Garlic is a rewarding and easy to grow crop but it needs to be grown on well-drained soils for good results and prefers a sunny site.
There are two types of garlic: softneck and hardneck. They are both grown in exactly the same way. See our blog post if you want to know more about what type you need.
Garlic can be planted in autumn for an earlier harvest or spring for a later harvest. Softneck garlic will need a little overwinter protection from the harsher areas.
Planting Your Garlic
Prepare your soil well. Mix in lots of good compost before you want to start planting.
To grow garlic you must plant the cloves and not the bulbs. Break up the bulbs no longer than 24 hours before you plant them being careful not to bruise or damage them. Make sure you have enough space (15cm between each clove). Plant in an area which receives maximum sunlight hours. Place the cloves 3 - 4cm below the surface, root down (pointy end up).
Caring For Your Garlic
Birds may be a problem when you first plant your garlic, plucking the cloves from the soil, consider covering them with a net until they are a couple of inches tall.
You'll need to water your garlic during dry periods throughout the growing season, stopping watering completely during the last few weeks. Carefully remove any weeds as they appear overwise they will be stealing nutrients that will otherwise feed the plant. Adding sulphate of potash to your garlic will give it all the nutrients it needs to grow.
The plants may bolt in warmer weather (produce flowers). Unless you intend to harvest the flowers for their tiny bulbils pinch them off as they come as they'll take unnecessary nutrients away from the bulb.
Garlic will tell you when it is time to harvest. The leaves will start to wilt and fall over. Pull them when about 75% of the leaves have dried up. Too early and you’ll miss the final growth spurt, too late and your bulbs could rot in the ground. Do not be tempted to clean the clean the soil off the bulbs just yet. The bulb's tunic is very soft and will not have formed enough strength yet.
Once the bulbs are dug up, lay them out to dry and cure somewhere that is airy and out of direct sunlight. Turning once a week or until the leaves have fully turned brown. This will depend on a lot of factors so it is best played by ear.
When the bulbs have been cured they will need cleaning and storage. Use a soft toothbrush for clearing excess soil and clean sharp scissors for trimming the roots.
Storing garlic is all about keeping it relatively warm, dark and dry. This encourages the cloves to stay dormant, and prevents them from sprouting. Do not store them in the fridge! Why not try your hand at plaiting the garlic bulbs and hanging them for the traditional look?
If you are overrun with garlic which will spoil before you get to use it think about other ways to store it. It can be crushed and frozen in ice cube trays, bagged up for later use. Lightly boiled in olive oil and bottled makes for a fantastic garlic oil dressing.
Varieties to try?
Thermidrome - A French softneck variety well suited to our British climate. Best for storing. Produces medium bulbs with smaller cloves that have a milder taste.
Casablanca - An Eastern European hardneck variety. Produces medium bulbs with bigger cloves which have a more complex, yet stronger taste.