Garlic is the first vegetable I planted, on my half plot 178A, when I became an allotment holder back in August 2011. The thought of what to grow wasn’t even close on my mind at that time, since I had missed the best part of the summer growing season for the year. Not put off by this, just concentrated on clearing the plot of weeds and grass, all the time insisting on hand digging only, removing every bit of bind weed root, my eyes lay on.
2 months of back aches and blisters later, having completed the clear up, ordered my 2 varieties of Garlic from Garlic Farm . Carefully planted out the hardneck cloves on the allotment, in October 2011, (with Softneck variety later the following Spring). I still remember fondly, just this process gave me such a wonderful achievement feeling, that when it came to harvesting my own organic Garlic in July 2012, you could say, this was one of my proudest gardening moment!
Which Variety of Garlic to grow?
I am asked this question a lot. Although I still buy in some specialist seed, I try and grow from my own saved seed too. The bought in garlic is merely a back up, in case my own saved seed fails to germinate or produce a harvest. My advice is to grow a couple of different varieties each year, until you find ones that grow well in your soil and gives you the best culinary flavour. Remember what grows well for me on my plot may not grow well for you and vice versa. So with a little trial and error you will get to the varieties that suit your garden and kitchen.
Where the garden or allotment is situated, geographically, plays a huge part part on successful growth and harvest too. A rich loam soil structure is key for all Garlic varieties, and above all, the soil has to be free draining. Garlic does not grow well when its roots or bulbs are in waterlogged soil.
This last point is my very own challenge on my plot. Although I only moved from my half plot to a full plot, which is just 3 plots away, the soil structure is so different, and plot is always prone to water logging in the winter months. Because of this, have had disastrous garlic harvests, due to the seedlings growing overwinter in wet soil conditions. I was not planning on having another disappointing harvest, therefore trialled a new way to start the seed, in 9cm pots (Oct 2016) and later in Spring of 2017, transplanted them out. Although this method is not sustainable on a large scale, but perfect for small scale gardener like myself.
Even though the cloves are carefully split and planted out in individual pots; drainage is key. It has become somewhat of a habit, to add a few scoopful of horti grit to the compost, for extra drainage. To my compost grit mix, organic Seaweed is also added, prior to planting. I am convinced, this Seaweed has played a crucial part in my successful harvests of 2017, from my Greenhouse and outdoors crops. It is a natural, organic and slowly releases its nutrients .
What is Hardneck and Softneck Garlic
Hardneck and Softneck is simply the description of the Garlic stalk, when dried. Also Hardneck varieties of garlic are sown in previous Autumn and grown overwinter, harvest can be as early as June, whereas, Softneck Garlic is predominantly Spring sown, with harvest season starting Late July into August.
Hardneck varieties of Garlic are best grown overwinter, and usually each bulb produces fewer but larger cloves in every bulb. Once harvested and dried out, the stalks stay hard and are unable to be twisted into plaits. Hardneck Garlic varieties do not store well, but have some of the best strong flavoured Garlic, I have ever used. 2 of my favourites are Heritage Red Duke and Lautec Wight .
Softneck Garlic, on the other hand, are a slightly smaller bulb in size, but with many cloves clustered together. Garlic in this variety store very well overwinter. With the varieties I have grown, the stalks have not been as ‘thick’ as the hardneck variety, therefore making the drying out time shorter and once dried the stalks become soft making it possible to stores this Garlic in plaits. Two of my favourite softneck varieties are Solent Wight and Early Purple Wight.
In October 2017, as an experiment I decided to sow both the hardneck and softneck varieties all at the same time (in pots), disregarding the fact that Softneck are best sown around February or March. To my surprise, the softneck variety Early Purple Wight germinated within weeks; whereas all the Hardneck varieties, only showed any life in the pots, in early December. I just hope I haven’t made a huge mistake by sowing softneck variety too soon. Only time will tell, and I will share my findings, regards this matter later in the year.
Planting on an Organic Plot
In the Spring months, all hardneck and softneck varieties will be planted out. On the allotment. In the crop rotation, where these garlic seedlings are to planted; green manure, Phacelia was sown. On the seed packet, the Company warns that, in some areas this particular Green manure will not overwinter well, but I was very surprised to find not only did it survived the drops in temperature but also the snow and icy conditions after the snow. In Spring 2018 this green manure will be dug in 2 or 3 weeks prior to planting out. A 2 week time frame allows the green manure to break down prior to planting out the Garlic seedlings. Please note: Using green manure is not the fastest way to add body and nutrients to the soil, but rather a natural organic process, all the time working with nature.
Animal manure, can be added, and in my opinion, do not considered it ‘totally organic‘. Unless 1. the animals are raised totally free range. 2. that all of the animals feed is free of insecticides and pesticides and 3. that the animals are free of medicines. Don’t get me wrong, I have used animal manure. When I got my full plot and I first had to deal with the water logging, and needed to raise the soil. After which, I read the ethos of Organic gardening and decided not to use animal manure and go green, using only homemade compost and growing green manure.
Garlic growing tips:
- If growing direct onto the plot, dig and prep the soil adding good quality compost (or dig in green manure) at least 2 weeks prior to planting the Garlic cloves out.
- Sow individual cloves the same ‘depth’ as to the ‘size’ of the cloves. eg If cloves are 3 or 4cm in size, sow the cloves 3 to 4cm in depth.
- Spacing between cloves or seedlings to: 12 to 15cm with rows at least 20cm apart. (these wide distances aides in better air circulation around the plants and ease when weeding)
- Remember to give regular feeds during growing months (eg organic Seaweed).
- Garlic rust; wet and warm conditions during late spring early Summer can bring an onset of this airborne fungal disease that can take hold of not just Garlic but other allium crop eg Onion and Leeks. I haven’t found an organic spray to prevent the spread. Therefore removing the affected leaves helps slow down the spread of the infection. Note: do not add these leaves to the Compost heap.
Following the above steps, I cannot wait to see the results of all the Garlic harvest later in the year and will be comparing with last year’s harvest results. All in all, I do hope we all have a good growing season.