registered organic – although grown with organic principles like Nicks, not too much less than this amount) and reputation. Nick however farms mainly for the love of plants and the love of people enjoying his produce.
So there you have it, our very own St Albans garlic. And Nick Shaw our very own garlic farmer right here in our valley toiling away growing garlic for us and others to enjoy which encourages him to keep growing another year round. We are all looking forward to his garlic this summer in the valley veg food boxes.