Not just to ward off vampires!!!!
Loose garlic bulbs – 75p each, 3 for £2 (Vigour’ – softneck/‘Germidour’ – softneck).
Elephant garlic, Lautrec Wight (hardneck), Early Purple Wight (softneck), Carcassonne Wight (hardneck) also available in packs.
A delicious enhancement to many dishes, it’s easy to understand why garlic has been used in cooking throughout history. Not just a ‘taste-improver’, it’s also one of the earliest documented plants to be used for medicinal purposes and to maintain good health. Associated with strength and work capacity, garlic was consumed almost daily by ancient Egyptians and was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Athletes in the very first Olympic games took garlic before competing to enhance performance and it was found in Greek palaces and temples. As historical medical texts show, ancient cultures including Chinese, Japanese, Roman and Indian all agreed that garlic is GREAT – and it was given for a wide range of ailments including to improve respiration, aid digestion, to combat fatigue, insomnia, heart disease, arthritis and more! Interestingly, modern day science has now begun to come to the same conclusions…
To get the best crops of garlic (Allium sativum) it requires a site in full sun and well-drained soil. A period of cold weather is needed to develop good bulbs so plant autumn-early spring (depending on variety). Before planting, prepare the soil well by adding compost/organic matter. Store bulbs whole until you’re ready to plant then carefully break off the individual cloves and place them 3-4cm (1.5″) below the surface (pointed end up) and about 15cm (6″) apart with 30cm (12″) between rows. Keep the soil weed-free. Water during dry periods in the growing season but DO NOT WATER IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS BEFORE HARVESTING !
HARDNECK VARIETIES – are said to have the best flavour. They have larger cloves which are easier to open but generally do not store as long as softneck varieties (4-10 months, depending on variety and conditions). They produce a flowering stem (“scapes”) which should be cut off as soon as possible so that the plant can put all its energy into developing good-sized bulbs. Don’t throw the scapes away, they’re a delicacy – cook with them!
SOFTNECK VARIETIES – have softer stems and no flowering spikes. They generally have a milder flavour and smaller, more numerous cloves per bulb. They store well (6-12 months in ideal conditions) and as the ‘necks’ are soft they may be plaited (making a great gift for family or friends!) This is the type of garlic you are most likely to find in supermarkets. Plant September to March.
ELEPHANT GARLIC – (Allium ampeloprasum) Not strictly garlic but actually a member of the leek family. It grows like a large leek but has a mild garlic flavour. Keeps well. The cloves can be up to 5cm wide – and are great for roasting and baking. Likes full sun and moist soil. Plant cloves 12″ (30cm) apart. If planted during the winter rather than autumn, the shorter growing season is likely to provide one giant monobulb at harvest time. These are wonderful for cooking – alternatively you can leave them in the ground and they’ll grow into bulbs with large cloves the following season. Save some of the cloves to replant and in this way you can perpetuate them forever.
Harvesting and storing garlic
The bulbs are ready to harvest once the oldest leaves have turned yellow – generally in June/July. Carefully lift them with a fork, being careful not to damage the bulbs. Lay them out in an airy place for about two weeks. When completely dry the leaves will rustle. Cut off the dry leaves, remove any dirt from the bulbs and store until you’re ready to use them. Store in a cool, dry location, paper bags or nets work well. Softneck varieties may be plaited and hung until required.
Wild garlic (ramsons/wood garlic/bear’s garlic)
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is native to Britain and popular with foragers, this hardy, spreading perennial traditionally grows in damp woodland, hedgerows or riverbanks and has edible leaves and flowers. Leaves are best picked in spring when young and the flowers appear April-June. The leaves have a delicate and sweet garlic flavour – great for soups, stews, salads etc. Try making wild garlic pesto or other wild garlic recipes.
Garlic is a rich source of sulphur and its root secretions may act as a natural deterrent for various plant pests such as aphids and other predators – great to plant near roses etc. Avoid planting garlic near peas and beans as it may stunt their growth.