There’s something special about GARLIC that makes it more than just a vegetable. It is believed to be antibacterial and antiviral - used liberally in just about every homemade remedy that rids the common cold - and versatile enough to deter the advances of an over-enthusiastic, unwanted love interest. What other vegetable can do that?
In the kitchen garlic shouldn’t only be thought in terms of heads and cloves. The foliage of the plant is just as useful, and sautéed through a stir fry or your morning eggs, is a subtler delight.
The growing adventure of garlic transpires over many months, where the anticipation at harvest time builds to one of the ultimate lotteries. But, of course, anything you pull out of the ground is a reward because as seasoned food lovers we are aware of the power of the produce, and the bouquet and pungency of fresh garlic cannot be surpassed.
A number of theories get thrown about in terms of when to plant and harvest garlic, and we belong to a very personal one. For us the best day to plant garlic is the day you make pasta sauce - that is, knee deep into the tomato harvest season - and then best day to harvest is tomato planting day. That way it is explicitly linked to our other favoured vegetable and we can experience the full range of emotions on those very special days. We’ve also found that it suits its growing requirements.
Planting and harvesting garlic is separated by a gulf of time, upwards of nine months, but that patience is always rewarded. To buoy the spirits of lazier gardeners most of the growing requirements for garlic are supplemented by the weather gods. Essentially the bulbs are ‘put to sleep’ in the patch for the entire winter where they happily get by on rainfall and not being disturbed by over enthusiastic gardeners smelling about for an early harvest.
When planting Garlic ensure you source certified organic bulbs from a reputable supplier. Avoid using heads you buy from the supermarket that are usually imported and can carry diseases into your patch. Break all the cloves of garlic and plant them separately, spaced out every 10-15cms. A common misconception is that you need to plant an entire head of garlic to reap another head of garlic. In our minds it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bury a perfectly good head of garlic to dig it up 9 months later, and nor should it to you.
Ensure when planting you have the cloves standing upright, meaning the tip - from where the sprout will shoot - is pointing skywards. A lot of garlic you buy for planting will already be sprouting and make identification more straight forward, but it doesn’t have to be at that stage to be ready for planting. Bury each clove about 2-4cms deep in a good, friable soil and give them a good soaking.
The cloves should sprout within a fortnight and so the journey begins. Keep well hydrated during the warmer autumn months, watering every couple of days, but as the rainfall begins to take over you can cut back and spend a little more time in your armchair by the fire. Feed the patch with liquid seaweed fertiliser every month to help push them along and then mid winter, as the bulbs begin to form, apply a fertiliser high in phosphorous to help them swell further.
As you approach the tomato planting day the foliage will begin to die back and it’s almost time to harvest. Cut back on water to allow the bulbs to mature in-ground and check on their progress by digging down with your fingers along the stem to reveal the bounty.
To collect your bulbs, pull gently on the foliage; with the same sort of pressure as if you were pulling your sisters hair and only trying to annoy her. It always helps to loosen the soil around the garlic with a hand fork to make this easier, but be careful not to pierce the bulbs.
Garlic can be eaten fresh, straight out of the patch, when the skin is soft and delicate - like wet paper - however to store them properly make a nice braid of bulbs and hang them in a cool, dry place. This not only helps the garlic keep over many months but legitimate enough to impress any passing house guests.