Gareth Austin - Growing garlic, it couldn’t be easier!
This past week we’ve been buy planting our garlic bulbs in Ballyholey Farm, our target this year is 3000 bulbs for planting, but I also grow around 70 in the back garden for our use as a family, and recently I was up helping a family in Sligo design and start planting out garlic in their new family vegetable garden.
For years now I’ve been self-sufficient in garlic, growing as much that our family can eat in a year – and having enough to use as seed for the following year. But commonly when I mention about growing your own garlic I’m met with a puzzled look, almost astonishment from people that you can actually grow garlic here. Many folks think of garlic as growing in sunny Italy or like the majority of supermarket bought garlic – grown in China.
Garlic is a member of the onion family, and is ideal for growing in our part of the world, why? – because it needs a cold weather snap to get it to grow properly, this is why it needs to be planted in the Autumn.
But don’t get the garlic bulb grabbed from beside the cooker yet, there is a wee bit of planning first. First and foremost you need to get varieties of garlic which are suited to our climate, for years I’ve grown the variety Messidor – a good sized garlic bulb which dries quickly in the Autumn and stores well in my hammock in the shed for many, many months.
Suitable varieties for planting will be available now at your local garden centre, you may come across other varieties such as Valleledo, Morado and the likes. I’ve had success with over the years with these softneck varieties.
For planting you’ll need some well-worked soil, rich in compost and fertility and soil which doesn’t waterlog, so create ridges, or raised beds, and plant your garlic raised above any wet soil. It’s a myth that Garlic are low nutrient crops, to get good sized bulbs you will need lots of fertility for the many fibrous roots to gather. So a good handful of chicken manure pellets per m2 is ideal, and then a few waters with liquid comfrey in the late spring.
Take your bulb, split it into cloves – you should get 8-10 cloves per bulb, and plant these cloves into your conditioned soil 6-12” apart (the further you plant the bigger the bulbs will get), you only push the clove gently into the soil until its at most 1” below the soil level. Then sit on your hands and let them grow.
Over the winter the shoots will appear and this will continue until early next summer, then these stems will start to turn yellow and fold over- Voila! Your garlic is ready to be lifted and either dried for storage or washed, chopped and used right away as desirable wet garlic.
Even if you have no vegetable garden, get some garlic bulbs from your garden centre and plant these through shrub beds, between roses – wherever you have some space and you’ll reap an immensely flavourful harvest!
When I mentioned before about saving seed, when you’re using your bulbs next year just pick out the odd big clove and keep this aside for re-planting next autumn. So you’ll only have to buy your stock bulbs once and the rest of the time you can be replanting from harvested stock!
So, what are you waiting for???
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Gareth Austin is a broadcaster and lecturer in Horticulture. Join Gareth on Twitter @GardenerGareth or connect via Facebook to enjoy his regular adventures in the world of Horticulture. www.garethaustin.com