Grow­ing gar­lic couldn’t be eas­ier

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING - BY DIAR­MUID GAVIN

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

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