Growing Garlic – Allium sativum
Garlic, along with onions, leeks, shallots, spring onions, is a member of the Allium family and many of the diseases which affect one of these vegetables are likely to affect the others to a greater or lesser degree.
For many centuries, garlic has been used for its reputed medicinal properties and, of course, its ability to keep vampires away [ and it must be working as I don’t see too many vampires around!]. It is only within the last twenty or thirty years in the UK, that garlic has come to be seen as an essential ingredient in the kitchen.
Growing – Although garlic can be grown from seeds, it is normally grown from the bulbs [cloves]. It can be planted in autumn or in spring, [ between September and the end of April, depending on variety]. If planting in autumn, it is suggested that you plant to a depth of about 10cm [4in] as repeated freezing and thawing can lead to weakening of the bulbs and encourages white rot. However, on heavy soil, I have found that if planted as deeply the cloves rot in the ground.
If your soil is heavy clay, there are several alternatives;
-Leave planting until spring and plant into well dug beds;
-Prepare the ground well – make a trench and fill with fine soil, sand [to help drainage] and compost before planting;
-Plant to a depth of 2-3cm [1 in], making sure the growing tip is below the level of the ground.
Garlic planted in the autumn is best eaten as it becomes ready as it does not store as well as that planted in the spring.
Garlic cloves can be planted quite closely together as the mature plants don’t have a huge spread. If you prefer large bulbs, plant 15 – 20cm [6 – 8 in] apart, in rows the same distance apart. They can be planted as close as 10cm [4in], but leave more space between the rows. You can dig a trench and lay set the cloves in before covering or you can make suitable holes using a dibber.
The ground should preferably be in a sunny spot, light and free draining and not too acid. It is better if fertilised in the previous season – don’t add manure before planting. Keep the beds well weeded throughout their fairly long growing season and water well in dry weather. A good onion fertiliser will also encourage a more productive crop.
Although you can save your own bulbs for planting again in the next season, and, you can plant garlic you have bought from the vegetable shop or supermarket, it is really advisable to buy in fresh, certified disease free bulbs from a reputable source, to avoid a build-up of diseases.
When you take the bulbs home, remove them from any packaging and separate each individual clove from the bulb - don’t remove the papery skin – discard any cloves which have blemishes and plant only the more robust bulbs. Make sure you plant them with the growing point up.
Although there are many different varieties to choose from there are two main types of garlic:
Hardneck – it is easy to understand the title when you have grown this type as it will put up a hard stem [a scape] and eventually a flower head which produces small garlic like fruits [all parts are edible]. They are more suitable for colder harder conditions. Varieties include – Lautrec Wight, Carcassone Wight.
Softneck – the most commonly grown type on our allotments – includes Solent Wight, Arno and Purple Wight. They usually mature faster and keep longer than the hardneck varieties and when harvested can be plaited into handsome, traditional strings of garlic for hanging your storeroom.
It is best to look at the varieties available from you seed provider and see which type will suit you best. Some companies like Thompson and Morgan offer a Garlic Lover’s Selection which would give you the opportunity to try out different types to see what suits your ground and palette best. Look out for this in the autumn.
Have a look also at The Garlic Farm – www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk
When the leaves to fall over and start to yellow, the plants have finished their growing time. Lift them carefully and lay them on the ground for a few days in dry weather for the tops to dry out. This is more difficult in continuous wet weather when you will need to find a cool sheltered spot and hang them up to dry out – in a shed if you have one. Keep the bunches loose to avoid the bulbs rotting. The tops should be completely dried out before storing.
When the bulbs have grown but before they are fully ripened and the skins have not yet formed between the cloves, you can harvest ‘wet garlic’, to be used immediately as a vegetable. This is particularly delicious roasted.
Garlic contains good levels of carbohydrate and protein. It is a useful source of Vitamin B – Thiamine B1, Riboflavin B2, Niacin B3, B5 and an excellent source of B6. It is a good source also of Vitamin C.
The many minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and a small amount of sodium.
Pests and Diseases
unfortunately there are many diseases garlic, similar to those which affect onions which can prevent you from achieving a satisfactory crop.
- Rust - one of the main diseases on our allotment fields affecting especially garlic and leeks – if it attacks early [as it did in 2012] and the infection is heavy it will prevent the bulbs from developing properly, as the growth just stops, although they are still useable. You can remove the leaves and hope the plants will continue to grow. In most seasons the garlic just outgrows the rust with no major effect. Avoid planting in the same area again although, on allotments, this is difficult as others’ crops are so close and you have limited space to move.
- White rot, more commonly seen on onions and especially in wet cold years – it is a soil borne disease so it is important to avoid planting any allium crops in that area for about 8 years. Destroy any plants carrying this disease.
Elephant Garlic – although also a member of the allium family – allium ampeloprasum is not, in fact a garlic. It does look like an oversized garlic and has a similar, though much milder flavour. It is actually a type of leek.