Grow Your Own: Garlic
Garlic is a staple in every kitchen nowadays, adding its flavour to everything from curries to bolognese sauces. At 60p or 70p a bulb it doesn't break the bank but there's something about serving up a dish with produce you've grown yourself that makes it taste better. Growing your own garlic will make sure you're cooking with home grown produce every week, or if you're like us, daily!
At Wild Bob's HQ we've been self sufficient for garlic for a while now. It's THE easiest thing to grow and a square metre will provide enough garlic for a family of 5 for a whole year, and to plant up next years garlic.
I always plant our garlic around Halloween, helps to keep the vampires away! So, in the first year you'll need to go to a local garden centre and buy about 6 bulbs of garlic to plant. Get a few different varieties so you can see what works well in the growing conditions. One thing I'd definitely advise against here is using supermarket bought garlic as this is often grown in mainland Europe and will not really be suited to growing in this country. Your local garden centre should be stocking bulbs suitable for growth in its local area.
Next you'll need to pick your spot. You'll need about a square metre which will give you space to grow around a hundred bulbs. Turn in some compost and if you've got a wood burner chuck some ashes on it a week or so before you're ready to plant.
When you're ready to plant gently separate the cloves in each bulb, try not to break the skins as this will make them less likely to grow, and plant around 3cm into the ground about 10cm apart and lightly cover. Once they're all in the ground cover the whole lot with 10cm of leaves. That's it! The garlic will be ready to harvest in July or August next year. Easy!
Garlic really is THE most low maintenance food you can grow. Once it is planted it may show shoots above the leaves after 2 or 3 weeks. Don't worry if this doesn't happen though, the garlic should have started to develop its root system anyway which is the main aim of getting them in the ground before the winter chill. Over winter the garlic will lie dormant until the Spring time. Once the days start to get a bit warmer you will see the garlic growing quite quickly and will reach around 50-60cm in height by May or June. Because you have planted the garlic in rows the growth will support itself preventing any damage from the wind, however if you have chosen a particularly exposed area you may want to loosley tie the garlic in clumps of about 10 to stop any damage from the wind.
When it comes to feeding and watering the garlic can pretty much fend for itself. If there is a particular dry spell (2 or 3 weeks ) it is worth giving them a light watering but don't overdo it as too much and they could rot.
The garlic will tell you when it is ready for harvesting as the tops will begin yellow and start to fall over. Simply pull from the base of the stem to lift the bulb from the ground. Leave the garlic attached and set aside to dry for 3-4 weeks. The garlic can be used from this point but by leaving it to dry the flavour from the tops goes into the bulbs and will give a better taste.
Garlic will store for up to a year but if it is showing signs of going off simply peel all of the garlic cloves and put them in a tub in the freezer. It's a bit time consuming but when it comes to meal prep all you have to do is pull a couple of cloves from the freezer and chop them as you would fresh. Soft necked varieties are good to make your own garlic plait to hang in the kitchen (out of direct sunlight). With hardnecked varieties, once dried, remove the tops and simply pop them in a basket and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Soft necked varieties can also be treated this way. Check them fairly regularly to make sure they're not going bad. Just remove any that are and maybe try a different spot, again think about keeping them cool and dark. Maybe it's time to peel and freeze too.
After the first year you'll never have to buy garlic again. Just use the biggest bulbs from your harvest and plant them up around Halloween again. By picking out the biggest bulbs each year you'll naturally get the garlic best suited to your growing conditions. Easy peasy! :)
Softnecked Vs Hardnecked
Just a quick note about the different varieties of garlic. There are many different varieties of garlic but they can be split into 2 main categories, soft-necked and hard-necked. The hard necked varieties have a stick like centre that protrudes about 4 or 5 cm from the top of the bulb. Hard necked varieties do have a tendency to store better. Soft necked varieties don't have this stick like centre to the bulb and the neck directly above the bulb is flexible (making them easier to plait). I like to grow some of each but when I'm harvesting I tend to keep them separate and use the soft necked bulbs first as these are more likely to go off sooner.