Garlic is a bulbous herb of the onion family (allium) grown as a flavouring to many dishes.
It is classified as either a hard-neck or soft-neck cultivar, and can be pink or white skinned.
Hard-neck varieties should be eaten when fresh, whereas soft-neck varieties may be stored.
Plants can grow to around 500mm (18") high with a spread of upto 300mm (12").
Elephant garlic is sold as garlic, but it is in fact more closely related to leeks, it is milder flavoured and needs warmth to perform well.
Both garlic varieties are grown in the same manner, soft-neck varieties are best sown in autumn, but can also be sown in spring, whereas hard-necked varieties should only be planted in autumn due to their poor keeping quality.
The harvest time is only slightly different between early / late planting times as bulb maturity is governed by day length.
There are a number of reasons for sowing in autumn;
- They need a period of cold for vernalisation, it is this that encourages the bulb to form individual cloves, otherwise it will develop into one large clove.
This should last at least a month, at temperatures below 10°C (50°F).
If cloves are planted out in spring give them a month in the refrigerator before planting, to artificially create a vernalisation period.
- In the UK late planting followed by a cold, dull spring can lead to poor yields.
Autumn planting gives cloves time to sprout before the weather gets too cold.
- When buying garlic do not be tempted to use cloves from shop-bought garlic, go to a reputable supplier.
Although shop bought varieties will grow, and sometimes form good bulbs, there is a greater chance of them being affected by virus.
Another reason is they may of foreign stock and not suited to growing conditions in the UK
- In subsequent years, select your best disease free bulbs for future plantings.
Rake/fork in a top dressing of nitro chalk at 60gms/sq metre (2oz/sq yd)
Keep the area weed-free, garlic is shallow rooted therefore it will suffer if the competition for water and nutrients is too great.
Remove any flower spikes that might appear to ensure that all the plants resources go into increasing the size of the bulb.
Commence lifting bulbs by loosening the soil below the plants with a fork, when the growing tip starts to turn yellow.
Do not wait for the leaves to completely die off, as you would with onions, to do so will affect the keeping quality of the bulbs.
There should still be at least six green leaves on the plant when it is harvested.
Dry the bulbs in the sun, then tie them up into strings or place in a net bag and store them in a dry, frost free place.
At this stage you could save a few bulbs for planting out later in the year (circa Week 40)
Plants require well-drained ground in an open sunny position that has been deeply dug, and preferably manured for a previous crop.
It is advisable not to plant out in the same bed each year, use a three or four year rotation plan.
Separate the cloves from the bulb, and plant them tapered end up 50mm (2”) deep, and 150mm (6”) apart in rows 300mm (12”) apart.
On heavy soil it is advisable to drop some river sand into the hole prior to planting to improve drainage.
Very wet conditions can lead to white rot.
An alternative method is to sow any bulbils that have been produced at the base of some varities and bulk them up for planting out a year later.
History and Health:
Garlic is botanically allium sativum, a member of the onion family.
Historians are not sure where the story of garlic began, but it probably originated in central Asia, it was certainly widely used in the ancient world.
There is evidence of it being grown in Egypt prior to 2000BC, and ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks, Chinese, Indians and Romans used it medicinally.
Garlic is still highly regarded today, and is thought to have many health-giving properties.
Among these are its protection against bacterial, viral and fungal infections.
In addition, it can reputedly fight dysentery and typhoid (fortunately not required in the UK), and it stimulates the production of white blood cells.
Its volatile oil, which is secreted via the lungs can fight respiratory infections such as bronchitis and whooping cough.
This oil is also used against tuberculosis.
In the 21st century, great interest is being shown in its efficacy against cardiovascular disease.
Its action on our circulation is said to reduce the levels of both blood fat and cholesterol.
It is also claimed to reduce blood pressure significantly, and recent studies have also shown it can reduce the hardening of arteries as we age.