Garlic

Garlic is a must-have in our kitchen. I once blitzed up 20 entire bulbs of garlic to make garlic paste which I froze. There is no containing the smell of garlic once it has been processed like that — no matter how many layers and containers you wrap it in, it will permeate into every foodstuff you have. Growing our own fresh garlic has been an ambition since we got the garden in 2021, and to finally have garlic fresh enough to braid and store in the utility room has made a wonderful (and beautiful) addition to my cooking.

Garlic Growing Notes

VarietySownHarvested
Flavor 31st Jan ’24
Garcua14th Jan ’24
Solent Wight15th Oct ’2210th Jul ’23
Unknown1st Oct ’2126th Jun ’22

Garlic Diary

2023

I decided to make a traditional garlic plait from my homegrown garlic this year, because I could think of no better way to show off my efforts in the garden, even if only to myself.

Summer 2023 has so far been a wash out, and as Bean is set to break up from school today I have had no time to tend the garden due to a month of solid, heavy rain.

It has been easy to feel despondent at the lack of gentle garden pottering time that has been available to enjoy, but I have still been celebrating small garden wins, such as my garlic crop.

Muddy homegrown garlic freshly lifted from the ground on a wet day

I set myself a small wish this year to grow enough garlic to plait and hang in my utility room, and today I have completed the braid for hanging.

I’m pleased with the growth on the garlic bulbs. They’re a good size and shape, and I think I lifted them at the correct time with the weather we had. Ideally I’d have left them in the ground another 2-3 weeks but after an unusually warm couple of weeks in early June we experienced a solid month of heavy rain and storms, which battered plants and left the ground waterlogged.

I lifted the garlic bulbs in less than ideal weather, with huge clumps of sticky wet compost and earth stuck to them, but after being left to dry for a day I tidied them up a little to begin the process of drying and curing them for storage.

Garlic cleaned and ready to begin drying

It took two weeks for the garlic leaves to dry out and brown ready for longer term storage. As space in my small kitchen is at a premium I have decided to store the garlic in the cool utility room that adjoins it.

Plaiting Garlic

finished plait of homegrown garlic

I looked at a few resources for plaiting garlic ready to store, but actually I disagree with hem all. I started off following the advice, but found a way that worked better for me about a third of the way in.

I started by gathering three bulbs and tying them together using one of the dried leaves. I think that gives a good foundation to add to. Once I got a few bulbs plaited together, however, I found that the thing that worked best for me was to add two new bulbs at a time, adding the stems to the centre ‘strand’ of the plait, and bringing one of alternating left and right bundles of leaves over to secure it. Once I had made that crossing of the bundles of leaves to secure the newly added bulbs I pulled on the stems of the new additions to the plait to nestle them tight against the body of the braid.

Homegrown garlic plait

The resulting braid of garlic is secure and sturdy, the leaves are bound tight and the bulbs sit close to the braid. My initial braiding was looser and less well formed where I was adding just the single bulb per twist, and I prefer the sturdier feel to the braid as I found what worked better for me.

I finished by continuing to braid the remaining leaves and looping the excess back on itself to secure and to give myself a way to hang it from a hook in the utility room, ready to be admired, at least by myself.

homegrown garlic plait finished
Garlic (Allium sativum) illustration from Medical Botany (1836) by John Stephenson and James Morss Churchill.

Garlic Choice

The garlic I sowed this year was Solent Wight, purchased from The Garlic farm. It is a soft neck variety (essential for plaiting) and produced good size bulbs. It’s lifted a few weeks after a lot of garden varieties, so might have grown even bigger then the sizeable bulbs I managed if it hadn’t been for the very wet month we have had.

2024
January, Week 2

This year, after an entire year of gastrointestinal illness, I am playing catch-up. I bought my garlic bulbs (Garcua) from Dobbies back in September, but they languished four months in my hallway before finally being planted out on the 14th of January, already having sprouted and looking a bit sad and bedraggled (both me and the garlic). I’m not sure how well those cloves are going to do, but it will be something to experiment with at the very least.

January, Week 4

The late planting of my depressed-looking Garcua bulbs persuaded me to pick up some alternative garlic bulbs from Dobbies this weekend, when I bought a pack of two Flavor variety bulbs to try. This is given as French-developed, Italian style, spring-planting variety, to be planted between January and April. The bulbs and cloves were absolutely huge. I’m curious to see how well a spring-planting garlic might do for me.

home-grown garlic bulbs ready for planting

The Ritual Of Planting

One of the things that struck me whilst I was standing in front of bulbs of garlic at the garden centre, with the temptation to buy them ringing in my ears, was that I hadn’t enjoyed sowing garlic when I felt rushed and like it was a very overdue job. Partly this was because I felt rushed, and miserable, and like I just needed to get it done before it was too late, but a larger part of it was that the need to just perform the task meant that I plonked the cloves into the cold ground in a very perfunctory manner, figuring at least they had a chance in the soil that they were not benefitting from whilst sitting in my front hall.

Whilst I stood in Dobbies, looking at the bright white bulbs of garlic, I realised that what I was looking for was the fun of planting garlic. I realised, too, that part of why I love time in the garden is to slow down and enjoy the ritual of connecting with the space and spending my time out there making things ‘just so’. I want neat rows of vegetables, with beautiful plant labels and little string delineated sections. That’s part of my planting ritual, and a huge part of the fun.

Garlic bulb split into cloves, ready for planting

So, when planting out the second set of garlic cloves, I took my time, measuring out the rows and the spacing, making a little string divider and lining the plant label up so that I could stand back and enjoy the first sowing of the year, and I felt better for it.