Grow Your Own Garlic

Garlic expert Penny Woodward explains why it can be so tricky to grow

Recently I was chatting to a garlic grower who noted to me that garlic is fussy. I agree but would add that it is also idiosyncratic!

When you buy bulbs for replanting you expect the bulbs you grow to look exactly the same as the ones you planted, but that is not always the case. Hardneck purple garlics will never do well in warm sub-tropical regions, they need a good winter chill and long days, while some of the artichoke types that do well further north struggle in the cold.

If you try to grow them out of their normal habitat then you may end up with rounds (small bulbs that never differentiate into cloves) instead of proper bulbs with cloves. It's a waste of time to continue growing these types in the wrong area because they won’t adapt.

But if the garlic you have planted has been happily growing in sandy soils in a hot dry climate, and you plant it into heavier soils in a slightly cooler climate, then you may easily get small bulbs and cloves to start off with. But over a few years they will adapt (a bit like people really) and the bigger bulbs will come back.

Garlic is always a bit problematic in humid sub-tropical regions. But there are ways to make them work. All garlic struggles when the humidity gets too high and because these warmer areas are also shorter day length areas, you need to look for day length neutral cultivars. Ones like Southern Glen and Glen Large, and another that is usually called Italian Red or Pink. These three are interesting because although they are classed as softneck, they quite often form bulbils in a truncated flower stem.

The other group for these areas are the Creoles, a good example of this group is Rojo de Castro. Creoles have smaller bulbs but they have the lovely white skins and brightly coloured cloves, and great flavours. They’re also very long storing. Fortunately Creoles do well in cooler regions too. In warmer regions garlic needs to go into the fridge at about 10°C for 2-3 weeks before planting.

Harvest garlic when there are 4-6 green leaves left (the bases of these leaves form the skins around the bulbs) and when you can feel the cloves formed in the bulb (pull back the soil and check). After harvesting, in humid regions, remove the roots before drying (otherwise they wick the moisture from the air to the bulb and cause fungal problems). Hang bulbs in bunches in a dry, airy, shady position and leave for 4-6 weeks.

Penny is the author of Garlic, available now.


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