GARLIC (Allium sativum )
You either love or hate cloves of Garlic!! It has a very long history and apparently was even used as payment to the workers building the pyramids in Egypt. Thought to be originally from Central Asia, not Transylvania, it has health giving properties. Raw garlic apparently kills bacteria in the gut and boosts the immune system against Dracula!! Yes, it is a joke!! Cooked garlic can lower levels of blood Cholesterol and thin the blood. You should remember these effects if you are already taking medication for these ailments. The pungent odour of Garlic is caused by the sulphur compound, allicin, but this is not noticed after a long period of cooking. Garlic has flat, strap-like leaves, rather like leeks. There is not a problem if it flowers, as the flower spike grows in-between the cloves and thus does not affect the keeping quality of the cloves. However, it is best to cut off the flower bud to stop the plant wasting energy. You can use the flower bud in stir fries as flavouring.
Garlic is very hardy, even in Scotland. Indeed, it is now being farmed commercially near Nairn in the North of Scotland. Obviously, you will get better results if you plant a variety and a strain of garlic that are acclimatised to cold temperatures and cool growing conditions. On the farm they are growing “Porcelain” garlic, a hard-neck variety with large cloves and good keeping qualities. Note that they grow the cloves on the top of ridges, presumably to keep them dryer.
There are two types of Garlic available for growing. They are :-
Hard-neck Garlic (allium sativum ophioscorodon)
This is the best one for Amateur growing, as it has bigger cloves and fewer of them, and a stronger taste. It is also easier to peel the cloves for cooking. It is called a hard-neck garlic as the stem is hard and stiff like a pencil. It also carries a flower stalk or “scape” with a bud at the top, which can form “bulbils”. In addition, bulbils are sometimes formed some way up the stalk. However, for the biggest crop of garlic, it is best to take off the buds as soon as they appear, and use them as flavouring.
Hard-neck cultivars include Porcelain Garlic var. music(large size) and hardy in the North of the UK. Available from Really Garlicy Garlic. Lautrec (medium size).
Soft-neck Garlic (allium sativum sativum.)
This is the one that you are likely to find on sale in the Shops having been imported from France, Spain or China. It does not carry a flower stalk. The “soft neck” is in fact the dried flat leaves, and these are the ones used to form into “plaits”, though I do not think that it is worth the effort.
Soft-neck cultivars include “Iberian, Cristo, Early Purple”.
Because of the dangers of disease, you should only plant cloves that are certified virus and nematode free stock. In other words, do not plant any cloves from the supermarket as they may well be carrying diseases. While this may not affect their immediate eating quality, it could well contaminate your soil and prevent you growing your own garlic. Yes, I know that lots of you are doing this, but it is not worth the risk. You also have no idea of which variety they are, or if they are suitable for your climate. Check out the Garlic trial at the bottom of the page, to see the differences between varieties.
However, for planting, the whole head of the Garlic should be split up into the individual cloves. Only the biggest outer cloves should be planted out in October and November, with about 2.5 cm cover. There may be nothing visible above ground for a couple of months, but below ground the roots are busy growing. Garlic is absolutely hardy, even in Scotland, and no protection is required. As they prefer well drained ground, provide this by planting on top of low ridges of soil, if your soil is not already well drained. You can plant some varieties up to about January, but Autumn planting is the best for the North of the UK.
Fertiliser applications are required for the biggest bulbs. Apply a general fertiliser when planting and perhaps some potash in the Spring.
Watering the garlic in periods of drought. Yes, there is often a drought in the West of Scotland, during the late Spring. If this occurs and the ground has dried out, it is worth while to water the Garlic, to keep the growth going. Whatever you do, do not water after the Garlic has started to die down at the end of it’s growth cycle, or the roots may start to re-grow and the papery covering to the cloves and the bulb will start to break down and rot.
Deciding when to harvest the bulbs is always a tricky decision. It is most likely to be May or June in the South, and June, July or August in the North of the UK. If the weather has been wet for some time, the garlic tends to continue to grow, but if dry, you will suddenly see the garlic leaves start to die down and go yellow or brown. Lift one of the plants and check that the roots are dying back and the papery covering to the bulb is nice and dry. That is the time to lift any bulbs that look if they are ready and place them on wire racks in a well ventilated, covered location such as a cold frame to dry off for a month. The garlic bulbs do not ripen all at once, and you may have to check them over for harvesting several times.
Storage of the Garlic. Once your Garlic has been well dried off, remove most of the dried leaves and flowering stalk, hardneck only, and place in mesh bags or open trays. These should be placed in a cool, dry place, with low humidity. A back bedroom is ideal. A kitchen is likely to be too humid and could start the garlic into growth.
Pests and diseases. There are viruses and nematodes, and the best way to avoid them is to ensure that you only plant disease free stock. Crop rotation is also essential. If your ground has already been contaminated and your garlic has white rot, a white cotton-wool like fungus, at the base of the bulb, do not try and grow any alliums in that ground for several years. See here for description or white rot and possible treatment.
However, some people have found that in this situation they can sometimes grow Elephant Garlic with success, as it is more closely related to leeks.
Rust on Garlic is similar to rust on other alliums and is a fungal disease that tends to affect the plants towards the end of their growing season. There is no treatment but collect and burn the leaves to destroy the spores and do not grow alliums on the same ground for the next year or two.
Garlic trial 2010-2011.
During the last year, I carried out a trial of growing 11 different named varieties of garlic, readily available in the UK. This trial carried out in the West of Scotland, included a particularly harsh Winter, and was to test the suitability of the various varieties of garlic to withstand difficult cold and wet conditions. To my surprise, most of the varieties came through the very cold Winter well with the obvious exception of Sicilian Red. Some cloves then failed to cope well with the wet in the Spring. A summary of the results is given below:-
Variety of garlic. Hardiness. Size of head. Comments.
Porcelain (Music) (hardn) Very tough Large Probably the best for the North
Iberian (softneck) Tough Large From SW Spain.
Cristo (softneck) Tough Large Long keeper.
Early Purple (softneck) Tough Large From China. Use quickly.
Lautrec (hardneck) Tough Med Pink, from Lautrec, SW France.
Albigensian,(softneck) Tender Very Large From SW France. Known in the 13th century. Needs mild Winter to succeed in the North. Keeps longer than other soft necks.
Germidour (softneck) Tender Med From France, short keeper.
Messidrome (softneck) Tender Med From France.
Picardy(softneck) Tender Small Northern France.
Chesnok Red(hardneck) Tender Small Republic of Georgia
Sicilian Red (hardneck) Very Tender Very small Not worth growing in North.
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