Flavoursome garlic is an essential ingredient in so many recipes. Easy to grow in the garden, it doesn’t take up too much space and it can be started off in the autumn or late winter in the ground or in pots.
FEED AND WATER
Best Buy garlic
What it looks like
Average bulb weight
This hardneck garlic has a reputation for overwintering well in the UK, so we weren’t surprised that it battled through the wet winter and hot spring to give us a number of well-shaped bulbs, all weighing around 53g each. The skin was smooth, while inside the bulbs were big, fat, purple cloves. Recommended by veg expert Colin Randall for its vigour and strong flavour, we found it tasted nutty with no sweetness when roasted.
What it looks like
Average bulb weight
Originating from the Czech Republic, the white bulbs of this hardneck variety were great quality, with a smooth, firm skin. Pink when the bulbs are first opened, the plump cloves are all a great size, cutting down on fiddly peeling. The variety is advertised as having an intense flavour, but when we roasted it we found the taste rather sweet and onion-like with no bitterness.
We selected 16 varieties of garlic, including new varieties, old favourites, and a mix of softneck and hardneck types. The researchers for planted all varieties at our trial site at Capel Manor in north London in autumn in a bed that had been fertilised with chicken manure pellets. We planted them with the tips of the cloves just showing above the soil.
In early July the following year, we harvested the bulbs and left them to dry in a greenhouse before weighing and assessing the crop. To taste each variety, we roasted them in separate containers with a little light olive oil.
Softneck varieties do not usually produce a flower shoot. They generally produce tighter bulbs, keep for longer and contain more cloves than hardneck types.
Hardneck varieties often produce a flower shoot, or ‘scape’, during early summer. The flower head is sterile and doesn’t produce seed. Cut these scapes off to help the bulbs well. When harvested, the bulbs are generally looser and the cloves are arranged around the woody remains of the stalk. Hardneck varieties are said to have a stronger flavour.
Elephant garlic, which we didn’t include in our trial, is not strictly a garlic but is more closely related to leeks. It produces huge bulbs, with a few, very large, mild-tasting cloves.
Choose a sunny site and fertilise the soil well before planting. Garlic can be planted throughout the winter from October to February, but it’s best to get it in the soil before it becomes frozen or sodden with rain. A period of cold is said to help it.
Break up the bulb into cloves and plant these about 2-3cm deep, with just the tips protruding from the surface of the soil. If you have problems with birds plucking the cloves out, plant them deeper and firm the soil around the cloves.
Plant cloves 15cm apart in rows that are 20cm apart so you can weed between the young plants easily.
Alternatively you can grow garlic in pots. These can be put in a cold greenhouse if you'd like to avoid rust disease.
Water the garlic during any dry spells, especially during spring when it’s in full growth. You can give plants a boost by scattering food, such as growmore, around them in spring.
Like onions, garlic don’t compete well with other plants, so weed regularly.
If the plants start to form flower stalks (scapes,) cut them off. They’re good to eat in stir-fries or salads.
Harvest in: June to July
Harvest the bulbs in June or July when the leaves turn yellow and start to fall over. The cloves should be fully formed and the skins papery.
Dry the garlic in a sunny spot or indoors and store as plaits or in bags in a cool, dark area.
If you’d like to harvest your garlic earlier, you’ll pick what is known as wet or green garlic. It has a single bulb and a milder flavour, and can be used in cooking much like a leek.
The most common problem with garlic is rust. This orange fungal disease inevitably develops on the leaves during May and June. If you wish to avoid rust, you can grow garlic in pots in a cold greenhouse.
The maggots of the onion fly bore into the bulb and stem of the garlic, causing it to stop growing and eventually die. Lift any affected plants and pop them in your green-waste bin to break the life cycle. Keeping the ground around the garlic cultivated will help thwart the maggot, which starts life in the soil and uses it to move between bulbs. There are no chemical treatments for onion fly.
White rot occurs where alliums of any type (leeks, onions, shallots, etc) have been grown over a succession of years. The infected bulbs show a white, dusty covering to begin with and then collapse into a white furry mould. There is no treatment available and the only option is to plant elsewhere, leaving the infected soil free of alliums(including ornamental varieties) for at least 15 years.