How And When To Plant Garlic
Garlic has many health benefits and is a versatile foodstuff
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a staple of nearly every cuisine on earth and has the added benefit of being incredibly good for you. It has been around for about 7,000 years both as food, traditional medicine and as a protection against vampires, demons, werewolves and nearly every other evil you can imagine. It originated in central Asia and today China is by far the largest producer, growing nearly 79% of the world total. It is closely related to onions, leeks and shallots.
It was used during World Wars 1 & 11 as an antiseptic in the prevention of gangrene. It contains vitamins B1, B6 and C, iron, phosphorous, potassium, copper, calcium, manganese and selenium. The health benefits are numerous although some are not proven by testing on humans. Supplements are said to help prevent the common cold and flu and combat infections. Antioxidants are thought to help prevent degenerative illnesses, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. It also reduces blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, protects the major organs from damage caused by heavy metals and may protect the bones from weakening. Ancient cultures fed their labourers with garlic as they believed that it enhanced their ability to work and combatted fatigue, although modern research into this claim has had mixed results. To obtain maximum benefit from the garlic it needs to be eaten raw or bruised or chopped before being cooked. It makes an effective home-made insecticide against cabbage root fly and the bane of every poultry keeper’s life, red mite.
It needs full sun and a light loamy soil, preferably neutral but will tolerate a little acidity or alkalinity.
Softneck garlic produces more cloves than the hardneck but is not as hardy; hardneck produces the cloves around a central stem. The hardneck produces a flower stem, called a ‘scape’ which can be cooked and has a milder flavour than the bulb. The softneck tends to store for longer than the hardneck and doesn’t form a flower stem.
Only use garlic from a reputable supplier, supermarket bulbs will more than likely not be suitable for growing in the UK and could also have been treated to enable them to be stored for longer. Break each bulb into individual cloves but don’t take off the outer skin. They need a period of cold to give their best so if you live in a frost-prone area or if your soil is too wet and heavy in winter, plant them individually in modules then plant them into the garden in early spring when soil conditions improve. They can be planted from October to January, to harvest around July, but will give a better, earlier crop if planted before Christmas. Dig in plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure or good quality peat-free compost to ensure free drainage. Dampen the compost before planting.
Plant just below the surface with the point of the clove just covered with soil. Plant about 15cm (6”) apart, unless planting elephant garlic in which case plant about 30cm (12”) apart. Plant in rows 30cm (12”) apart.
If planting in containers choose a container at least 30cm (12”) in diameter and 20cm (8”) deep. Plant 10 – 12 cloves in a 30cm (12”) pot, 8 – 10 in a 25cm (10”) pot and keep a couple of centimetres away from the side of the container. Fill with good quality peat-free compost and a little balanced fertiliser, such as Growmore.
They can be grown in pots indoors on a bright, warm, sunny windowsill to give a crop of leaves which have a milder flavour than the bulbs. Once they have stopped producing leaves discard them as they won’t produce a bulb, as it is too warm inside the house. The wild garlic (ramsons) which you see growing in deciduous woodlands can be used as a substitute; albeit with a milder flavour. It is all edible but you usually just use the leaves for flavouring soups, stews and cheeses. It needs a good fertile, well drained loam in dappled shade, but be careful of planting it in the garden as it is quite rampant, so planting in a raised bed or container would be the better option.
Wild Garlic (Ramsons)
If there are severe frosts forecast when the cloves have started shooting cover with a layer of straw or horticultural fleece. Give them a sprinkle of sulphate of potash in February to help form a good sized bulb. Keep them just damp, too wet and the cloves will rot, once they have started growing well and are planted in the ground they should be able to access water from deeper in the soil. If there are any prolonged dry periods you may need to water. Keep them weed free as the weeds will compete for water and nutrients. Stop watering when the foliage is showing signs of going yellow. Remove any flowers which may form to ensure the plant concentrates on producing a nice fat bulb.
Harvesting and storing
Harvest the softneck when the foliage has gone yellow and lies flat on the ground. The hardneck can be harvested when the lower leaves have started to go yellow. Use a hand trowel to gently prise the bulbs from the earth, if you damage the outer skin they won’t store. Harvest as soon as they are ready otherwise if you leave them they will start to sprout again and use the food stored in the bulb, which will result in soft bulbs.
Once harvested lay out somewhere cool and dry then brush off any dried soil, make sure that they have a good air circulation. They should keep for about 3 months somewhere cool (7C, 45F), dark and dry. The tops of the softneck can be plaited and hung up to store.
Birds can be a problem when the cloves are just starting to sprout as they pull up the nice new shoots so you may need to protect them with some chicken wire or a fleece tunnel.
Rust appears as red spots on the foliage and white rot leaves the bulbs soft and rotten. There is no cure for either and the bulbs must be pulled out and destroyed, don’t put them on the compost heap. The fungus responsible for these conditions can live in the soil for several years so don’t re-plant the same area with any of the Allium family for at least 5 years.
- Bella Italiano - hardneck, pinkish cloves, long storage period, strong flavour, will need protection in northern UK
- Early Purple Wight - softneck, plant early winter for a crop May/June, can be eaten green
- Elephant Garlic - giant bulbs up to 15cm (6”) diameter and 1kg (2.2lbs) in weight; great for roasting
- Germidor - softneck, large white bulbs, mild flavour
If you would like any gardening advice just get in touch with our team in the Outdoor Plant department here in store.