People who love using garlic in recipes but are shocked at its cost in winter need to know that growing their own cloves is very doable, even in a small space.
Where flower gardens are the only option, a few plants of garlic fit right in because they deter aphids from infesting neighbouring plants.
As well, garlic is completely hardy, slug-resistant and needs almost no watering because it makes most of its growth during our nine-month wet season. What it does demand is sun and well-drained, rich soil.
Raised beds amended with compost or composted manure are a perfect garlicgrowing environment.
October is the ideal month to plant this crop and bulb clusters will soon be available in local garden centres. Another useful source is farmers markets where varieties are grown close to home.
If you buy garlic from food stores to use as sets you should be cautious. Some garlic bulb clusters may be treated with sprout inhibitors. Also stores may sell varieties from warm climates that are far less hardy than local garlic.
There are three main kinds. The largest cloves come from hard-neck types such as Persian Star, Music or Red Russian. These throw up a stiff, bulbil-producing stalk.
Soft-neck types such as Greek White or Chinese have smaller, extremely long-keeping cloves and braidable stalks. Then there's serpent garlic, which has long stems that curl in circles at the top. Sometimes this is called Rocambole.
Sometimes first-time gardeners are unsure how to plant garlic. They should break the bulb clusters apart and plant individual cloves with the pointed end up two or three inches deep. Mulching with leaves or perhaps grass clippings keeps the soil moist and deters weeds.
Because garlic needs to grow from October to about August, it doesn't fit well into succession plantings.
Also the garlic bed should be rotated. This means the old garlic area should have no garlic, shallot or onion crops in it for three years.
This is hard to do in small space. An alternative is digging out the top layer of old soil and replacing with compost. The old soil could go into summer planter pots, fill low places in lawns or help raise a flower bed.
About June, garlic develops scapes. These look like flower buds with long points and they should be removed immediately while still very young. They are delicious sliced-up in a stirfry. If you leave them alone, your garlic cloves will be smaller. The long stems can be left to continue photosynthesis.
In July when weather usually becomes very dry, the garlic bed can be left unwatered so the plants die down naturally. Leaves and stems go yellow, then brown and after a few weeks keel over. At this point, it's time to dig up the cloves.
Depending on the weather, these may be cured for a week in sun with a cover put over at night or just dried inside if the weather is showery. Soft-neck kinds can then be braided.
Hard-neck kinds are impossible to braid. The stems, with cloves attached, should be tied together and hung in a dry, cool spot to be eaten as needed.
Save the biggest cloves of your favourite kinds for planting next year.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via firstname.lastname@example.org.