Growing garlic is something that every gardener or cook can do. After all, all you need to do is to plant garlic cloves in the ground and wait. Growing healthy garlic bulbs takes a bit more care, but that is the basic method.
Sourcing Garlic Cloves
There are many different varieties of garlic and it is worth experimenting with some of them. Ask fellow gardeners for a bulb to start growing that variety; gardeners are always willing to pass on seeds and cuttings.
The varieties that are commonly available in grocery stores are those that farmers make the best profit from rather than those with the most taste.
Seed catalogues will have many different varieties of garlic bulbs available. Buy as small a quantity as you can because you can always keep a bulb or two at harvest time to plant next year’s crop.
You can just plant garlic cloves anywhere and they will grow, but if you want plump and healthy bulbs you do need to do rather more.
Garlic is part of the allium family, which includes leeks, chives and onions. You should not plant garlic where you have grown leeks or onions in the past two, preferably three years. All alliums are attacked by the same soil pests and growing them in the same bed allows the few pests from the previous crop to multiply and destroy your new crop.
Dig plenty of organic material into your soil. Garlic does not like changes in soil water content, and the humus you add helps to prevent the soil drying out. Ideally your soil will also be well drained because garlic does not grow well if the soil is too wet.
The ideal place to grow garlic in your vegetable garden is in a raised bed where you have added plenty of compost for several years. Raised beds are always well drained and never become boggy, no matter how much it rains.
Plant the fattest garlic cloves you can to get the biggest bulbs. Poke your finger into the soil and place one clove about two inches deep and the right way round (pointed end uppermost).
There are three garlic harvests in a year.
- In the spring you can pull any weedy looking shoots or cut off a few leaves to use like scallions in salads
- In early summer some varieties of garlic produce a stalk called a scape. This is a kind of flower stalk. Snap it off once it has made two loops to produce larger bulbs. The scapes can be steamed and served with butter like asparagus, or you can cut them into two inch lengths and cook as you would scallions
- In late summer the underground bulbs themselves can be carefully dug up and dried in a cool place. Handle them carefully because they are very easily bruised. Do not leave them in the sun to dry, but tie them in bundles and hang them in the shed or somewhere cool. This curing process takes two weeks. At the end of this time carefully clean up the bulbs and put them into long-term storage.