Ireland's specialist growers
of naturally-grown garlic and shallots
For the gourmet
For the gardener
West Cork Garlic, Bryn Perrin, Coolmountain West, Dunmanway, West Cork, Ireland
Tel 087 133 3751, Email email@example.com
West Cork Garlic
Grow your own Garlic
Garlic needs a well-drained but moisture-retentive soil with a moderate level of fertility. Raised beds are ideal. It does best in an open, sunny position and prefers a neutral to slightly acid soil. It is a member of the allium family, so should not be planted where onions or leeks have been grown in the past two years.
Before planting, feed the bed with garden compost if you have it, or rake in a general purpose fertilizer or a little well-rotted manure.Be careful not to overfeed with nitrogen: this will lead to soft, leafy growth, split bulbs and soft cloves that do not store well.
On the other hand garlic loves potash, so if you have a supply of wood-ash, rake a good dressing of this into the bed.
A dressing of seaweed will ensure that your plants get all the trace elements. If you are using seaweed meal or dust, rake it in before planting. If using the unprocessed seaweed itself, add it as a top dressing after planting.
Just before planting, break up your garlic bulbs. Plant the cloves in holes or a trench about 2inches (5cm) deep and cover with soil. Plant them in a block 6inches (15cm) apart each way, pointy end up. The bigger cloves will produce the biggest bulbs. Small cloves may be planted a bit further apart to make up for their size, or alternatively, may be planted very close together and the tops eaten as a herb, like chives, in the Spring.
Planting times are given on the Garlic Directory page. However, we tend to plant all varieties before Christmas, for a number of reasons: they have a longer growing season; they are more likely to have the required number of days at a low temperature; there's no knowing, in our climate, whether we'll have the right weather and ground conditions for planting in January and February.
Before Christmas, you should see all your little plants waving their new green leaves. Don't worry about cold weather. Those of us who had garlic growing outside in the Winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 can vouch for the fact that garlic can come through temperatures of -16C and lower without so much as a shiver. In fact, it needs 30 to 60 days with temperatures below 10C to make the bulb split up into separate cloves.
Garlic originates high up in the mountains of Asia. It emerges in March, just below the snowline and is irrigated by the meltwater from the mountains. This means that it is accustomed to a good supply of water in April, May and June.
If the weather is unusually dry at that time, as it was in April 2010, a generous watering will help it to produce bigger and better bulbs.
You may wish to give your garlic a boost by applying a feed of potash in February. Foliar feeding with a seaweed spray is also helpful. Apart from that, you just need to keep your plants as weed-free as possible.
The only disease you need worry about is leek rust. If your plants are healthy there shouldn't be a problem. If they do get rust, remove affected leaves and burn them. Apparently, you can also wipe the affected leaves with gin but we can't vouch for the efficacy of that treatment! If you live in an area where rust is prevalent, you can spray your plants with bordeaux mixture as a preventative.
However, rust is not fatal to a domestic crop. It will cause the plants to mature more quickly and be smaller than average, but you will get a crop.
If you have planted a hard neck variety, including elephant garlic, you will notice flower stems emerging at the end of May or start of June. These are called scapes, or rocamboles. You must cut these off before they flower as they will take energy from the bulbs. However, the stems are delicious cut up in salads or added to stirfries, soups, etc., or blended into a pesto.
An indication of when to expect a harvest is given in our Garlic Directory, though a cold Spring and a cool and wet Summer can delay maturity.
Ideally, your softneck garlic should be ready when about half the crop has drooped to the side. However, we have discovered that in our climate, this may be rather too late. Perhaps it is an excess of water that keeps the stems upright! We suggest that, if in doubt, you scrape the soil very gently away from a bulb to see how it is doing: by Midsummer for the early varieties and early July for the later ones.
Hard neck garlic is ready when about a third of the leaves have started to go brown.
Do not leave them in the ground until all the leaves have withered, as you would with onions.
Joy Larkcombe, in "Grow Your Own Vegetables", says it's better to lift your garlic too early than too late. On the other hand, it's in the last three weeks that the bulbs attain their optimum size. Just use your own judgement. Remember, too, that if you are growing several varieties, you will not be harvesting them all at the same time.
Choose a dry day to lift your bulbs, and take great care not to damage them. They may be quite deep in the ground by this time. Damaged bulbs won't store well, so put them to one side for immediate use.
Clean off the earth and put the bulbs to dry in the sun and fresh air. If possible, dry them outside, but in poor weather hang them in a greenhouse or polytunnel with good ventilation.
Garlic is dry when there is no more moisture in the neck. At this time, you can try your hand at plaiting them. Otherewise you can just tie a string round the leaves and hang them up like that. Remember that garlic stores best with its leaves on, which is why we prefer to sell them like that.
If you don't have a garden, garlic can be grown in pots; plant four cloves to a 6 inch (15cm) pot.
For further information, we recommend:
"The Garlic Farm Cookbook" and "Garlic, the Mighty Bulb" by Natasha Edwards,
"Grow Your Own Vegetables" and "Oriental Vegetables", both by Joy Larkcom,
These great books are available online from Amazon.co.uk - just click the links!