How to Grow Garlic – A Guide to Growing Garlic
Garlic is a member of the onion family – the Alliums. You can grow it successfully in this country. Start with good seed stock, as garlic bought in the supermarket is likely to have been grown in China or Spain, where the climate is completely different and will not be certified disease free for planting.
You can, save home-grown garlic to plant next year if you want to save some money. Select the best bulbs and user larger cloves for the best results.
Garlic comes in two main types, hardneck and softneck, the hardneck does not store as well as the softneck. There are many different tastes and varieties to try from the seed merchants and garden centres, all certified stock.
Elephant garlic is really a perennial leek with a much milder flavour. Its cloves split up when it is dried, so elephant garlic does not store as well as ordinary garlic.
After planting, garlic needs a period of cold weather for good bulb development. Planting in late autumn or in early spring, depending on the variety, will provide the necessary cold period.
As the garlic is going to be sitting in the ground all winter, you can get losses due to rot. A well-drained and cultivated soil will give the best results. A week or so before planting, give the soil a dose of a general-purpose fertiliser such as Growmore or Fish, Blood & Bone. Garlic doesn’t need a very rich soil, so a couple of ounces per square yard is about right.
Break the garlic bulb into cloves, being careful not to damage them, and plant pointed side up, in holes about 5cm (2ins) deep and 20cm (8 ins) apart. Cover with soil and forget about them until spring. If you have a heavy clay soil, dig the hole a little deeper and put some grit or sand under the cloves, or plant on ridges. This will allow drainage and get your garlic through a wet winter.
If birds are a nuisance on your site, cover with netting or fleece until they are well established. I lift the fleece on upturned pop-bottles on bamboo poles to avoid crushing their foliage.
Starting under cover
You can start garlic off in pots, or modules, under glass, planting out in early spring when the shoots are showing, there’s obviously a benefit to this method if you’re running late on your planting schedule. I find this method far better in wet areas and it results in an earlier crop from a spring planting than autumn sowing.
In the spring, another small dose of fertiliser will give them a boost, although you really don’t need to do much more than keep the plants weed free and water in the summer if dry.
Hardneck garlic sometimes grows a flower spike or scape. Snip this off as soon as possible. These are actually quite nice snipped up small and used in a salad, or stir-fried. If you leave them, the plant puts energy into seed rather than fattening the cloves.
Apart from the birds mentioned above, the most common problem affecting garlic is rust. Usually this isn’t too much of a problem unless the plants are too close together
A more serious problem is Onion White Rot This fungus causes the leaves to wilt and turn yellow. In wet weather, they may not wilt but will become loose in the soil. If you lift them, you will see a white fluffy growth on the bulbs. The disease can be imported on infected bulbs, or tools used on an infected plot. Destroy infected bulbs and do not grow any of the onion family for at least 8 years. There is no chemical control at present.
The bulbs are harvested when the leaves begin turning yellow in midsummer. If you leave them too long, the cloves will split apart and storage will be a problem. Use a fork to dig them up carefully.
Allow them to dry off in an airy place, until the foliage is crisp.