Last year I planted garlic for the first time. I ordered the Autumn Planting Garlic from Thompson & Morgan in late Autumn of 2007, only to realise that I had missed that years send out and I had in fact placed a very early order for Autumn 2008 – duh! So I ordered Garlic Lover Selection from the The Garlic Farm and planted them out in mid winter, Jan 2008 I think. By late June they were ready and we have been eating them since, I realised that by planting my own I will never have to buy garlic again which is great.
So, last Autumn my garlic pack came from T & M and included 1 bulb each of:
Albigensian Wight – Softneck
Early Purple Wight – Hardneck
Iberian Wight – Softneck
Lautrec Wight – Hardneck
Purple Moldovan Wight – Hardneck
Wight Cristo – Softneck
Elephant Garlic – 5 cloves
Garlic comes in 2 kinds, Hardnecked and Softnecked. The Hardneck varieties only keep for about 4 months, the Softneck much longer – we are still eating last years Solent Wight which was my favourite. You get Autumn and Spring planting varieties (some can be planted at both) but the general rule is that garlic needs a period of frost to make sure you get a number of small cloves and not one giant one.
Last Autumn I planted up one of my raised beds (which will have Brassicas once the garlic is out), in rows 30cm apart with 15cm between cloves. The individual cloves were planted without any tips showing and with about 3 cm of soil above (deeper if you live in a cold area). It took me a while as the weather wasn’t great so I had to run outside when the kids were occupied and quickly push a row of cloves in, it took me a number of weeks to get the whole lot planted which is reflected in their growth. I only separated the bulbs into individual cloves as I planted them and binned any that looked damaged. I had too many for just the raised beds and couldn’t throw any healthy ones away, even the small ones (bigger cloves = bigger garlic bulbs) so I also planted up my apple crates and potato bags and finally, the last few went into the flower borders dotted amongst the flowers (for containers plant 4 cloves to a 6″ pot, 6 to a 8′ and 8 to a 10″ pot).
Once the leaves start to yellow and die back and about 10% have drooped over (in May-June from an Autumn planting), you can dig out a clove or two and see if they are ready. They should have tight outer skin around fully separated cloves, if so I dig them up and lay them out in the greenhouse to dry for about 2 – 3 weeks then bring them indoors to dry some more out of direct sunlight. Once fully dry (outer leaves dry and if cut at the neck it should be fully dry so as to form a tight barrier to protect the cloves but don’t let the leaves get brittle – how many times can I use ‘dry’ in one sentence!) I plait the Softneck and tie the Hardneck in bunches, store out of direct light in an airy spot and enjoy eating lovely fresh garlic.
As you can see above, my garlic bed is not quite ready (the leaves are not really turning yellow yet) but I am rather impatient and have a gutter of pea shoots to get in so I dug up one row of Albigensian Wight today, they are about 6cm in diameter so a decent size but I will try and resist digging up the rest for a few more weeks.