Growing Garlic, Wild Garlic, and Elephant Garlic
Home grown garlic is one of life’s joys. The best garlic is planted in autumn. So, if you’re thinking of growing your own garlic, don’t delay, this is the time to plant it!
Garlic Growing Conditions
Over the years I’ve grown a lot of garlic. The best garlic I’ve grown was planted in a free draining, sandy soil, in early autumn. Garlic flourishes in a bright and sunny position. Crops also succeed when planted in light or partial shade.
Cold winter temperatures encourage growing garlic cloves to divide and form multiple cloves as they grow, rather than remaining as a single bulb, which sometimes happens – these are known as rounds. It’s important to plant your garlic cloves now, so that your garlic plants can get a head start, before the cold winter weather arrives.
Best Soils for Garlic Growing
Sandy or silty soil is ideal for garlic growing. If your soil is heavier or your ground becomes rather soggy over the winter months, a raised bed could quite literally transform your autumn and winter gardening, enabling you to grow some great garlic!
Hardneck Garlic Varieties
There are two garlic types, hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) and softneck garlic (Allium sativum). Hardneck garlic plants literally have a hard stem coming up from the bulb – these garlics tend to have a more intense flavour. One of the best things about growing hardneck types is that these garlics readily produce flowers, giving you a bonus harvest, before the bulbs are ready. Known as rocamboles or scapes, garlic flower buds and flowering stems have a lovely garlicky flavour; they’re a true delicacy, a real summer treat. I enjoy garlic flower buds and stems just as much as the garlic bulbs themselves – they’re a wonderful addition to stir fries and risottos.
Softneck Garlic Varieties
If you prefer a milder tasting garlic, you’ll enjoy softneck garlic. The softneck garlics, with their malleable stems, are easier to plait. It’s worth taking the trouble to plait softneck garlics, as these are the longest keeping garlics; some store for as long as a year.
Buying Garlic Cloves to Grow in your Garden or Allotment
If you’re inspired to grow your own garlic, UK grown, virus free bulbs are available from nurseries, garden centres, and online, including many varieties that have been developed by The Garlic Farm, over on the Isle of Wight. Many countries have contributed to developing garlic strains: French, Spanish, Italian, Czech, and many other garlic varieties are available. You’ll find a choice from mellow, sweet, or hotter, spicier, more intensely flavoured garlics.
Great Tasting and Top Performing Garlic Varieties
‘Solent Wight’ is a softneck garlic that’s well suited to growing in our UK climate. These cloves have a lovely flavour and they keep for ages, too. One year, I mislaid a couple of bulbs after harvesting; they were still in excellent condition when I found them over a year later!
‘Carcassonne’ garlic may have been brought to France by pilgrims travelling from the East, on their pilgrimage to Spain. This is a resilient form of hardneck garlic that thrives in the UK; the pink cloves have a fabulous flavour.
’Red Duke’ is another hardneck garlic that’s a great choice for UK gardeners. This garlic is from the Czech Republic, although it may have originally come from Asia. ‘Red Duke’ produces mauve coloured cloves that have a hot and intense flavour.
Separate the cloves and plant them at least 15cm (6inches) apart, with the pointed end of the garlic facing skywards, around 2.5cm (1 inch) below the soil.
After planting, mulch the area with a layer of home-made compost or a good quality peat-free compost, like Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost. A mulch will provide your plants with extra nutrients and help to suppress weeds. Take care when hoeing around garlic, as it’s easy to damage garlic’s shallow network of roots, with your hoe.
Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) is not strictly a garlic, it’s more closely related to leeks. However, the plants grow in a very garlic like manner, forming giant bulbs, made of huge cloves. I enjoy elephant garlic’s mild flavour and the tasty flowering stems and flower buds that these plants produce. Elephant garlic cloves can be planted this month, too.
Growing Wild Garlic
Garlic won’t flourish in deeply shaded areas; unless you’re growing wild garlic, (Allium ursinum) which can seemingly grow anywhere!
Allium ursinum leaves have a delicious, intense garlic flavour. This Allium can grow as a permanent, productive crop; its flowers are adored by bees. It sounds wonderful, but this glory comes with a price, Allium ursinum can quickly become invasive. If you’re not careful, Allium ursinum will escape and take over your ground. Before you know it, wild garlic will be jostling cheek by jowl with any neighbouring plants. Wild garlic isn’t fussy, it thrives in gravelled areas, as well as in your beds and borders. If you want to grow Allium ursinum, plant just a couple of bulbs, or sow a few seeds, in a planter, or a contained area.
Growing Garlic in Containers
Garlic and wild garlic can be grown successfully in containers. Choose a large, deep planter, with holes in the bottom, for drainage. Place a piece of broken pottery over each drainage hole. Select a good quality peat free compost, Dalefoot Composts Wool Compost for Vegetable & Salads works well when mixed 40:60 with loam, for improved drainage.
For more gardening advice for October, please click here.
For gardening advice for November, please click here.
A shortened version of this article was first published in the October 2019 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
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For other ideas of lovely things to do in your garden, or at your allotment, from mid October to mid November, please click here.