Garlic is part of the onion family. Perhaps surprisingly for a vegetable associated so much with the Mediterranean lifestyle and cuisine, growing garlic is remarkably easy. In fact, garlic is hardier and more reliable to grow than onions.
After successful germination in early winter or spring, there is often very little left to do but hoe around the growing plants until harvest.
- From early October to late March
- Planting depth: clove tips pushed into soil, tips 2 cm below surface (3 cm for elephant garlic)
- Planting spacing: 20 cm between cloves, 30 cm between rows
- June – August
- Hang to dry, and store in a cool and dry place
The traditional saying is to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year for harvesting on the longest day. I have had success planting garlic in October at the same time as my onions for over wintering. Spring is the latest time recommended to plant garlic.
I have found that birds sometimes lift my freshly planted garlic bulbs out of the soil to investigate whether they are edible. I now cover my garlic bed with a net until the bulbs have sprouted. Birds seem to leave them alone once this has happened so the net can be removed.
During spring, garlic should be watered during dry weather. This will help the plants grow strong and tall.
Towards early summer, garlic is best grown hard. Apart from very hot weather, the flavour of garlic is improved with sun and dry soil. Having said this, I do occasionally water my garlic as my soil is particularly sandy and dry. Garlic can grow to over 50 centimetres high. It is easy to tell when garlic is ready for harvesting as the leaves turn yellow and fall over.
Garlic varieties can be considered to fall into one of three types:
- Hardneck varieties
These varieties produce a flower stem or ‘scape’ in late spring that can be picked and eaten, before the plant goes on to produce garlic bulbs. The bulbs tend to be large, but commonly do not store as well as soft necked varieties.
- Softneck varieties
Softneck garlic varieties typically produce smaller bulbs than hardneck varieties, and do not develop a scape. The big advantage of softneck varieties is their storage ability. If hung, dried and kept in cool (not cold) dry conditions they can store for many months.
- Elephant garlic
A garlic that is a member of the onion family but more closely related to a leak. From personal experience I can vouch that it is delicious baked in the oven, when it can be squeezed out from the skin and spread like butter.