When you grow your own garlic you have not only a much more flavourful crop, but you have access to the lovely summer garlic, where the outer layers have not yet turned to paper and are still moist and succulent. The flavour of summer garlic is really worth getting into before you harvest your main crop and also one of the best reasons to grow your own.
Garlic has been one of our most successful crops, last season we had some unused space next to the driveway, in a strip just 20cm wide but about 10m long we planted two rows of garlic. The soil along there was pretty compacted from people missing the driveway and running over it for who knows how many years, so we broke it up with a fork and put in some of our compost. This year we planted it in some really nice soil the chooks prepared for us behind the new garden beds.
I’ve read quite a lot about garlic in preparation for this year’s planting, and it seems the hardcore garlic growers get quite specific about soil, water, planting date and harvest. We’ve found that garlic has been very low fuss, the strip we planted in is not only some of the driest ground in the garden, but also the wettest, with one end turning to rock and the other to mush where we get standing water even in the lightest rains. I think, as with all vegetables, it’s about the soil fertility. Good compost seems to trump other factors.
Get seed garlic from the garden centre, the stuff we grow has a reddish skin around the cloves, and is called, unimaginatively, NZ garlic. Alternatively get a head or two from a gardening friend (like us) and grow the seed for next years crop. Ours is all gone this year, but we gave away garlic to a number of friends this year, so let me know if you want some next year and we’ll try to save you some. Some people claim that supermarket garlic will grow, but you risk introducing disease from the imported stuff and it’s often chemically treated to stop it sprouting on the shelf. I wonder what that does to humans?
When to plant, there’s still time!
The traditional date to plant garlic is on the shortest day, then harvest on the longest. Again, we’ve never been too exact, last year we planted some in May and some in July, harvesting both at roughly the same time in early January. The best time to plant and to harvest is when it suits you. The best garden is one you enjoy, that you don’t feel dictates your schedule. According to ‘Growing Great Garlic’ you can plant any time from May to August, so there is still time!
The best garlic comes from the cloves on the outside of the head, the big juicy ones from your previous crop are your best bet, helping you create your own local variety suited to your garden. We actually plant all the cloves, eating the smaller heads first and saving the monsters for next year’s seed. Gently pull the outside cloves off the head, try not to damage the moist insides of the clove, plant them with their skin on, pointy end up, and about 1 or 2 cm below the surface of the soil. Keep them about 10cm apart if you have good fertile soil.
I love pea straw. Pile on a thickish layer of pea straw, the garlic will push through with no worry at all. The pea straw protects the soil from drying out, keeps the weeds down and feeds the soil as it breaks down over the 6 months the garlic is growing.
Harvesting the garlic is done about 6 months later, when you see the top leaves wither and brown. The garlic head should be lumpy from the individual cloves, leave it a little longer if this is not the case and eat the one you pulled up. Stick a trowel under the head and gently pry up the garlic, yanking it up can bruise and damage it. If you see the curly pointed flower heads (scapes) appearing at the top of your garlic, snip them off and eat them in a salad, they’re quite mild to taste and will cause your garlic heads to split if you leave them.
Leave your garlic to dry out for about a week, we store ours up high on a piece of wire mesh under shelter but in the sunlight for however long it takes us to get around to dealing with it. This year we plaited the garlic by weaving the leaves together, Clare found it really easy and before long we had long strings of garlic hanging in the shed. The plaits should be stored in a cool, darkish, dry place, a shed is perfect. They should keep until roughly the time you start to eat next years.
Recipe - Simple Sweet Pasta Sauce from Your Garden
- Slice 6 or more cloves of garlic
- 4 to 6 good glugs of Olive Oil
- Fresh Basil to serve
If you have your own:
- two or three big meaty tomatoes, roma, beefsteak, black krim, purple cherokee, or a couple of big handfuls of brown plum or brown cherry
If you don’t:
- A tin of good Italian canned tomatoes
Put the oil, tomatoes and garlic in a heavy pot like a Le Creuset. Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon and stir around. Cook uncovered for twenty to thirty minutes over a lowish heat. The tomatoes will separate from the oil and the moisture level will be quite low when it’s ready. Chuck in a handful of fresh basil and serve over any type of pasta.
Variation: instead of basil put in any combination of fresh or dried chillis, olives, capers and anchovies when you put in the garlic.