Beginners guide to growing garlic

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Everything you need to know about growing your own garlic, from germination, through to harvest. 

Growing garlic

a grower holds his garlic crop

Whatever size garden you have, garlic is one of the more rewarding crops you can grow. It’s reliable, causes little fuss, won’t take up much room (you can even grow them in containers). Sowing garlic is also one of the few pleasurable gardening jobs you can do as the year starts winding down for Christmas.

There are actually two times of the year you can plant garlic. Most varieties are suited to autumnal sowing around October and November, but there’s also a good selection available that need to be planted out in spring. Either way, the method for planting them is the same.

Garlic prefers a sunny position in well-drained soil, and it’s always worth digging in some good compost or fertilizer first. To plant, split the cloves from the bulb and pop each one in a hole with the pointier end facing upwards, and deep enough so it’s covered by soil. They’ll want a little bit of space to grow so make sure they’re roughly 15cm apart.

how to plant garlic

After a while your garlic shoots will start to emerge from the soil—if you notice birds taking interest then you should cover them with fleece or a small cage until they’re a little more established. You’ll also be wanting a cold snap over winter as it’s the frosty conditions that cause the bulb to split into cloves.

You can then leave them to get on with steadily growing until the new year when you’ll need to keep on top of weeding and make sure they’re well-watered during dry spells. An early spring burst of fertilizer can also be beneficial—we use dried "fish blood and bone", scattering it around the soil while being careful not to touch any foliage as this can cause it to scorch.

As the bulbs swell close to the size you would expect them, ease back on watering as this could cause them to rot. Another problem you might encounter is "garlic rust", where the leaves prematurely yellow and take on rusty spots. This is a fungal disease and there’s not a lot you can do about it. It won’t prevent you from getting a decent harvest from your garlic but it might inhibit the bulbs’ ability to swell to maximum girth.

 

Harvesting garlic

how to harvest garlic

Your garlic is ready to dig up when the leaves turn yellow. Don’t be tempted to try pulling them out with your hands—the roots are quite strong and the stalks will have weakened, so they may simply snap off. Carefully dig them up with a hand fork instead.

You then need to lay them out, or tie in bunches, and leave them to dry somewhere warm and well vented.

However, before those bulbous beauties are ready for digging there are a few bonus harvests you can dine upon. Try picking a few young leaves and chopping them for salads or soups. And you might also notice that in spring a long, twisty, firm and round stem shoots up from some varieties. This is known as a "scape" and will eventually be topped by a flower, but you should snip it off before blooming. They will not only divert the energy back into the bulb but are also a delicious treat—chop and add to stir fries or, even better, pickle them.

 

Three garlic varieties to try

Germidour

Autumn planting variety with purple-tinged bulbs that are consistently a decent size and have a good mild flavour.

Piccardy Wight

Spring planting garlic that is especially tolerant of Britain’s wet and miserable climate.

Elephant Garlic

Monster sized bulbs that make you look like a garlic-growing genius and are great for roasting.

 

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