Gardening: Now is the optimum time for planting garlic

Torbay Weekly

I don’t know about gardening being more sedate in the autumn and winter months as I seem to have been rushed off my feet this week.

The weather has been almost full sunshine apart from Tuesday morning for 15 minutes when I was soaked to the skin. Even the dogs had the good sense to go in.

There has been the odd cold snap where I’ve had the unattractive but practical thought of a vest but my annual denial of autumn has prevailed and I’ve been shivering in shirtsleeves instead.

In the cold my thoughts have naturally turned to planting garlic - why wouldn't they!

I'm always reminded that they love to hunker down in the coldest and wettest of soils all winter before literally raising themselves off the ground in summer to make you think you live in Tuscany or somewhere equally celebrated for its hot and glamorous climate.

Rub their papery skin and they reveal that deep meaty scent that older people we all know still call ‘foreign muck’ when it’s added to a recipe.

I think now there is very little I cook at home that doesn’t contain garlic in some form. Now we have a truly international diet it would be missing a trick not to grow garlic if you have the space.

Its health benefits are also well known, not to mention the ability to ward off evil spirits as well as strangers on buses.

A good start is to buy growing varieties from the local garden centre rather than planting ones you buy in the supermarket.

These tend to be less disease resistant and their DNA is more suited to being grown abroad so don’t always flourish in our damp soil.

If you plant them around now or within the next few weeks at least, they will thank you for well-drained soil in full sun.

If, like many gardens, you have heavy, claggy soil, then you could create a free-draining site for them by adding sand or gravel underneath them like a miniature allium soakaway.

Both cost just a few quid a bag at most DIY stores.

Because they are a member of the onion family it means you can’t grow them in the same place as onions for two years.

Plant them with the pointy end facing upwards, a hand span apart.

You want the clove barely underneath the soil, but hidden. You don’t want any birds trying their luck at pulling them up before they've had time to set root.

I know a local blackbird that can, not very surprisingly, almost sniff them out.

The reason now is the optimum time for planting garlic is that they love a short period of cold weather to get them off to a good start and separate the cloves and for the bulb to form correctly.

I admire any plant that not only makes it through winter, but especially one that flourishes in the tundra and ice. Garlic styles out the winter like no other plant I know.

They can be left alone until July next year and they will be fine.

If you wanted to pamper them you could mix a little potash in the soil when you plant them and make sure they have regular water but they really don’t seem to mind a drought either.

They will let you know when they are ready to harvest as the tops will die down and the bulbs will be visible above ground.

Pull them up and let them dry out in the sun for a few days before showing off and tying them in a plait and hanging them somewhere cool and dry where they'll last for four to five months in the right conditions.

You should be left with enough garlic to reserve yourself plenty of space on the bus for the next few months at least.