Growing garlic couldn’t be easier
As we enter the cough and cold season, many of us turn to natural remedies for cures. Garlic is one such, used for centuries for medicinal purposes for its antibacterial properties. During both World Wars, it was used to treat wounds and prevent gangrene and was also known as ‘Russian penicillin’, due to the country’s reliance on it as a natural cure-all.
And, of course, it is now a staple in our kitchens, adding that familiar pungent scent and flavour to our favourite dishes.
I can’t imagine many Italian dishes without lashings of garlic in the sauces; or my personal favourite: cloves roasting with other root vegetables as part of a hearty seasonal winter dinner.
If you want to grow garlic, plant it between October and early-April. Autumnal planted garlic will generally produce bigger cloves and a better crop. Get it in the ground now for next year’s harvesting — bulbs planted in spring will give you a later harvest.
You can buy bulbs online, or from garden centres, that will be disease-free and suitable for our climate — supermarket ones are best for cooking, but not for cultivation.
Pick an open, sunny site, where bulbs can ripen. Ideally, the soil should be free-draining, as bulbs can rot in very wet soil.
If your soil is too waterlogged in winter, you can start them off in pots for transplanting in spring.
On the other hand, in dry soil, make sure that the bulbs don’t suffer from a lack of water. Don’t plant in freshly manured soil, as this can also cause rotting, but do add some general fertiliser before planting.
Break the garlic bulb open and plant individual cloves 10cm apart from each other. Cloves should be planted just beneath the soil, with pointy end sticking upwards. Plant the biggest cloves in order to get the biggest bulbs.
As with most other bulbs, there’s very little maintenance after this — keep the area weedfree and water only in periods of drought during the growing season in late spring.
They’re ready to harvest in June to August, when you observe their foliage turning yellow and drooping.
Pick a dry day, dig up carefully, remove all soil from around the bulbs and let them dry out in the sun.
Leave the stalks on to plait the garlic — this will help to ensure that it stays healthy and fresh while drying. Alternatively, you can dry it out in a net bag.
But keep in mind that the bulbs should be treated gently; bulbs that are damaged won’t keep well. A cool, dry shed, or garage, is the best place for storage.
Garlic is a good companion plant for some of your other vegetables, as it contains sulphur, which is a natural fungicide. So, you might plant a row of garlic next to your potatoes and cabbages, but not beside peas and beans, as it’s thought to slow their growth.
Its pungent smell can also deter aphids and other flies, which makes it a good friend to roses and other susceptible plants.
You can make a homemade fungicide and aphid repellent by blending garlic cloves in a mixer with some water and adding a few drops of liquid detergent, which helps the mixture stick to leaves.
Garlic is generally a pretty easy crop to cultivate — its natural compounds protect it well. It may sometimes fall foul to garlic rust, or onion rot, in which case you should discard infected bulbs and choose a different site for your next crop.
It can easily be grown in pots and containers, too, but only outdoors, so it’s perfect for foodies, who may only have a courtyard, or balcony, on which to garden.
You will need a soil depth of about 15cm to allow for good root growth and a good-quality compost with added fertiliser.
And keep watering, as in pots the bulbs will have no access to ground water.
VEGGIE STAPLE: now’s the time for planting garlic cloves in the garden and (right), a bulb after being harvested