I love garlic and now is the perfect time to plant some for next year. It’s great for a tasty addition to many meals, and home-grown has a better flavour than shop bought. It’s also good for health; studies have shown garlic may help to lower blood pressure, and its antifungal and antibacterial properties mean it helps fight disease and infection.
I’ve also found it’s one of the simplest vegetables to grow. Divide a garlic bulb into its individual cloves, push the largest into the ground to a depth of around an inch and away they go. Plant them in a row 6 inches apart, with multiple rows spaced about a foot apart.
Any smaller cloves left over can be pushed into a pot and grown for their leaves. These can be snipped and used for tarts, salad dressings, stir-fries and soups, and will give you a crop two to three months ahead of the bulbs. If you have little or no gardening space, then the larger cloves can also be grown in pots.
Top tips for growing
Selection: don’t use shop-bought garlic as this is can be old or dried out and is often dusted with fungicide to prevent sprouting. Buy from a reputable supplier, who doesn’t source theirs from Chinese growers, who often supply inferior specimens.
Types: you have the choice of hardneck or softneck varieties. A hardneck variety has a firm central stalk around which the cloves form. Softneck varieties have a floppy, papery stalk which can be used to plait the bulbs together. Hardneck varieties tend to have a better flavour, but don’t store for as long as softneck ones. Garlic may also throw out flowering stalks during the growing season (called scapes), which should be picked off and used in cooking.
When to plant: the general rule of thumb is to plant hardneck varieties before Christmas. This is to ensure garlic plants get sufficient frost days to start clove formation. Softneck varieties can be planted later (around February), but there is an increased risk that a large, single clove is formed instead if the plants don’t receive enough frost days.
Soil: if – like me – you garden on clay and your soil gets waterlogged in the winter, then you may wish to plant out the cloves in small pots to overwinter, then plant out in the spring when the soil is drier. Alternatively, you can grow them on a raised bed, which will set them above the water table.
When to harvest: your garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves die down, usually from June to August depending on the variety planted. Dig up the bulbs and dry them thoroughly for a week or so to maximise the time they will keep in storage. Bring indoors to dry if warm, sunny weather isn’t available to do the job for you.
Save your own for next year: the beauty of growing your own garlic is you can save some of the larger cloves to start all over again next year, and then repeat for as long as possible. As time goes on, the saved garlic gradually adapts itself to your plot’s conditions, resulting in your own strain. Note, that if your garlic crop suffers from rust at any point, it’s best to start again with garlic from a reliable supplier.
Some garlic to try
Here are some of my tried and trusted favourites:
A hardneck variety from the Czech Republic, with pink-tinged wrapped cloves, and leaves which grow over a metre tall.
The first variety I grew, so I have a particular soft spot for it. It’s a softneck which produces large, white and tasty bulbs that can be plaited together easily. It’s suitable for a riskier late winter planting.
Not actually a garlic, but it looks and tastes like one, having enormous bulbs and large, mildly flavoured cloves. Another autumn planting variety, this is the one to roast whole.
‘Extra Early Wight’
A large, white softneck with a fresh flavour. One of the earliest to crop, it can be ready by the end of May.
This is one of my favourite hardneck varieties, which is rich and hot in flavour. It stores well and is one of the easier hardnecks to save for seed. ‘
A hardneck, heritage garlic from the Czech Republic. This is the one to grow if you have problems with garlic rust on your plot. It has plump, purple cloves and a spicy flavour.
A softneck variety with a fabulous flavour and great for keeping. I’ve managed to keep some for over a year, and is a great variety for later planting.
A hardneck variety which produces large white heads and cloves. Can be planted in October for an earlier crop. It needs to be eaten by Christmas as the flavour falls off substantially after that.
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and blogger from Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst up at her allotment.