I love garlic, but I’ve never really thought much about it. Garlic just comes from shops doesn’t it :-) ?
As plans for our new garden progress it’s something I’ve been thinking about growing – we just use so much it’s a pain to keep buying it (and it’s not so cheap now either). Imagine then how my interest was piqued by an aside on Gardeners Question Time, where one of the panelists admitted to growing eighteen different varieties of garlic. Eighteen! I had no idea there were so many, so I decided to find out more – what were the differences? Flavour? Climate? Size? And how do you grow them?
Here’s what I found:
- There are at least 400 varieties of Garlic (possibly more than 600)
- Split into two main varieties – hardneck and softneck – softneck store better (longer).
- Should be able to grow them across the UK.
- Don’t store it in oil – a recipe for botulism!
- Plant: October to February – needs a couple of weeks below 4deg.
- Fertilise: In Spring, fertilise with nitrogen and sulphur.
- Harvest: May to July.
- Store: Until the following February.
Tips for Growing Garlic
- Plant individual cloves base-down in a free-draining soil, with about 25-50mm of soil above the clove.
- Grow in full sun.
- Can be planted close together, recommendations range from “almost touching when fully grown” to “8-10cm spacing in 30cm rows”
- Water well during the growing season (March onwards), but in the early morning, to reduce the risk of rot and mould.
- They need a five or six year rotation plan to reduce the risk of White Rot. That includes not planting them where other members of the family have been – onions, leeks etc.
- They need to be kept clear of weeds, as they do not compete well – hand weeding is unfortunately the best way.
- Protect from harsh frosts with mulch.
Pests and Diseases
- Rot & Mould – water early, and stop watering once Bulbing is finished.
- Leaf Rust (rust coloured patches on leaves) – avoid moist shade; burn affected plants.
- Nematodes/eelworms/thrips and Onion Maggot – use clean cloves for planting, rotate crops.
- Don’t plant with: Peas & Beans, Asparagus.
- Use them to mask the smell of your carrots, and protect them from Carrot Root Fly.
- They deter slugs, so plant them near your lettuce, rocket etc.
- For crop rotation reasons, plant with other Alliums - onions, leeks, shallots, chives.
- Harvest when all but about half-a-dozen leaves have died back.
- Try and harvest during dry weather to aid in drying.
- To harvest: lift gently – avoiding bruising – with a small fork, shake off soil, and leave to dry.
- To dry: leave on the soil for a couple of hours, then eat (delicious “fresh” garlic) or prepare to store.
- Garlic can be stored several ways – the primary ones are curing (the type you buy), and freezing.
- To cure your garlic: Dry it for 2-3 weeks, ideally on racks in a dry shed, then either plait and hang up or trim the leaves off and store in mesh bags. Make sure you store them in a warm, dry area with plenty of air movement (cold causes it to start to sprout). depending on the variety, garlic stored this way can last up to eight months.
- To freeze garlic: you can freeze it unpeeled or chopped, or puree the cloves with oil (2 parts oil to 1 part garlic) and freeze immediately.
U.K. Garlic Varieties
The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight have a good range of varieties, including many that are proprietary and unique:
- “Early Wight, a purple hardneck garlic produces the first fresh garlic bulbs in the country” – harvested in May.
- Purple Wight, a hardneck variety with large bulbs - around 8 large fat cloves – harvested in June, and will keep until December, has a “strong, hearty” flavour.
- Their July harvest brings Solent Wight, “a white softneck, long-keeping garlic with wonderful bouquet” that will keep until the following February, or even later. (£9 / 5 bulbs, also available in 1kg packs)
- Purple Moldovan – an heirloom variety with beautiful flowering stems and large bulbs (£9 / 3 bulbs)
- Lautrec (Violet) Wight – From Lautrec in South West France, deep purple cloves with a “creamy, smooth flavour”, also producing beautiful flowering stems – the ultimate “ail de cuisine” (£9 / 5 bulbs).