Focus on {Garlic}

This is my first post in a series, which, as the name suggests will focus on the propagation of an individual plant/ vegetable or fruit.  To kick things off – we start with the humble garlic.

Perhaps one of the easiest and most rewarding things to grow in the garden – early October  is the best time to sow cloves for a harvest in mid June.

There are many varieties available for the gardener and garlic comes in two main forms; softneck or hardneck. Personally, I prefer the softneck varieties due to both their longer storage capability as well as a slightly quicker growing period. For a small garden such as mine – these are both virtues which afford me the chance to sow another vegetable for autumn or winter cropping. This could be carrots, fennel or even salading crops such as rocket or radish.

Sowing garlic is very simple and most seed merchants will send you either one or two bulbs. Split the bulbs apart into separate cloves and remove any residual white paper like skin. This is the translucent outer layer that can be seen coating the clove in the image below.

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As you can also see from this image – a clove has a very distinctive shape and two very different ends. The pointy end is what will face upwards when planting in the ground. Essentially the new green shoots will spring from this point whereas the roots will develop at the ‘stumpy’ end.

I always apply some well rotted manure or soil conditioner to the garlic bed prior to planting. As I use a no-dig approach – I simply layer this on top of the existing soil and form my planting holes with a dibber. Ideally garlic should be planted between 4-6” apart with 1′ between rows and I simply work my way along the row placing one clove in each hole formed. Try to resist the urge of simply pushing the clove into undisturbed soil as this can potentially damage the base of the clove where the roots will form. You can leave the very tips of the garlic exposed above the soil line whoever I prefer to avoid this as birds tend to mistake the tips for worms and pull the garlic from the ground. There doesn’t seem to be any benefit from leaving the tips exposed anyway so allow a little bit of soil to cover the cloves.

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Last year my planting date was the 6th October and I harvested the bulbs on 15th June. As a rule of thumb it is good to get the garlic into the ground about two-three weeks before the first frost of the season is likely to occur. This will allow the garlic to become established so that it can withstand the colder weather to come. The image below shows the new shoots emerging from the soil around the start of November.

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Garlic will benefit from full exposure to the cold. It needs this period in Winter for the clove to develop and form a full and tasty bulb. Temperatures in the garden last season fell to around -8°C in March and the garlic was happy to sit through this period without any damage whatsoever.

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Once the good weather returns in the Spring – sometime towards the end of March and beginning of April – the plants will race away and thicken up well. At this point onwards there is little to do but to keep on top of weeding and watering. The stems will start to thicken up noticeably during this period and their height will increase to around 2-3′.

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One of the biggest myths surrounding garlic is when to harvest. Don’t wait for the foliage to yellow and die back. Pull them from the soil whilst they are still in the green stage and then allow them to dry naturally for around three to four weeks. They will need some adequate air circulation during this time so try and place them outdoors when possible avoiding full sun. Last year I was lucky in that the Summer was an endless period of dry and hot days and therefore I left them in the corner of the garden on some mesh staging for around a month.

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Once the bulbs are dry they can be stored for months and used when needed in the kitchen. Remember to save a couple of bulbs over for sowing again in the Autumn and eventually you will  never have to buy garlic from the supermarket ever again!

The variety I opted to grow was Provence Wight and the flavour when fresh is exquisite! It gives any italian dish a good punch and seems to form decent sized cloves that can be chopped up with ease.

You don’t need a lot of room to grow garlic as I hope I have demonstrated – so why not give it a go? You may be pleasantly surprised by the results!

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