You wouldn’t think garlic would grow so well here in the Lake District. But it does.
I like the Garlic Year. It’s all rather neat.
In early August I order the cloves from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. The variety I go for is ‘Vallelado’, billed as being ‘good for colder wetter climates, recommended for its growing vigour, size and fat, juicy cloves’. The garlic is usually delivered in early September and straight away I break the heads into individual cloves and, with my old wooden dibber, I make rows of not-too-deep holes and pop the cloves, pointed end up, into one of the raised beds in the Kitchen Garden, carefully brushing the soil back into the holes.
Remarkably soon afterwards, just a few weeks, the first little green shoots appear. I keep an eye on these, as the blackbirds sometimes pull the cloves out of the ground, I push back the ones they’ve had a go at.
All that’s needed thereafter is to keep the bed weed-free and to water the plants in very dry spells.
I think garlic (and all of the onion family) must have some kind of in-built anti-freeze, as the shoots carry on growing slowly all winter long seemingly impervious to frost or even a deep blanket of snow.
Come the Spring and the green shoots continue to grow. By summer I can see that the individual cloves I planted the previous September have miraculously turned into many-cloved heads of garlic, the tops of which just show above the ground.
I have to sit on my hands in late July as I can’t wait to harvest and finally see what sort of a haul we’ve got, but I wait until the foliage starts to die back.
Harvest day finally comes, I try to choose a day when the weather forecast is good. I carefully lift the garlic from the ground with a fork and brush off the worst of the soil clinging to the heads. The crop lies on the soil in the sunshine for a couple of days. Then into the greenhouse it goes, sitting upside down on the staging to dry off fully. There’s a nice ritual when Richard and I sit down at the table in the Kitchen Garden, Richard brushes all the loose soil off the heads and neatly trims the base roots, together we plait the long dry leaves, starting with three garlic heads at the base, adding in another three heads with their dead leaves in turn and so on until we have a plait of solid garlic all the way up. It’s often not as tidy as we’d like but we are getting better at it. We hang the plaits up in the warmth of the kitchen where they keep perfectly until the following summer. I use quite a lot of home-grown produce in the preserves and our garlic features in Fruity Tomato Chutney and Proper Piccalilli.
We usually run out of one year’s garlic supply about a week after we have harvested the next year’s crop.
As I said, all rather neat.