Spalding Guardian Gardening 6 October 2011
The only vegetable crop in my raised beds that came through last winterís exceptionally low temperatures was, somewhat surprisingly, garlic. In fact, this year Iíve had the best crop Iíve ever managed to raise and we will be hopefully without ghosts and vampires for many months to come, possibly because no self-respecting ghoul would be able to stand our breath.
My brother-in-law and I have a certain friendly rivalry when it comes to growing edible plants. Until this year, his garlic has always surpassed mine in terms of size and flavour; this year, however, it has been entirely the other way round, and it will give me great pleasure to offer him a few of my superior bulbs when I next see him.
Garlic is still often considered to be a vegetable best bought from a supermarket rather than raised at home. This is possibly because itís easy to get an excess, bearing in mind that most pre-packed bulbs for planting at this time of year contain at least a dozen individual cloves, the packs themselves generally containing three bulbs, so you can easily end up with around forty bulbs if all the cloves grow, which they generally do if given the right growing conditions. However, they can be offered to friends and neighbours, and will generally be much appreciated.
It is sometimes suggested that there is no need to buy garlic bulbs specially produced for cropping, and that you can get just as good results from those bought from the greengrocer. Admittedly, you can be successful, but a lot depends on the commercial variety youíve bought and where it was grown; often garlic produced abroad will not appreciate conditions in the average veg patch in the UK, especially in colder and wetter areas. If you are going to devote time and space to growing it at home, you might as well do the job properly and plant a named variety, such as ĎCristoí, an easy, strong flavoured variety.
Garlic prefers a good, well-drained position; I find if you are growing it in raised beds and containers it will do better in soil-based compost rather than a general purpose, soilless one. The individual cloves need to be planted about 2.5cm deep and 10cm apart and although they will produce reasonable bulbs if spring planted, they do appreciate the extra growing time of being planted in the autumn, now being an ideal time.
Youíll find the bulbs at most garden centres at the moment and if you have a suitable spot, either in the vegetable garden or a raised bed on the patio, why not have a go if you havenít grown garlic before. I planted mine earlier this week and the soil/compost mix in the raised bed I have allocated to them this autumn was dust-dry, so I watered thoroughly before and after planting, something I canít ever remember having needed to do in previous years, but then, this yearís weather has been unique right from the beginning.
Donít forget, garlic isnít just a useful flavouring Ė there are all sorts of recipes that use it as a major ingredient, so thereís no need to worry about producing a glut. Mind you, you might find your circle of friends starting to get smaller, but garlic is good for you, so what the heck!
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian