Introduction To Growing Garlic
Garlic is the archetypal chef’s vegetable. There are so many dishes that demand its sulphurous pungency and flavour. Extremely good for you, we have often described its nutritional and health benefits. Growing garlic cannot be easier – even easier than growing onions and shallots
Garlic can also be fermented and converted to something called Black Garlic which is worth looking for in retailers and grocers and has its own unique health benefits.
One of the best suppliers of garlic in the United Kingdom is on the Isle of Wight – look for garlic products from ‘The Garlic Farm‘.
Conditions For Growing Garlic
Garlic grows well in fertile, well-drained soil which can almost be sandy. Only a few varieties will thrive in wet, poorly drained soils so these are worth hunting out if you are growing in damp conditions. Do not manure too much as nitrogen produces overly green and fleshy growth, prone to garlic rust. Add a little Sulphate of Potash per metre length of row which is worked into the soil in the month after tips emerge.
I grow cloves which are carefully removed from the bulb mass by using a dibber to make a hole in the soil. Plant with the bulb just showing its tip. That will be between 20 and 40mm deep. Plant about 30 to 45cm apart or wider if larger bulbs are required. Keep watered as much as possible – well into April and especially at Easter although many of these varieties enjoy some drying conditions. We stop watering around July 30th.
When the plant stem begins to topple over or bend, then we harvest. We don’t leave any later because rust becomes an issue. Dig carefully under the plant and lift with the trowel or fork. Don’t use a spade as some sites suggest because of the chance of damage ! All garlic is lifted and placed in either a greenhouse or shed to dry. Ensure good air movement as with onions – in fact they share the same space at times. Check for the neck being dry because when the stem is papery brown its ready for hanging.
Varieties Of Growing Garlic
A slightly hardier garlic and suited to more northern climates. They may produce a flower spike or scape in summer which needs to be removed. they have fewer but larger cloves when forming their bulb. The varieties include ‘Lautrec Wight‘, and Chesnok Wight. The cogniscenti go for Porcelain which produces beautiful white bulbs of fewer but larger cloves and are ideal for northern climes. they store very well for hardnecks. Hardneck varieties are best grown in autumn for harvesting in June or July the following year.
Lautrec Wight is the most versatile of the hardnecks, and can be planted in autumn or early spring but dislikes wet conditions. Therefore best grown in well drained soils, almost sandy.
These store better than hardnecks but they do prefer warmer climes for their growth. They produce a soft stem with a non-flowering spike and usually smaller cloves in the bulb. Varieties to grow include ‘Early Purple Wight’, ‘Iberian Wight’, ‘Mersley Wight’ ‘Picardy Wight’, ‘Cristo’, ‘Tuscany Wight’, ‘Solent Wight’, ‘Provence Wight’ and ‘Albigensian Wight’. Plant from September to March. The ideal time is late winter into mid-Spring but check individual growing times. Look for ‘silver skin’ types like Mersley Wight
Mersley Wight originated in the Auvergne region of central France, and grows into the volcanic Drome department of northern Provence. The Garlic Farm who are well established purveyors of garlic gave it the name in the UK after their farm Mersley. Given its mountainous roots, the cloves are planted in early Spring in the UK but from late November as late as early April. The cloves are quite large for a softneck which is ideal. We plant these in mid February although a great crop has been achieved from a late November planting to get it established – the soil is relatively dry when we attempted this. This cultivar will keep until June the following year which is roughly 10 months. The flavour is excellent especially for culinary use. Has greater vigour than its cousin the Solent Wight.
Iberian Wight is a large fat white garlic with purple stripes, originating in south west Spain. Keeps to its Roman Purple colour when grown close to the soil surface.
A large white softneck garlic that can produce bulbs approaching Elephant Garlic for size. Originating in the lush valleys of Provence in Southern France. Think lavender fields, think this garlic.
Solent Wight is one of the best in terms of its overall eating and keeping quality. It produces hard dense bulbs that exude a presence of their power especially in cooking.
Tuscany Wight is a new softneck garlic from Tuscany. This large white garlic is a late type like Solent Wight. It has superb keeping qualities and is often the last to be used because the others simply don not store as well as this one.
A related species to garlic and onions generally. Worth growing like a garlic for it subtle, slightly garlic flavour. Make excellent roasted vegetables to garnish meats.