This is garlic season and with love, sun and some good earth, each clove you plant will turn into a dense head of garlic. It is one of the simplest crops to grow, works just as well in a large pot as in the soil, and as long as you give the plants water in dry periods and as much sun as you can, there is little else to do.
You can order garlic now from seed merchants or pick up bulbs from garden centres. If you are doing the latter, squeeze the bulbs gently – you want plump, healthy-feeling cloves. The earlier you plant your cloves the better; try to get them in by the end of September. Garlic needs a cool period of 30-60 days with temperatures of 0-10C for clove initiation, otherwise you will end up with a single clove, like a tiny onion, that won’t store well. By planting now, you give the clove enough time to shoot up before the dark, dull days of winter.
If you don’t have space for garlic in the ground just yet, because of existing crops, then plant them into large module trays. You can then either plant them out later in the autumn or, if your soil is heavy and liable to flood – something that garlic hates – you can overwinter them in a cold frame or cold glasshouse. This method works surprisingly well.
Garlic does best with space 18cm each way, or 10cm between cloves with 30cm between rows. The cloves need to be at least 2.5cm below the soil level and can be planted as deep as 10cm, in well-drained soil. Dib the cloves in rather than pushing them, as this can damage the base where the roots will appear.
You can plant on ridges to help with drainage and I like to mulch with a thin layer of well-rotted homemade compost or leaf mould to keep the weeds down. I do a second, thin mulch in spring to help with weeds and lock in moisture; a dry April does little to help the cloves swell.
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Garlic needs good potassium levels to succeed. If you have wood ash (no coal dust) from home fires, you can use this as a source of potash. Spread it on the soil around your garlic over the winter. Try not to get it on the plants, but gently rake it around them at a rate of 50-70g per sq m. If you suffer from allium leaf moth, cover the garlic with fine mesh netting once the new shoots appear.
‘Solent Wight’ is one of the most reliable garlics for autumn planting in our climate. It has a good yield and a strong flavour, and stores well. I also love the very early season hardneck, ‘Early Purple Rhapsody’, which is good raw; and the beautiful hardneck, purple striped bulbs of ‘Caulk Wight’.