A simple and rewarding herb to grow, garlic gives you culinary choice and an excellent crop for very little effort. Here is a quick guide on the essentials of growing garlic.
Soil Type and Planting
Garlic will grow in most fertile soils, but it will not do well in an acid environment, so if you know your ground is acidic; ensure you lime it in advance. For those technocrats out there, your soil ph should be above 6.7. Light soils will usually produce brighter, whiter bulbs and heavier soils can produce larger garlic.
- Break the bulbs gently into their constituent cloves. Take care not to damage them. A small wound or bruise will rapidly become infected in the soil & the clove is likely to rot.
- Plant immediately after breaking, into well-cultivated fertile ground. Beware of retailers who sell you individual cloves or part of a bulb – these are less likely to flourish.
- The large outer cloves should be at least 6” apart in rows at least 18” apart.
- To optimise on garden space, plant the small cloves from the centre of the bulb 4” apart. Place each clove, root end downward or pointy end up, in a small hole with 1” of loose soil to cover.
Watering & Care
Keep the soil weed free & well aerated by frequent hoeing between the plants. Keep the garlic well watered but cease watering two weeks before you plan to harvest.
Most garden soils are rich in nutrients but all garlic responds well to a liberal application of sulphate of potash at 3 oz to the square yard, worked into the soil around the garlic in February or March.
When to lift and harvest
To produce brilliant, white bulbs that are the equal of anything from warmer climates, and the envy of your local allotment society, lift the crop as it goes “weak at the knees”, or when the leaves begin to bend.
For both hard and soft neck varieties, don’t be afraid to scrape away a little of the soil from the top of a bulb to see what is going on! If you see there is now a multi-cloved swollen bulb, it’s all looking good for harvesting! For hardnecks, having previously removed the flower spike, look for a yellowing of the outer leaves: this will tell you that they are ready to be lifted.
Gather the garlic in bunches of six bulbs and hang them to dry in a conservatory or glass house. Better still; place them in wooden trays so they dry evenly and at the same pace. If the weather is fine, after about two weeks they will dry to the point that there is a little moisture left in the centre of the stem.
Do not over dry them – the stems become brittle and the bulbs lose their plump, tight skins. The art of drying garlic is to achieve tight, full cloves in the bulb with the leaves around the bulb and the stem completely dry but not brittle.
Quick Reference Guide:
• Never let the plant run out of water. Maintain a damp soil until two weeks before harvest.
• Garlic responds to deep well dug soil with adequate amounts of phosphate & potash.
• Drying of your garlic is critical to its keeping quality.
• Store garlic in a warm dry place. Cold conditions replicate winter and the garlic will try to sprout.
• Buy from growing stock proven to grow in the UK.