Imagine not having to go to a shop to buy garlic – another way to cut down your carbon footprint and have the satisfaction of growing your own produce.
Garlic needs a long growing season to do well, so planting now will ensure it is ready to harvest next summer. October to December is the best time to get planting garlic, as the cloves need a period of cold, generally preferring at least a month at 0–10°C (32–50°F) for good bulb development. There are some varieties which can be planted in spring but why wait to get garlic in the ground?
Garlic is simple to grow from cloves, rather than seed, and can even be grown in pots. If you only have a balcony space or a backdoor pot, this crop does not take up much space.
A member of the onion family, garlic loves a warm sunny site with well-drained soil so here’s what you need to know:
- Buy garlic bulbs from a garden centre or mail order supplier – do not be tempted to use bulbs from the supermarket.
- Carefully split the bulb into individual cloves.
- Plant each clove just below the soil surface (about 2.5cm deep) with the flat basal plate facing downwards and the pointed end upwards. They should be spaced 10-15cm apart with rows around 30cm apart.
- To prevent birds from pulling up the cloves, cover the rows with horticultural fleece.
- Water if necessary during prolonged periods of dry weather in spring and early summer to improve bulb size, but ease off watering at the end of June to allow the bulbs to ripen and cure during the final month.
- Towards the end of July, when the leaves are beginning to turn yellow, carefully lift the bulbs with a fork or hand fork, letting them dry on the ground for a couple of weeks if the weather is dry or hang them up in the garden shed, greenhouse, or conservatory. When the leaves make a rustling sound, you can store them in a well-ventilated container until you are ready to use them.
Garlic needs a cold period to grow successfully but if your garden suffers from wet soil conditions in winter, or is heavy clay, start individual cloves off deep in 5cm (2in) pots in multi-purpose compost. The trays should be kept in a sheltered position outdoors ready to be planted out in spring.
Garlic will grow quite happily in containers on a patio or balcony following the same general advice of planting at a depth of 2.5cm and spaced apart at 10-15cm to allow for the bulbs to swell. Use a container with at least 20cm of depth and do not plant the cloves too close to the edge. Add a specialist onion fertiliser when planting and keep the compost moist, especially during dry spells.
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck varieties.
Hardneck varieties have fewer cloves per bulb – usually 10 or less. They are generally hardier than softneck types. They produce an edible flower stem (often called a ‘scape’), which can be used in salads and stir fries. These are a great choice if you want to harvest both scapes and bulbs.
Softneck varieties are the most common type found in supermarkets. They produce up to 18 gloves per bulb and can be stored for longer than their hardneck ones. Softneck garlic is less tolerant of prolonged cold temperatures so it may need protection over winter.