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Freeze then bake for successful garlic

My first garlic bulb

No, they’re not cooking instructions – it’s how to grow a good garlic crop.

Both autumn and spring-planting varieties need a period of cold so that cloves develop – deny them this and you’ll get one clove.

Following the winter, they need to be in a sunny position so the cloves can bake – that means without competition from weeds, so make sure you hand weed – hoes may damage bulbs.

If you’re planting in autumn, get the cloves in from October-December. For spring-planting types, February-April is the usual recommended planting time.

Freshly-picked garlic ready to dry

For both, make sure the ground is not waterlogged or frozen. For every square metre, add 50g of general-purpose fertiliser.

Do not plant supermarket cloves

Plant individual cloves, keeping the papery husk on. Do not plant supermarket varieties – always buy bulbs from a mail-order seed company or nursery.

Ensure the soil is well-drained and plant cloves 10cm apart and 2.5-5cm deep, in rows 30cm apart, with the wide root side facing down.

Prevent birds from pulling up the cloves by covering the rows with horticultural fleece.

In the far north, mulch heavily with straw for overwintering, removing it in the spring – young shoots can’t survive in temps below -7°C.

Water every week during bulbing (mid-May and June).

potted-guide-logoPotted guide: spring garlic

  • PLANTING TIME: February-April.
  • HARVESTING TIME: mid-summer- early autumn.
  • PLANTING DISTANCE: 10-15cm (4-6 inches) apart, 2.5-5cm (1-2 inches) deep, 30cm (1 ft) between rows.
  • ASPECT AND SOIL: Full sun, well-drained, non-acid soil.
  • HARDINESS: Hardy.
  • RECOMMENDED VARIETIES: Lautrec Wight, Germidour, Purple Heritage Moldovan, Solent Wight, Wight Cristo, Tuscany Wight, Carcasonne Wight, Picardy Wight, Flavour, Cledor.

potted-guide-logoPotted guide: autumn garlic

  • PLANTING TIME: October-December.
  • HARVESTING TIME: early/mid-summer.
  • PLANTING DISTANCE: 10-15cm (4-6 inches) apart, 2.5-5cm (1-2 inches) deep, 30cm (1 ft) between rows.
  • ASPECT AND SOIL: Full sun, well-drained, non-acid soil.
  • HARDINESS: Hardy.
  • RECOMMENDED VARIETIES: Provence Wight, Early Purple Wight, Lautrec Wight, Messidrome, Wight Cristo, Carcassone Wight, Albigensian Wight, Edenrose, Germidour, Chesnok Red, Donetsk Red, Red Duke, Topinky Wight.

Drying, lifting, storing garlic

Bulbs laid out ready to dry

When your garlic is ready to lift, don’t pull the leaves (which should be yellowing). Loosen the soil around the row with a fork, then gently ease them out.

Brush off most of the muck and then they need to dry. You can use them “green” ie, freshly pulled, but the idea is to store them well into the winter.

The bulbs need to be somewhere dry and warm, like a greenhouse or conservatory.

All dried – now to be cleaned up

Lay them on a rack or staging where air can circulate, then leave them for three-four weeks – the foliage should be off-white, dry and crispy. If you can see any green in the stems, or there’s a bit of “give”, leave them to dry a bit longer.

It’s a dirty job…

Then the fun begins – cleaning them off. You’ll need a wide bucket to catch the rubbish, scissors and an old toothbrush. Trim the roots close to the bulb – but don’t damage the basal plate, or they won’t store well.

The finished product, ready to store

Strip off the papery outer layers until the bulb is clean, brush off dirt around the roots with the toothbrush and trim the stem to the desired length.

Some of you will want to plait them traditionally. All I do is bunch about six bulbs together, all different lengths, so they’re not touching, then tie the stems together tightly with twine.

It’s not as pretty, but effective. Then they are hung in the cellar where it’s dry and cool and usually last well into the new year.

Garlic pests and diseases

Cloves and sets being planted, October 2012
Cloves and sets being planted, October

Garlic suffers from similar pest and disease problems as other alliums. Here are some of the commonest problems:

TOP SETS: When garlic is exposed to adverse weather, such as fluctuating temperatures in spring, the plants produce cloves above ground in the stem. These can be used in the normal way.

SPLIT BULBS: The crop was harvested too late.

GREEN CLOVES: Shallow planting and late harvesting. Use as normal, but they are unlikely to store.

LEEK RUST: A fungal disease (Puccinia allii) – orange pustules develop on the foliage. Severe attacks can cause leaves to shrivel, resulting in a poor crop that won’t store. Organic controls: Worse on nitrogen-rich soils with low potassium. Don’t crowd plants; burn plant debris.

ONION WHITE ROT: Withering of foliage in dry weather may be a sign of Sclerotium cepivorum, also called allium root rot and mouldy nose. The base of the bulbs and roots develops white fluffy mould, killing the plant. It can last for many years in the soil. Organic control: S. cepivorum is impossible to eliminate. Avoid introduction to clean sites, on tools or on muddy footwear.

Garlic and shallot
Garlic and shallot Griselle

DOWNY MILDEW: Leaves start turning yellow and die off from the tip downwards. In wet weather, white mould develops on dead parts often turning a darker colour. Organic controls: Use disease-free bulbs and at least a three-year crop rotation. Destroy any allium plant detritus. Grow where there is good air movement.

LEAF MINERS: Infestations start with the 3mm long greyish-brown adult fly. Before laying eggs, the female feeds by making puncture holes in the leaves, causing lines of white dots on the foliage. Larvae are white, headless maggots without legs which make tunnels in foliage, stems and bulbs.

Similar damage is caused by the leek moth caterpillar, but it has creamy white larvae with brown heads and small legs. Affected plants rot due to secondary infections. Cylindrical brown pupae are likely to be found embedded in stems and bulbs. Organic controls: Cover with horticultural fleece, or an insect-proof mesh from March to April and October to November. Crop rotation must be used.