It is healthy. This isn’t a magazine editor putting words in the mouth of his magazine – garlic really is good for you. It has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
During the Great War, the government paid farmers a shilling a punnet for garlic bulbs. These were crushed into a paste and smeared onto field dressings to act as an antiseptic. It is estimated that millions of soldiers owed their lives to this plant.
It really does help to keep a number of bacteria at bay, particularly gut-borne bacteria. If you have a gut problem, a curry will soon put it right – mostly because it is packed with vitamins, and the garlic reduces the effect of any bacteria. Needless to say, garlic is a great tonic to feed hens and other livestock. Certain animal preparations are based almost exclusively on garlic.
There are lots of studies that show eating garlic is good for lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and unhardening the arteries. You can’t get much better than that for a small bulb in a stir-fry!
Now that we’re all used to, and indeed adore, the smell of garlic in cooking and elsewhere (I even saw some garlic mint!) it is time we all started to grow it – but you have to be a little careful because there is a knack.
Cultivated garlic comes in many varieties, each developed with a particular use in mind. Do not try to grow supermarket-bought garlic for a crop. It is ideal for growing as a deterrent crop around things like cabbages and peas – good for keeping the mice away. I also use the shoots for stir-fries and salads, and if you let them, chickens will treat themselves to a few mouthfuls too.
If you search you will find many hundreds of garlic varieties – here are a few favourites that grow well in the UK.
Compact, tight garlic with a definite purple skin. They are highly flavoured and grow well with few disease problems.
Good keeping qualities – will last for a year and still be useable. They have larger corms with good flavour and can be planted as late as spring.
This is an ancient hardneck type, probably introduced by herdsmen off the steppes of the Ukraine. Produces attractive rocamboles or floral spikes that should be snapped off and enjoyed roasted or stir-fried.
A large, softneck white garlic from south-west France. It is also grown at the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight.
This plant produces a flowering head that is 5ft tall. Each bulb is approximately 5–6in across, and is harvested in July. It is completely impressive – even if it isn’t a garlic!
White Hispanic softneck garlic that grows very well in the UK. Produces large corms with a mild flavour.
For good crops for the kitchen, buy in specialist grower’s corms from a garlic supplier or supermarket.
Garlic varieties come in two forms. Most of the garlic from the supermarket is softneck, which are characterised by a lot of corms and papery outer tissue around the neck. Each corm is fuller in flavour than the hardneck varieties that are characterised by larger bulbs, a central stalk that is hard, and possibly some bulbules at the end of the stalk.
Your soil should be rich, with plenty of sand and good drainage material. Garlic likes a good, sunny position and grows quickly. If you have wet soil, fungus can spoil your crop. If you can smell garlic you will find there is usually a problem, because the garlic aroma is produced only when the plant is under attack or is damaged in some way.
Garlic should be planted anytime between October and late November, and once established will easily cope with hard frosts. Indeed, the colder the weather, some say, the better the flavour.
Simply break apart the corms from the garlic bulb and plant them upright – with the flat end lower – around 5cm (2in) deep in soft soil. Cover and gently firm them in. This is an important step because the roots will push them out of the soil otherwise.
Space them at 10cm (4in) intervals, and the rows should be 50cm (18in) apart.
Garlic needs to be weeded regularly and fed probably once a month. I know, I have said this before, but it stands repeating: any plant that makes strong flavours or colours needs a lot of nutrients to supply all those large molecules. Low nutrients means poor garlic – and this is especially true if they are growing in containers.
When the leaves start to turn yellow in late July and early August it is time to lift them. Use a trowel to help you lift them rather than just pulling on the plant. Get them out of the rain and dry them off in the shed, unless the sun is cracking the flags! If August is wet, get them up and out of the soil quickly or they will start to sprout.
Do not attempt to save any of your garlic for next year’s crop. They build up disease and the results are always disappointing. It is much better to buy new stock each season.