As some may know the Candide team has been at various shows over the summer, and while I've been having a whale of a time chatting away weekends meeting all you lovely folk, my beloved has been holding the fort at home watering our babies (human, canine & plant) without getting to a single show of his own. So with a gentle push, I sent him to Malvern Autumn show to enjoy a day emerged in all things floral. He came home bearing gifts!
Bulbs, bulbs and more bulbs. And now's the perfect time to get Autumn garlic into the ground.
Choosing the right type
You might have heard the terms Hard-neck and Soft-neck being used to describe garlic, this basically refers to its storage ability. Soft-neck varieties store for longer (are easier to plait) and typically produce more cloves per head (bulb). While Hard-neck varieties will develop a flowering spike called a scape.
These are lovely, break them off and add them into salads or munch them where you are, but maybe not if you've got the dentist next!
Once you've decided how quickly you're likely to eat them, then it's off to the suppliers. I don't recommend using supermarket bulbs as they could possibly have been treated with a sprouting inhibitor and are more likely to carry viruses. There are lot's of superb stockists and thankfully my favourite goes to most shows saving me the journey to the Isle of Wight.
Some of the varieties that can be planted now (Oct./Nov.) are
- Softneck: Tuscany, Iberian, Picardy, Provence, Solent, Avignon & Albigensian Wights.
- Hardneck: Spanish Rocambole, Lautrec, Carcassonne, Chesnok, Bella Italiano Wights & Eschalote Grise.
Garlic likes free draining but nutrient rich soils in full sun. It's always worth incorporating compost into any soil you plan to plant into and if your soil is heavy or you know it gets wet over winter, try creating a ridge to plant the cloves into. Do this several weeks before you plan to plant. Alternatively, garlic will happily grow in containers, provided there's plenty of drainage holes at the base.
Break up the head's gently trying to keep as much of the paper outer layer as possible, as this helps to protect the cloves from the damp.
Once you've separated out the cloves, binning any soft ones and diverting the smallest to the kitchen, plant the biggest ones approximately 4cm deep (1.5" for those of us old enough to still use imperial) with the pointed end reaching for the stars (breaks out a quick 'Steps' routine) and 15cm (6") apart.
If you've chosen Elephant garlic the distance apart needs to be 30cm (12"). If the soil is loose enough you can just push the bulbs to the right depth but to prevent damage, dig a small hole place the cloves & back fill. If birds start pulling the cloves back up, replant & cover with a fine mesh.
Although a low maintenance plant, you will need to water the garlic during dry periods throughout the growing season. Only stop watering during the last few weeks. Weed carefully trying not to disturb the plants or inadvertently slice the growing tip off with the hoe. Around February apply sulphate of potash to your garlic, this gives it all the nutrients it needs to grow.
Rust is the most common problem you're likely to experience and although it doesn't effect the bulb it does stop any further growth resulting in a small crop. If you know it's prevalent in your area trying growing in containers under cover (greenhouse or poly tunnels).
With luck, your bumper crop of garlic will be ready to harvest in June/July next year. Keep an eye on the leaves, when approximately a 3rd of them have turned yellow it's time to lift. Try not to rush in & pull by hand as you can break the necks. Using a garden fork, lift the soil and slowly shake the bulb free.
Don't clean at this point, find a covered place you can hang the plants out of direct sunlight to allow them to cure for a few weeks. Then it should be possible to gently brush the dirt away and bring in to be stored at room temperature in a dry, dark place that has ample air circulation.
I'm planting 5 types this year, 3 of which (Elephant, Early Purple, Extra Early) could have been in the ground last month but ever the optimist, I'll plant them this weekend & keep my fingers crossed.