Garlic adds wonderful flavours to home cooking and has amazing health benefits. It’s so simple to grow, just keep some back each year for replanting and you’ll probably never need to buy it again.
Ideally you should use seed garlic for planting which come in packs of 2 or 3 bulbs, it’s not actually little seeds that you are going to plant but pre-grown bulbs from disease-free stock. The usual way to purchase seed garlic would be via a seed merchant catalogue or specialist websites, garden centres are also good places to look.
There are two types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk called a scape in summer and these should be removed (simply snap them off at the base) to encourage the bulbs to reach full potential, the scapes are delicious in a stir fry. Hardneck varieties are more tolerant of hard winters and perfect for autumn planting. Softneck varieties prefer milder conditions and are usually best planted in spring, they produce bigger bulbs with more cloves and tend to store much better than hardneck varieties.
When to plant garlic:
I tend to plant garlic during November or December, but it can be planted from October right up until early spring. Reasonably well-drained soil is perfect for autumn planting, if your soil tends to be too claggy try starting garlic off in small pots of compost instead, leave them outside your back door (anywhere they won’t blow away!) or use a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. Plant your pots of sprouting garlic out in early spring once soil conditions are right.
How to plant garlic:
An open sunny site with free draining soil is best for planting. Split the seed garlic into individual cloves before planting, each one of these cloves will grow into a new bulb. I space each clove 6 inches apart, as a rough guide I stretch my thumb and forefinger apart and place the clove on top of the soil. Once I’m happy with my rows I make holes with a dibber and place the cloves in the holes, pointy end facing up. Cover over with soil, the garlic tips should be around an inch below the surface.
Newly planted garlic can be disturbed by birds and digging cats, to combat this problem I mark rows with string and short canes to act as a deterrent, if you have raised beds try covering with chicken wire.
When to harvest garlic:
Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow, this is usually early summer, depending on planting time and variety. Lift from the ground gently using a garden fork.
How to store garlic:
Allow the bulbs to fully dry out before storing, I use my greenhouse for this process. When the bulbs are fully dry they’ll be papery white and rustle when touched. Plait them together if you wish using the stems, or place in a net bag for storing. Trim excess roots. Store garlic somewhere cool and dry such as a shed or garage.