Growing great garlic

17 October 2013
We planted our garlic in March and true to form, it was ready for harvesting in late September. We bought our garlic from Green Harvest, a hard-necked variety called Glenlarge - it is suited to warmer weather and it's the best garlic we've grown so far.  Hanno said the larger cloves, generally from the outside of the garlic bulb, produce the biggest and heaviest bulbs. You can still plant the smaller bulbs but they won't grow as big as the others, so don't think you've done anything wrong. We grew ours over our colder months and hopefully this crop will see us through until next September.  I've already put aside the biggest and best bulbs for planting in March.

Above and below  - our 2013 garlic crop.

Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow in the vegetable patch. You plant them, 6 - 8 inches apart, in a sunny site and add plenty of organic matter to the soil pre-planting. Break the bulb apart and plant the cloves pointy end upwards, down to about the first knuckle on your finger**, water in with seaweed tea. Depending on your climate, the green shoots will appear two to four weeks after planting.  When the green shoots appear, start fertilising every month with a foliar spray of comfrey tea or seaweed and fish concentrate. Keep watering regularly if it doesn't rain but don't over-water them, too much water will rot them in the ground. As the time for harvest approaches, ease off the watering. They're ready to harvest when the green tops start turning brown and shrivelling up. Don't pull the garlic out of the ground, dig them out with a spade to loosen the soil.

** Added later: I just read this again and wanted to clarify this first knuckle planting. What I mean is that you push your fore finger into the planting soil to the level of your first knuckle. Place the clove, pointy side up, in the hole and cover with soil. The point of the clove should be just below the surface of the soil.

When you harvest, treat them gently because they must be in excellent condition to store them for a long time. Place the crop on a table for a couple of days, undercover, and remove clumps of dirt and any obvious material that would prevent them from drying out - you'll clean them properly a bit later. Divide the harvest up into bunches and hang them to dry out for about three weeks, depending on your climate. If it's humid it may take a bit longer.

Every time you handle the garlic, be gentle and don't drop them. When they've dried out, take down all the bunches and lay them out on a table where you can work on them for a while. You'll need a small pair of scissors - I use an old pair of embroidery scissors because I can cut in around the root without cutting into the garlic flesh. 

Take the first garlic and remove all the dirt, then rub it with your fingers to remove the outer loose papery skin. You don't want to take all the paper off because it protects the bulb while it's in storage. Cut the top off about an inch or so above the bulb. This will help the paper stay on the garlic. Cut the roots off the bottom and generally tidy the bulb up as much as you can without removing too much of the paper. When you're happy with that one, go on to the next.

Don't break the garlic bulb up, they will store better as whole garlics. Store them in a dark, dry space, not the fridge, it's too humid. The place you choose to store your garlic will have the biggest effect on how long it lasts. I have mine in a wire basket at the bottom of my pantry alongside the potatoes and onions. You could also hang them in a mesh bag or plait/braid them and hang them in a cool dry place.

If you don't get a year out of your garlic, it might we worth your while to experiment with two separate crops using two different varieties - an early and a late garlic.  No matter what you use though, take the opportunity to use some of your garlic fresh on the day you pick it. Fresh garlic has a more subtle flavour than older garlic. I used two fresh whole garlics cut through the middle and baked with some roast lamb. It was so delicious and definitely worth growing for the wide variety of health benefits and recipes you can make with it.