Garlic is one of the world’s most beloved flavours. Adding a powerful punch to any dish, cuisines around the globe prize this member of the lily (or alium) family, along with onion, shallot, leek and chives. While it originates in Central Asia and Iran, garlic is one of humanity’s most ancient cultivated plants, and more than 80% of the world’s current crops are grown in China.
While you could always buy garlic from the shop, growing your own is even more satisfying. Not only can you grow different cultivars and strains that pack even more of a bold flavour than what you can buy at the grocers. Growing garlic in your own garden is rewarding, economical and most of all – flavoursome.
In addition to adding flavour and umami to dishes, garlic can boast a long list of health benefits. These health benefits include:
Garlic is a popular crop because it doesn’t need much space, and it is relatively low maintenance. It does require a cold period in order to grow, and so that makes it ideal for a British garden. You can rest easy as it grows all winter long!
That said, birds and other garden pests do love pulling up and snacking on freshly planted garlic bulbs. As a result, many British gardeners find success when using a polytunnel to successfully grow bumper crops of garlic.
Garlic does not cast much shade, so weeds can easily overpower it. A polytunnel casts a shade, preventing weeds from multiplying and spoiling your crop.
Growing garlic is surprisingly simple, and even a novice gardener will find success with this tasty and useful crop. Garlic seedlings are referred to as sets. You can purchase garlic sets from garden centres and supermarkets, but gardeners tend to report better experiences with the sets from garden centres.
You might be tempted to plant a bulb of garlic that you purchased to eat. After all, they look a lot like a garlic set! Don’t fall prey to this temptation – commercially edible garlic is not optimised for garden growth. In addition, it can harbour fungal and bacterial diseases that can wreak havoc on your crops and on your soil in general.
Next you need to choose your preferred cultivar. There are two main types of garlic sets, called hardneck and softneck. One obvious difference between the two varietals is that they look quite different from one another. Hardnecks have a long, flowering stem (called a scape) that grows through the bulb’s centre. Softnecks tend to have a greater number of cloves, as they lack the hard stem in the centre. They generally produce around 8 to 20 cloves per bulb, with some bulbs yielding more than 30 cloves!
Garlic is usually ready for harvest at sometime between June and August. The exact time will depend on the weather conditions, as well as when you sowed it in your polytunnel. If you are not ready to pluck the bulbs out of the soil, you can harvest some of the leaves for salads and soups without disrupting the bulb.
Otherwise, leave the bulbs to grow until the exposed leaves are turning crinkled and yellow. You might be tempted to pull these from the ground with your hand, but you should use a fork or spade to lift them gently from the soil.
At this point, you should leave your garlic to dry on a wire shelf. This both preserves it and intensifies the flavour for cooking. Once the garlic has dried to the point that it is papery and rustles to the touch, you can then braid it for decorative storage or place it in a cool, dark place until use.
October/November (or February/March if soil is rich in clay particles)
Between June and August