Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Garlic Growing

Garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the easiest and most satisfying crops you can grow. If you're a beginner, or have a limited amount of space, garlic is the thing for you. It's also an excellent companion plant for fruit trees, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes), brassicas (cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli) and carrots. Reputed to repel slugs, aphids, carrot fly and cabbage worm. An all round miracle crop to have in your garden! 

Buy good stock

For best results start with a head of garlic bought from a reputable grower, or from a garden centre or gardening catalogue.

There are many varieties available, so experiment and try growing at least three or four to find those which you prefer and which do best in your local conditions. We use Purple stripe garlic mostly for its beautiful flavour and ease of growing. Some other good varieties to try include:

  • Creole red garlic (hardnecked)
  • Purple stripe garlic (hardnecked)
  • Solent wight garlic (softnecked)

It is not a good idea to use garlic bought in a supermarket as these are usually varieties for growing in warmer climes, and are often inferior to the robust 'home grown' varieties. 
When to plant garlic

Traditionally garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest day of the year - I've personally found December to be fine for planting, but in most years it takes until mid-July for the heads to be ready for lifting. Garlic doesn't need a very rich soil, but does prefer a free draining soil - if yours is heavy dig in some sand or plenty of organic matter like compost before planting.

Break the head into individual cloves, and plant these about 2 inches deep, 6 inches apart, in rows 6 inches apart (i.e. squares). For some of the jumbo varieties you'll need to increase this spacing, but for your standard garlic this will be fine.

Plant with the flat end down the way - the new green shoot will emerge from the pointy end (a horticultural term) and by spring you'll have a good few inches of growth. If you are troubled by crows or pigeons you may wish to net your newly planted cloves as I do, as the birds may lift them just for fun.

Garlic also makes a perfect container plant. Make sure there is enough drainage, and a little growing room around each bulb, and you'll have pots of delicious garlic the following summer.

Otherwise garlic takes very little looking after. Keep weeds down, and water in extended dry spells.

Harvesting garlic

You'll know when the garlic is ready to lift because the tops turn yellow and start to dry out. Once more than half of your crop has done this lift them all gently with a fork, remove any excess soil from the hairy roots and leave them somewhere to dry thoroughly - hanging them inside or out in a sheltered spot is the best way.

Once they are dried you can plait them into braided lengths and store them just about anywhere that isn't too moist or warm. Remember to keep some of the fattest cloves to plant next year - you need never buy supermarket garlic again.

Further reading


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