Carmen is a social issues and rural reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Garlic venture takes off

Karika Farms owner Karlos Millanta has swapped abseiling for garlic growing and is enjoying the lifestyle change. Photo / John Borren
Karika Farms owner Karlos Millanta has swapped abseiling for garlic growing and is enjoying the lifestyle change. Photo / John Borren

When Karlos Millanta suffered a work injury which forced him to sell his Wellington abseiling business, he had no idea his new career would involve growing garlic in Tauranga.

The 47-year-old told The Country he stumbled across the venture while in recovery mode after moving to the city 18 months ago.

"I couldn't go back to abseiling and was recovering in Tauranga and got into garlic. I was buying garlic off a friend of mine in the Waikato and I thought I've never seen garlic like this before."

Elephant garlic from Karika Farms.
Elephant garlic from Karika Farms.

"I felt it aided my recovery and health by eating it."

Mr Millanta was referring to elephant garlic which "is very large and can be the size of a small soccer ball".

He put some elephant garlic in a wheelbarrow on the side of the road and it sold within hours, he said.

"I thought, wow, this could be a great business opportunity. It's very mild in comparison to other types of garlic ... so you can slice it on crackers and cheese and it's famous for roasting."

But what makes it even more unique Mr Millanta said, was "if it is grown right and has a crispy, apple like texture it can be turned into black garlic".

"We put it into machinery that ferments and caramelises the garlic and that process takes about 30 to 40 days and the results are like eating liquorice or a date. It doesn't taste like garlic at all, it's very sweet and won't come out your pores or give you garlic breath and it's considered to be one of the number one super foods in the world."

About an acre of garlic was planted last year, he said primarily for seed for the 2016 season which was being put into two acres of land.

"I also managed to sell a little bit on the side to keep things ticking over to cover my costs. We are now hoping to supply Tauranga and become the biggest garlic grower in the Bay of Plenty."

Meanwhile, there was also a market for the flowers or "scapes" from the garlic, he said.

"They are the flower stems off the garlic and are beautiful. They are a cross between sweet and spicy. You can eat them straight off the garlic plant or put it with meat and vegetables."

The crop that was being planted now would have flowers ready in November and the garlic a month later.

"Like anything you have to do a lot of preparation to the soil and garlic likes mulch and manure. We keep everything organic. The elephant garlic doesn't require any sprays or insecticides but it does not like horse manure at all."

However, its Kaknui garlic required an organic fungicide to eliminate rust factors, he said.

"There is a market. I've just got up my website so at the moment, we can only supply black garlic as we are keeping everything else for seed but next year we are hoping to supply the local market all year."

Mr Millanta said he used his own initiative to kick-start his garlic venture and investigated all sorts of things, but Karika Farms eventuated.

"Finally I ended up with garlic and it has given me a great lifestyle as well. It has been labour-intensive but enjoyable. It keeps me fit and gives me somewhere to go everyday in the country, I have also got my Karika Farms website.

"Watching them grow is absolutely fascinating because of the colours that come out, you get the blues and the purples and the reds."

- The Country

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