The allium family could easily be one of my favourites because it includes those wonderful flowers that pop up every where in June, then there are its’ vegetable cousins, onions and garlic, that I use almost everyday in the kitchen.
Garlic and onions are treated very differently at harvesting time, onions like to bask in the sun as they dry off, whilst garlic is more thin-skinned and sensitive and prefers a shadier place. The onions at my allotment aren’t ready yet, but the garlic is.
You’ll know that garlic (Allium sativum) is ready for harvesting when the lower leaves have dried out and turned brown but the top leaves are still green. The garlic I planted last October is ready, but if you planted yours in the spring, they won’t be ready until the autumn.
I dig garlic up with a trowel or hand-fork so there’s less chance of damaging the bulbs. Then I gently loosen them out of the soil so that the stems and delicate, papery covering is kept in place.
Wipe loose soil away, but don’t be tempted to wash them if they’re to be stored, fine if they’re to be used straight away and they do taste delicious when fresh, with a softer more subtle flavour.
Growing your own garlic scores highly for sustainability because although Spain is the highest producer of garlic in Europe, 80% of the worlds garlic is grown in China, and if that’s what your supermarket happens to sell, think how many air-miles that means. Where-ever it’s grown commercially, lots of energy is used to store it at low temperatures.
I’ve also grown garlic at home in a plant-pot as an experiment to see how it compares with growing it in the ground. I scraped a bit of soil away recently and a puny little bulb was revealed. Turns out that 3 bulbs in only a 9in/23cm pot don’t have enough room and I probably didn’t water them enough either. Worth doing next time because it escaped garlic rust and it’s perfect if you have a small garden or balcony.
Soft-neck and hard-neck garlic:
Soft-neck garlic (Allium sativum) is usually what you buy in supermarkets, it stores for longer and has more individual cloves in each bulb. It seems like the obvious choice, but the hard-neck types (Allium sativum var.ophioscordon) have stronger flavours with fewer bulbs, so less fiddly to deal with, and they produce flower stalks (scapes) in early summer that can be snipped off and used in dishes like stir-frys.
So I’ve grown both types.
More about how to cure garlic, so it keeps for months, next week
Happy gardening, Jill
all photos: Jill Anderson