If like me you love to cook then I’m sure garlic is an essential ingredient in your kitchen. I can’t think of a week that goes by without the use of garlic in the dishes I prepare at home.
Step away from the supermarket shelves and you will discover a huge variety of garlic available. The great news is it’s easy to grow your own.
Humans have consumed garlic for 7,000 years. It grows all over the world but by far the largest producer of the pungent crop is China which grows 20 million tonnes of it every year.
Garlic is a close relative of the Onion, Shallot, Leek and Chive. It is native to Central Asia and a frequent seasoning in Asian cooking as well as a culinary staple in African and European cuisine.
Types of garlic
Garlic is subdivided into two varieties. Softneck and Hardneck.
Softneck: Softneck garlic is the type you’ll most likely see in supermarket. It has a soft, pliable stalk suitable for braiding. It has better storage qualities than hardneck varieties.
RHS recommended Softneck varieties:
‘Early Wight’: Early maturing; can be harvested at end of May from autumn planting, best used soon after harvest as it is not good for storage.
‘Solent Wight’: Late summer maturing, very good for storage.
‘Germidour’: Late maturing, purple skinned cloves.
‘Purple Heritage Moldovan’ or ‘Purple Moldovan’: Late maturing, heirloom cultivar, producing large purple cloves.
Hardneck: Hardneck varieties originate from climates with colder winters. They have an extremely firm stalk protruding an inch or two from the top of the bulb. Hardneck varieties have fewer, larger cloves, a more intense flavour but only store until mid-winter.
RHS recommended Hardneck varieties:
‘Chesnok Wight’: Good cropper, early summer maturing cultivar, skin and cloves with deep purple veining, strong flavour.
‘Lautrec Wight’: Maturing in early summer, suitable for both autumn and early spring planting, does not perform well on heavier soils and cold areas. Considered to be one of the best flavoured cultivars.
‘Red Sicilian’: Early summer maturing, spicy flavour, good for roasting.
How to grow garlic
Planting out next season’s garlic is one of my favourite things to do in the autumn. It’s a very easy crop to grow and I highly recommend growing your own in your allotments and kitchen gardens.
Garlic can be planted out anytime from mid-autumn to late winter. However, the best yields are obtained when planted out before Christmas.
1. Choose a location on the allotment or garden that will get plenty of sunshine. The garlic bulbs will need this warmth to ripen. Garlic likes a rich soil which is moisture retentive but allows good drainage. Our allotment is heavy clay so I try to dig in as much organic matter as possible into the soil in advance of planting in the autumn. Don’t plant on freshly manured ground as this can cause the cloves to rot.
2. Just before you plant your garlic out, rake into the top few centimetres of the soil some general fertiliser. I use fish, blood and bone.
3. Gently split the bulb into individual cloves and use a dibber or trowel to plant the cloves with the tip just below the surface, 6” apart in rows 12” apart.
4. In early spring add another dusting of fertiliser. You might like to try The Garlic Farm’s special blend of garlic fertiliser.
5. Give the plants an occasional thorough watering during dry spells but don’t water when the bulbs are well formed and in their last few growing weeks.
Harvesting and storing:
6. Garlic plants are ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and the stems start to fall over. Anytime from mid-summer.
7. If the weather permits, leave the bulbs to dry out in the sun. If it’s wet then a dry shed or garage will be fine. Knock off any dry soil and store in net bags or plait the stems and hang in a cool, dry place.