How does your garlic grow?:gardening

Perhaps those baffling people who find garlic repulsive are really vampires and fiends. Since I've never hung around with the likes of Vincent Price, my appreciation of garlic has largely been confined to the kitchen, where I revere it is one of life's great gastronomic pleasures. It also endears itself to the gardener in me, by being a complete doddle to grow.

With such qualities, it is not surprising that garlic is a highly prized, ubiquitous commodity, with a history of cultivation that predates written records. As with other long-domesticated plants, garlic's wild origins are uncertain, but were probably the rocky steppes of central Asia. There are carvings of garlic dating back to 3750BC, and one of the less celebrated finds within the extraordinary 3,500-year-old tomb of Tutankhamun were six dried, but perfectly preserved, garlic cloves, presumably included so that the poor chap could continue to enjoy his meals in the after life.

Garlic is an essential constituent of nearly all the world's great cuisines, but it has been even more valued for its therapeutic properties.

The Egyptians doled it out for heart problems, intestinal worms, headaches and tumours; in India it was employed as an antiseptic, and the Chinese brewed up garlic tea to treat such nasties as cholera and dysentery. In Europe it was used as protection against bubonic plague (the mortality statistics must cast doubt on its effectiveness here) and more recently, during both world wars, as a wound disinfectant. To this day it remains a popular "herbal" remedy for an amazingly diverse array of complaints.

When it comes to hard medical fact, scientific research has led even such august publications as the British Medical Journal to concede that some garlic preparations (the less processed, the better) have a beneficial effect on certain pathological processes. Most significant is its influence on cardiovascular disease by reducing blood cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and discouraging inappropriate clot formation. There is evidence, too, that garlic has widespread antibacterial and antifungal properties and affords limited protection against some cancers.

All this might be enough to persuade you to consume quantities of garlic even if it tasted foul, but, of course, it doesn't. As an unrepentant garlicophile, I am driven to despair by timid English recipes that never prescribe more than a single clove. I add a minimum of three on principle and have not yet encountered garlic overkill. However, studies of our shopping habits are beginning to suggest that the ultra-cautious British palate is at last waking up to the overwhelming wonderfulness of this bulb.

Garlic is commonly associated with Mediterranean cultures (though more is eaten per head in the Far East) and it is this, perhaps, that has created the fallacy that garlic does not grow well in our cooler climate. It is in reality bone hardy, prolific and unfussy and, unlike some aromatic herbs, it will develop as fine a flavour here as anywhere.

Garlic is traditionally planted on the longest day of the year and harvested on the shortest. Other sources recommend spring planting. Both should be ignored. Plant instead from late October to late November as garlic benefits from a long growing season, and many varieties require several weeks of cold to develop properly. On heavy, poorly drained soils it may be wise to set the cloves initially into pots, and delay the final planting out until early the following spring.

Simply take a garlic bulb and break it into separate cloves. Plant these 15cm apart each way in a sunny spot. They are prone to all the ugly diseases of their onion relatives, including white rot and eelworm, so it is a wise precaution to include them in a rotation of crops. The usual advice is to set each clove around 5cm deep but I have reaped heavier harvests by planting them up to twice this depth, so you may wish to experiment. This may sound insulting, but do be sure to plant them the right way up - pointed tip upwards, flat root-plate downwards.

Apart from the odd bit of weeding, that's about all you need to worry about. The following summer the leaves will begin to yellow, at which point the garlics are ready for lifting. Delay until the foliage has died right down, and there is a risk that the cloves will begin to sprout again. Be careful not to bash them about, as they bruise easily at this stage and will then rot in store.

Put the harvested garlic somewhere warm and dry (indoors, if necessary) for a week or so, until the outer skins are dry and papery. If you're in the mood you can then plait them into a garlic rope, but hanging them up in loose bunches in a cool, airy place is perfectly adequate.

Varieties differ considerably in how long they will store. Some have only a short dormant period and will not keep much beyond November. Long dormancy types, which include most available in this country, should see you right the way through to the following year's harvest, making self- sufficiency in garlic a real possibility.

The garlic grown in different parts of the world differs in other significant characteristics as well, but the reality at present is that little choice is available.

Most commercially produced British garlic is grown on the Isle of Wight and this is the usual source of the garlic sold through seed catalogues and garden centres, some with a specific name, but more often not. This at least means that it has a record of performing well under British conditions.

Having said that, I have had my best crops from a much larger Continental variety called 'Cristo'. In the past I have had perfectly acceptable results from garlic bought from the supermarket. However, there is a risk that an imported variety will not grow well under British conditions. More significantly, there is no way of guaranteeing that it is free of serious virus or nematode infestation that will wreak havoc.

Garlic 'Cristo' and other Continental varieties are available from Jennifer Birch, Garfield Villa, Belle Vue Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire (01453 750371).

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links