How To Grow Garlic
Garlic is part of the onion family. Perhaps surprisingly for a vegetable associated so much with the Mediterranean lifestyle and cuisine, growing garlic is remarkably easy. In fact, garlic is hardier and more reliable to grow than onions.
In our household garlic is an essential ingredient that we never want to run out of. It is a staple ingredient of nearly every meal, whether chopped up raw into salads, adding flavour to a vinaigrette, used to create delicious tomato sauces, or baked into bread.
How To Grow Garlic – Planting
Garlic is not grown from seed but from individual cloves. It is recommended to buy your first garlic bulbs from a trusted supplier or garden centre to ensure that they are certified disease free. After that, if you can successfully manage to store the garlic ready for the next growing season, you can then use your own cloves for your next harvest. Use the biggest cloves from the biggest bulbs as these will provide the largest and healthiest plants.
The most important part to get right in planting garlic is the timing. Garlic needs to experience several weeks of cold weather to get going and develop its flavour. See our introduction to overwintering garlic.
The traditional saying is to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year for harvesting on the longest day. I have had success planting garlic in October at the same time as my onions for over wintering. Spring is the latest time recommended to plant garlic.
Garlic bulbs should be placed tip upwards (ie cloves pointing the same way up as they would stand in a garlic bulb) with the tip head just level with the soil (elephant garlic is planted about 3cm or 1″ below the soil.
I have found that birds sometimes lift my freshly planted garlic bulbs out of the soil – I imagine to investigate whether they are edible. Out of habit I now cover my garlic bed with a net until the bulbs have sprouted. Birds seem to leave them alone once this has happened so the net can be quickly removed.
How To Grow Garlic – Varieties
Garlic varieties can be considered to fall into one of three types:
- Hardneck varieties
These varieties produce a flower stem or ‘scape’ in late spring that can be picked and eaten, before the plant goes on to produce garlic bulbs. The bulbs tend to be large, but commonly do not store as well as soft necked varieties.
- Softneck varieties
Softneck garlic varieties typically produce smaller bulbs than hardneck varieties, and do not develop a scape. The big advantage of softneck varieties is their storage ability. If hung, dried and kept in cool (not cold) dry conditions they can store for many months.
- Elephant garlic
A garlic that is a member of the onion family but more closely related to a leak. From personal experience I can vouch that it is delicious baked in the oven. When ready, it can be squeezed out from the skin and spread like butter.
How To Grow Garlic – Care
After successful germination there is often very little left to do but hoe around your rows of garlic.
For this reason I allow about 30 centimetres between garlic rows to make weeding easier. During spring garlic should be watered during dry weather. This will help the plants grow strong and tall.
Towards early summer garlic is best grown hard. Apart from very hot weather, the flavour of garlic is improved with sun and dry soil. Having said this, I do occasionally water my garlic as my soil is particularly sandy and dry. Garlic can grow to over 50 centimetres high. It is easy to tell when garlic is ready for harvesting as the leaves turn yellow and fall over.
How To Grow Garlic – Harvesting
When harvesting garlic remember to keep as much of the leaves as you can to help preservation. Traditionally the leaves are turned into a braid or plait and hung to dry.
My personal experience is that my garlic keeps well for a few months if brought into the house before the cold weather in autumn. Garlic stores best in a warm dry atmosphere.
If storage is important to you there are some varieties of garlic that keep particularly well, and this would be worth checking at purchase.
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