There are some vegetables that skip a year on my plot. Usually because I’ve had a bad experience in growing it/them and I want to try and eliminate, or at least reduce, a certain pest or disease. Or sometimes because I have a surplus supply in the freezer and decide I’ve had my fill for a while. I often miss it – such as the broad beans last year – but then my enthusiasm for it returns, and a joy is rediscovered, like an old friend you haven’t seen for ages.
But there are some vegetables I just couldn’t imagine skipping or being without, and garlic is one of them. I could never grow bored of garlic. Admittedly, once it has dried and been in storage for a little while, you probably wouldn’t notice much of a taste difference between your own and shop bought (some might beg to differ here, be my guest) but just think what you’d miss out on by not growing it.
Firstly garlic scapes, the graceful, twisting flowering stalks, produced by hardneck garlic, which are a fairly new revelation to me after only growing softneck varieties for years. Why did nobody tell me about these before? You can chop and add them to stir fries or pasta dishes, or best of all, put them in a blender or processor with some olive oil and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese and blitz into the most delicious garlicky pesto. I now grow hardneck garlic purely for these early summer delights.
And then you’d miss out on harvesting fresh garlic and using it while the stems are still a perfect spring green, the aromatic smell wafting through your kitchen, and heads which you can chop and use whole like an onion without all the fiddly peeling, using up the head and stalk like a massive spring onion. Delicate and fresh, a milder flavour than the dried cloves, but so delicious.
You’d miss out on the pleasurable task of rubbing the dried crispy outer jackets off the garlic heads, revealing a satisfyingly smooth and papery white skin underneath. Well, it’s a pleasurable task to me, but I should probably get out more. And of course, the joy of plaiting together the softneck garlic, each year trying to remember how on earth you did it last year, wrapping and unwrapping the soft stems until you finally get the hang of it, and hope nobody will notice too much by the time you’ve tied enough raffia over the stems. Oh the pride in hanging one of those in the kitchen when it’s your own and not simply bought, all the better for looking a little rustic (authentic).
These are the reasons I continue to grow garlic each year, despite a worsening rust problem. This year I’m growing hardneck Lautrec Wight for the scapes, softneck Provence Wight for the large purple tinged bulbs, and Tuscany Wight as it’s supposedly a good keeper, so will hopefully extend our supply. They were planted out late October – early November last year, and following advise by the Isle of White Garlic Farm (thegarlicfarm.co.uk) I have given them all a feed of sulphate of potash. Some of the leaf tips have turned yellow, but apparently this is quite normal at this time of year, and nothing to worry about. The only thing left is to keep them free of weeds and water if the weather turns dry through spring.
I also grow lots of elephant garlic, but this has become more of a perennial plant. Each year I allow it to flower, and it produces tiny baby bulblets around the main bulb. So when I harvest one of the heads, the bulblets remain (or else I replant them) and they grow the following year, eventually flowering and reproducing again. The flowers are beautiful too, it grows in the herb bed with lavender and rosemary beneath, a treat for the bees.
Don’t even get me started on wild garlic and garlic chives, I’ll be here all day! My latest print is the first of a series of growing guides, more illustrative than informative, but I quite like my prints to be a bit of both. Of course the first had to be garlic.