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Gardening with Gael - Garlic thrives on the basics


garlic-673My Grandfather said “Plant garlic on the shortest day, harvest on the longest.” My Mother said the same thing but refused to grow it. Of course it doesn’t have to be the longest day. It just needs to be somewhere around that time.

One article I read suggests maybe a little before the shortest day gets them off to a good start. Once again I am going to grow garlic this winter. My last effort was pathetic to say the least and from my research I think I know why.

Planting and ignoring is not the way to great garlic. They must be kept weed free so that the weeds don’t compete with any available food supplies.

Garlic plants are relatively hungry. When I went to weed my garlic, the weeds were doing very well – competing and smothering. The best plan is to have one of those push hoes and get the weeds as soon as they poke their little heads out. Leave them to quickly rot back into the soil, creating food for the worms and ultimately for the garlic.

Pick a spot in full sun away from ground that may have previously grown any of the onion family. If the area is limited, garlic can be grown in containers as well.

If grown in containers remember to water and containers are easy to weed! I am going to plant mine in full view of the kitchen window where I can keep a very close eye on them. The soil needs to be moist and well cultivated with some added organic material. Buy garlic bulbs from garden centres, local markets or organic supermarkets and buy enough so that you can save your largest bulbs for planting the following year.

One clove grows into one bulb. Steer well clear of Chinese garlic, which has been fumigated as it enters the country and treated so that it doesn’t sprout. Separate the bulb into cloves. Save the smaller cloves for eating and use the larger ones.

This is when a garden tool called a dibber comes in really handy, particularly one with a ‘T’ handle. It is a pointed wooden stick perfect for making holes in the ground – useful, and quick for planting any sort of bulb. Plant the clove with the pointed bit up between 8cm and 15cm apart. The more room you allow the bigger the heads. Plant about 5cm deep or twice the length of the clove. Mark the rows with some bamboo stakes and once they are up keep them weeded. As spring and summer approaches give the plants a good feed and mulch to retain moisture.

There are several varieties of garlic, some heirloom, and elephant garlic, which is a large variety with a mild flavour. Harvest the garlic around the longest day, sometime between December and January depending on when you planted it. The tops dying back are an indication that the garlic bulbs are ready. Garlic has become such an essential part of our cuisine. Granddad used it in his favourite fish eye soup. I use it almost every day. There are masses of folklore attached to garlic.

Egyptian slaves building the pyramids were given raw garlic as part of their daily food ration. Greek midwives hung garlic in the birthing room to ward off evil spirits. A belief in Central Europe was that garlic was a powerful ward against werewolves and vampires. I tried the raw garlic treatment for a cold once. I think the shock of crunching through a raw clove was enough to frighten the cold away.

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