Growing Garlic is really easy and makes a rewarding crop for little effort. Once harvested, Garlic will keep for months in suitable conditions so you can enjoy home grown garlic all the year round. Garlic can be planted in either Autumn or Spring, if your planting area is on the heavy and wet side it is best to leave planting until the spring. When growing garlic it is best to buy certified bulbs purchased on line or at the garden centre, not from saved bulbs. This ensures the plants start disease free and you can select, and plant, bulbs of a good size. Garlic is sold as suitable for autumn or spring planting. Garlic is one of the easiest veg to grow, as are onions and shallots, and suitable for growing in containers.
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Autumn planted Garlic
Garlic planted in the autumn has the benefit of a some months of cold weather which is said to help bulb formation and the ultimate flavour. November or December is the best time to plant Autumn Garlic. If your plot is reasonably well drained and not too cold or exposed, you can plant outside. Garlic should be planted to a depth so that the tip of the bulb is about 2.5 cms (1")below the soil surface. This is in contrast with onions, which are planted so that the tip is just poking out a little above ground level. Soil preparation is easy, good soil, with added organic matter and not compacted but it need not be finely raked as you would prepare for carrots or salad crops. When planting garlic, take the whole garlic and break it open as you would to select a bulb to cook with; separate out each individual bulb and plant each bulb flat end down and pointy tip upright the same as it was within the garlic bulb. Some growers recommend separating out the bulb first and leaving for 24 hours before planting out.
If you plot has wet soil or is very cold and exposed, you can start Autumn garlic under glass. Plant into pots or modules as above and overwinter under glass. The garlic can then be planted out into the veg plot in March, spacing plants about 10 cms (4-5") apart. Little attention is needed to garlic throughout the growing season other than to water if there is a prolonged dry spell. One point to note if overwintering Garlic in the greenhouse plant it into individual pots. I have made the mistake of planting lots of cloves into one large pot. It can be very difficult to extract the garlic in the spring for planting out as the roots merge and hard to separate; this problem is avoided if you plant into individual pots.
Spring Planted Garlic
If your soil or conditions are not suitable for Autumn planting just as good a crop comes from spring planting, and I often plant both. Plant the garlic bulbs in rows about 10 cms apart. Within a matter of week/two depending on the weather, the shoots will start appearing. As with everything grown in the veg plot you will encourage larger bulbs by incorporating organic matter into the soil before you plant, and feed along with the rest of the plot once planted.
Garlic is suitable to grow in containers. The golden rule with all container grown veg is that the planting environment needs more attention as it will be prone to drying out and extra feeding. Unless fed and watered well, garlic grown in containers may produce smaller bulbs, but if you are short of space garlic is suitable to be grown in containers. Check out which other vegetables are suitable for growing in containers
When is Garlic ready to Harvest
Harvest Garlic late in the summer to give it a long growing season. Softneck garlic will collapse when it is ready to harvest, which means the stem will lie prostrate onto the soil. With hardneck garlic, which produces flowering spikes, the outer foliage will turn brown when it is ready to harvest.
Like onions, Garlic is ready to harvest when the top growth turns brown and papery. Garlic, once lifted must be thoroughly dried somewhere warm and dry before storing, which is really important. If the bulbs are not completely dry, there is a risk the dampness will rot the bulbs and others stored around it. Like onions, garlic should be harvested on a dry day and left on the warm soil to dry, but given our summers, the traditional ways can be difficult to accommodate. Alternatives are, if you have a greenhouse, dry upside down on the slats, (see image left) or place in netting in a shed, or lie on newspaper on a sunny window sill or conservatory. When the garlic has throughly dried knock off any remaining soil and store somewhere cool and light, again in a conservatory, garage or porch. The dried top growth is easily platted to hang somewhere coolish. Although Garlic plaits look nice in the kitchen, it's not the ideal storage place, (being too warm and humid) it's best to just bring in a few bulbs at a time and store the rest of the garlic elsewhere in the cool.