Garlic can be planted in the late autumn and into winter
Today’s clear sunny skies meant that I just couldn’t wait to get up to the allotment and do some work. With my trip to London last week and fairly constant rain over the last couple of months it’s meant that only about three-quarters of my plot has been dug and prepared for winter. The other quarter still has a bit of veg growing on it or represents the bottom bed which was taken over by Jerusalem Artichokes.
My main tasks of the day were to dig out as many of these roots as possible in my effort to eradicate them completely and to plant next year’s garlic crop.
Over the weekend I bought six garlic bulbs which will hopefully grow steadily throughout the next eight months and bless me with about fifty of the same by about next July. Three of the bulbs were of the Marco soft-neck variety, which is known for its distinctive strong flavour and great storage capacity. The other three are the hard-neck French Thermidrome, which is a bit milder in flavour but has much larger cloves which will be great for roasting.
Garlic can be planted out either in autumn before the first frost, or in spring after the last. It’s best to plant it in the autumn if you live in cooler climates so the garlic has a head start on growth and can be harvested earlier in the year. Planting directly into the soil is the most common way but if you tend to get a lot of sub-zero temperatures you might be better off growing your plants in modules first and then transplanting them in the ground come spring.
To plant garlic, break the seed bulb into individual cloves and plant these an inch deep into well-drained soil. Cloves should be spaced about four inches apart, with the tapered end pointed up, and in rows at least six inches apart – wide enough to get your hoe through to weed them.
Before a few weeks are out, the garlic will put up small green leaves rather like a spring onion. These leaves will stay quite small until warmer days arrive when they will shoot up quickly. Garlic, like all Alliums, does especially well if top dressed with wood ash so save it up over the winter and sprinkle it lightly over the soil in early spring.
I also mulch mine with straw to keep competing weeds from getting a foothold. Straw also helps keep the soil underneath moist.
Garlic is ready to harvest when the green leaves begin to die back and at this point carefully dig them up and allow them to dry in the sun for a couple of days before bringing them inside.
If you’ve ever tried Jerusalem Artichokes, also known as Sunchokes in the States, you’ll be amazed at how such a delicious and nutty flavour can come from such a knobby and humble root. I love them made into a rich, creamy soup but they are also great roasted or even mashed in with potato or swedes for a lovely side-dish. So I should be happy that they’ve invaded a bottom bed in my allotment, right? Well I would be if it weren’t for their rather noxious effect on my digestive system.
All kidding aside, they can give you quite uncomfortable and appalling gas so if you’ve never tried them before, don’t even consider it before going on a date, your child’s flute recital, or even worse, a job interview. While there are people who can easily process the Jerusalem Artichoke’s carbohydrate, called Inulin, it is a bit like Russian Roulette so try it at your own peril.
So it is with sadness that I’m giving up on growing this delicious tuber altogether and today I spent a good couple of hours digging this year’s crop up and sifting tiny pieces of tuber out of the soil. Guaranteed I haven’t gotten it all but once any remaining roots begin to sprout next year I’ll locate and destroy them. In the meantime I have two huge carrier bags bursting with tubers and I seriously have no idea what to do with them.