Garlic is an antiseptic and boosts the immune system but strangely, in days gone by, garlic wasn’t grown much on British vegetable plots, it was seen as an ‘exotic’ crop, however these days, most gardeners have at least a short row of garlic growing. Garlic is a member of the onion family and sometimes considered a herb, although must people call it a vegetable. Garlic grows best in rich, well-drained soils with plenty of sunshine and is not difficult to grow in these conditions. It also has the advantage of deterring many pests in the vegetable garden, so is useful to grow in the organic garden.
The secret to good garlic is to get it in the ground to sprout before it gets a thorough chilling by frosts. I plant mine in October. When spring arrives it will already be established and should grow well. By the end of July, it will have grown into some fairly large bulbs. Without being chilled at temperatures below 10°C for at least a month, the clove will tend to grow without splitting into further cloves.
If the ground is waterlogged, I have found it will rot before getting its roots down, so it stands a better chance if it is set in coir or 3” pots to get started and then transplanted into the ground once established before the winter frosts. Garlic likes plenty of compost mixed into the ground to lighten heavy soils like ours here and I will often sow garlic after carrots as it benefits from the extra drainage at this time of year provided by the sand we added to the soil for the carrots.
How to Grow Garlic – Step by Step
Garlic is not difficult to grow, but if you plant it when the ground is water logged, it will rot!
Buy in bulbs from a garden centre or seed merchant, rather than using garlic from a supermarket since this will be a variety that grows well in the UK’s climate and will be virus-free (most shop bought garlic is grown in warmer countries).
Choose free-draining, fertile soil and a sunny position. Mark out a row using a string or cane and label the row with the variety name. Break bulbs into cloves. Select the largest cloves for planting, smaller cloves are best used for cooking.
Plant each clove, pointed end up into the soil, 30cm apart about 3cm deep with the tip of each clove just below soil level. Only plant if the soil isn’t waterlogged, if it is then plant in pots to get them established.
Just like other members of the onion family, they need to be kept well watered and weed free. Garlic also benefits from a top dressing of Blood, Fish and Bone during the spring.
Garlic can be harvested from mid-summer onwards. I tend to dry and store mine at the beginning of August when the tops are browning off. Once it is ready, lift it straight away because the bulbs can shrivel if left in the ground for too long. Leave the bulbs on the surface for a couple of sunny days to ripen. When it is dry, store it in a light, airy position that’s cool, dry, but frost free.
Whilst garlic looks lovely plated and hung in the kitchen, don’t be tempted to store more than you can use in a month because the kitchen is warm and often humid and this will promote growth. I use the back of our garage (where it will not freeze) to store it. It keeps until the following spring when it will start to sprout. A few bulbs can be kept in the fridge to prolong storage well into spring.
Some varieties of garlic store better than others. Marco stores well for example but ‘early’ varieties such as Sprint do not store as long.
How to Store Garlic – Step by Step
You will need a light, airy position that’s cool and dry, but free from frost.
Garlic can be harvested from mid-summer onwards and dried in the sun for a couple of days or under cover if the weather is wet. There must be plenty of air circulation to dry the bulbs, some people use a chicken-wire rack.
Once the bulbs and leaves are dry, select the best bulbs for plating or tie them into small bunches, hanging them in a cool, dry, airy place that is free from frost. Trim off their roots and the dry outermost skin.
Plated garlic makes a great gift, sells well at farmers markets and can be hung in a kitchen (for short periods, not for storing) and used off the plat as required.
There are lots of different varieties of garlic that vary in size, colour, and more important to me, strength and dormancy period which influences when to plant them and how well they store. Here are some varieties of garlic that I would suggest you try.
- Sprint – A very early variety that can be harvested around June. A small sowing of this can provide you with garlic early in the season, although it will not store for more than a few months.
- Germidour – A soft neck garlic with large pink and white bulbs that originated in France and is well suited to the U.K. climate. Germidour has a rich, mild flavour, stores reasonably well and is one of my favourites.
Marco – White bulbs with a distinctive flavour (quite strong) and among the the best for storing (up to a year under the right conditions).
- Moraluz – A very large bulb with purple-striped skin. A late variety that will store well into the spring.
- Cristo – Another late variety that has a long dormancy period so will store well into the spring