Eden horticulturist Shirley Walker shares her top tips for growing garlic and her favourite varieties of this wonderful plant.
This week in the garden I’m planting one of my favourite culinary ingredients – garlic. I had never tried growing it before I came to Eden but now I’m completely hooked! Growing garlic is becoming increasingly popular, not just for its essential use in the kitchen but also for its health properties. Garlic is relatively simple to grow providing your garden isn’t prone to water-logging in winter and if you choose a sunny spot, you will be able to harvest plenty of fat, juicy garlic bulbs next summer.
October to December is the best time to plant if you want to achieve the fullest flavour and the most succulent bulbs. Don’t be tempted to use bulbs from the supermarket – buy from a garden centre or mail order supplier.
Photo courtesy of Francesco Perito
For best results when growing garlic
- Before planting, add a general purpose fertiliser to the soil as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Carefully break up the bulbs and plant individual cloves just below the soil surface, 15cm (6in) apart, in rows about 30cm (12in) apart. I find that each bulb usually gives between 12 and 20 cloves.
- Plant all the cloves, irrespective of size – they should all produce decent bulbs.
- You can draw a narrow drill or plant individually with a trowel.
- If your garden suffers from wet soil conditions in winter, plant individual cloves into 5cm (2in) pots in multi-purpose compost. Place in the greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill and plant out when conditions have improved.
- To prevent birds from pulling up the cloves, cover the rows with horticultural fleece.
- Water if necessary during prolonged periods of dry weather but ease off watering at the end of June to allow the bulbs to ripen and cure during the final month.
- Weed by hand or very carefully using a hoe. Garlic doesn’t compete very well with weeds and stains can develop on the bulbs.
Towards the end of July, when the leaves are beginning to turn yellow, carefully lift the bulbs with a fork or hand fork. Let them dry on the ground for a couple of weeks if the weather is settled, then gather them up and hang to dry in the garden shed, greenhouse or conservatory. When the leaves make a rustling sound you can store them in a well-ventilated container until you are ready to use them.
Garlic has its origins in Central Asia and spread to other parts of the world in ancient times. It was known in ancient Egypt for its culinary properties and therapeutic benefits as early as 3,000BC and has also been mentioned in ancient texts of Greece, India and China. From Egypt garlic found its way around the Mediterranean and was eventually introduced into the New World from Spain, Portugal and France. The plant we know and love today is a domesticated crop that is grown throughout the temperate and tropical world.
Shirley’s choice of garlic varieties
- Bianco Veneto is my all-time favourite variety. It’s a tasty, white garlic from the coldest region of Italy that will prosper in the coldest garden and store well when lifted. I use it in my Mediterranean pork stew along with Italian bull’s horn peppers, baby plum tomatoes, shallots and lemon juice,
- I also love Rossa di Sulmona, a wonderful, red garlic from the Abruzzo region of Italy. Red garlic tends to be a little sweeter than white and I like to use this in starters and appetisers.
- My other recommendations are Solent White, an attractive, flavourful bulb, well adapted to the British climate and Spanish Roja, an old, traditional cultivar with a strong flavour – great for paella. This one also stores well and the cloves are easy to peel.
- Elephant garlic is not true garlic but a variant of the species to which the garden leek belongs. It has broad, flat leaves much like a leek but forms a garlic-like bulb made up of very large cloves. The flavour is not exactly like garlic but closer to garlic than leeks. Elephant garlic has a milder flavour than true garlic and I prefer it for eating raw in salads. I find it’s also kinder on the breath!
Did you know?
The sticky juice within garlic cloves is used in adhesive for mending glass and porcelain. It is also used as a pesticide for controlling cabbage root fly, round worm in turf and red mite in poultry.