How to grow happy garlic | Alys Fowler

Give garlic what it wants – sunshine, sweet soil and some elbow room – and it will reward you with fat, juicy cloves

This is a last call for garlic ordering. If you haven’t got yours, run to the shops or choose express delivery online because the best bulbs go quickly, and you want to plant soon.

Garlic is a delightful crop when you please it, and vexing when you don’t. As peeling a clove of garlic is the first step of so much of my cooking, I have learned that giving garlic exactly what it wants is worth every penny. To displease it is to spend the rest of the year cursing tiny, fiddly cloves.

I give garlic my best spots in full sun with sweet soil – key to plump cloves. Garlic does not like sharing space, particularly early on. Come late spring, however, it will tolerate a few friends, from field poppies to edible weeds.

There are two main types of garlic: softneck, with no flower spike and, often, more cloves in each bulb; and hardneck, with a flower spike that means it can’t be plaited, but the bonus of garlic scapes (unopened flowers) to eat in early summer.

There are two seasons for garlic planting: autumn and spring. Some varieties can be planted in both, but most prefer either/or. The softnecks – Christo, Picardy Wight (best for cooler, wetter conditions), Provence Wight and Solent Wight – can be planted now or again in February. Thermidrome (softneck), Carcassone Wight (hardneck) and Lautrec Wight (hardneck) are best planted now.

Some will argue that you can plant garlic right up into December and have a fine crop to show for it. If your plot faces south, sits on fine sandy soils rich in organic matter, is bathed in good light and doesn’t feel the harsh breath of winter, you’re lucky. For the rest of us, time is of the essence and mid-October to mid-November seems to be the sweet spot to get bulbs growing before the cold sets in.

Garlic needs 30 to 60 days at less than 10C for the bulbs to form properly. I plant in blocks, with 18cm to 20cm in each direction between cloves. The clove should be planted flat end down, around 5cm deep. I cover the whole patch with fine mesh netting, to keep blackbirds and allium leaf miners at bay.

Garlic thrives on soils rich in potash and organic matter. If you have wood ash (it must not contain coal dust) work this into the ground before planting. Once the plants are in growth next spring, feed with either homemade comfrey feed or top-dress with wool compost. Both are rich in potash and more sustainable than the traditional fertiliser.

If you don’t have space to plant in the ground, garlic is fine in a pot. Not the prettiest, but it will thrive in good, peat-free compost. Aim for four cloves in a 30x30cm pot and keep well watered from mid-spring onwards.

Contributor

Alys Fowler

The GuardianTramp

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