Plant some garlic in amongst your
rose bushes to prevent the aphids
attacking the roses!
What is Garlic?
Garlic (Allium sativum), is a member of the onion family, the Alliums, its close relatives include the chive, leek, onion and shallot. It is a perennial herb that is grown for its aromatic cloves that make up the bulb.
Garlic is a native of Central Asia and has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes, for over 7,000 years. It has long been a staple in the diet of the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
As garlic is very tolerant of climate, site or soil type it is grown just about everywhere. It is also very easy to care for and grow, it just needs watering if there is a really dry spell, hence garlic is a very popular choice of crop for the busy gardener. It is also an ideal choice for the beginner and children to have a go at growing.
A bulb of garlic is made up of up-to 20 cloves which are arranged concentrically, with each clove being covered by a thin white skin. The bulb itself is covered in several layers of this same skin.
Supermarket or Seed merchant
While it is certainly possible to grow garlic from cloves bought in a food shop, it tends to be less successful and more prone to problems. Bulbs purchased from seed merchants will have been bred to match local conditions, make sure you pick one that is certified as virus-free.
When to plant
Garlic is best planted between mid-autumn and mid-spring (November and April here in the UK) although you will generally get a bigger and better crop if you plant it in the autumn. If the area you live in is prone to heavy frosts then it is better to wait until mid-spring. When choosing which variety to buy remember they are sold according to their suitability for spring or autumn planting. Whilst some varieties of garlic do produce flowers and then seeds it is not possible to grow garlic from seed as the seed produced is not viable.
Choosing and preparing the site
Choose a site that has a rich sandy loam and is sunny, although it will tolerate any good soil as long as it is well-drained. About two weeks before planting dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter such as compost, manure or recycled green waste. This helps in two ways 1) it improves the drainage and 2) it provides plenty of nutrients. Then just before planting rake the soil down finely.
How to plant straight in the ground
Carefully separate the bulb into individual cloves, but do not remove the papery skins, and plant each clove 5cm (2 inches) below the surface of the soil with the pointed end facing up (so the tip of the bulb has 2.5cm (1 inch) of soil covering it). Plant each clove 10cm to 15cm (4 inches to 6 inches) apart and in rows 30cm (12 inches) apart. Planting at that depth will help to discourage the birds from pulling the freshly planted cloves out of the ground, all the same, it is a good idea to cover the area with netting after planting.
If your soil is heavy or the area you live in is prone to lots of heavy frosts or very cold winds, then it is better to plant autumn varieties in module trays. This is best done in winter. You can use a general multi-purpose compost for this, fill the trays and place an individual clove in each module to a depth of 2.5cm (1inch ) and then cover with more compost. Place the trays outside in a sheltered location and protect them from any forecast severe frosts. Transplant out to the final growing position in spring when the cloves have sprouted, always plant out to the same depth as the cloves were in the module.
Garlic in containers and pots?
No space in your garden or no garden? No problem! You can grow garlic in a pot on a patio or balcony. The container will need to be at least 20cm (8 inches) in diameter with a similar depth, to allow for good root growth. Simply fill your chosen container with multi-purpose compost.
Plant each clove at a depth of 2.5cm (1 inch) and space them 10cm (4 inches) apart, allowing space for the bulbs to swell (don't plant too close to the container edge). Make sure the compost remains moist, especially during dry spells.
Care and Cultivation
As we have already said garlic itself is not very demanding, only needing to be watered during long dry spells, other than that the only other job is to keep it free of weeds by careful regular hoeing. Also providing some protection from the birds is a good idea. You do not need to worry if you see flowers forming, you can either remove them or leave them intact, either way, will not affect the swelling of the bulb.
Pests and diseases
In general, garlic is pretty trouble-free with only two diseases that you may find symptoms of, rust and white rot. Rust appears as rusty coloured spots on the leaves while white rot decays the roots and eventually the bulb. There are no cures for these apart from crop rotation and not growing in the same place for at least three years.
Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves have started to wither and turn yellow with autumn-planted garlic being ready to harvest in June and July and spring-planted garlic is ready slightly later. Do not be tempted to pull the bulbs out of the ground as this will damage them and reduce the storage time. Simply use a small hand fork to loosen the soil and carefully lift them out.
Leave the bulbs on the ground to dry out in the sun providing some protection from dew at night. Any dry soil left on the bulbs can be gently brushed off. Bulbs should then store for up to 3 months in good condition. Do not leave the bulbs in the ground too long after the leaves have withered as the bulbs are likely to re-sprout and may rot when stored.
Can you grow garlic indoors?
Yes, you can grow garlic indoors on a sunny windowsill. You will not be able to get a good bulb but you can use the garlic leaves, which have a milder flavour than the bulb and can be added to soups, curries and stir-fries. Harvest the leaves as required until the bulb has been exhausted.
You may see garlic referred to as 'Hardneck' or 'Softneck' - this simply refers to the way the garlic grows:
Softnecks are so-called because the whole green plant dies down to pliancy, leaving nothing but the bulb and flexible stems that are easy to braid.
Hardnecks have a stiff stem in the centre that terminates in a beautiful flower – or cluster of little bulbs – then dries to a rigid stick that makes braiding impossible. The flower stem (referred to as a 'scape'), can be removed and used in salads and stir-fries.
Softnecks, the standard garlic of commerce, are the easiest to grow in regions where the weather is mild. They keep longer than hardnecks, but they are less hardy and more prone to make small, very strong-flavoured cloves. Hardnecks do best where there is a real winter and are more vulnerable to splitting – or simply refusing to produce – when grown in warm climates.