Focus on: growing garlic

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Garlic}

Garlic is a satisfying and surprisingly easy-to-grow bulb, and is traditionally planted on the shortest day, and harvested on the longest.

After buying your seed garlic from a garden centre or organic vegetable supplier, break the bulb into individual cloves. Be gentle when separating — try not to break the skin.

Plant the fattest, healthiest cloves you have — that way you’ll get the largest bulbs. Generally that means choosing those around the outside of a bulb — keep the thinner cloves that form in the middle for cooking. Throw away any cloves that are damaged, feel overly soft or are showing signs of mould.

Plant 10–15cm apart, and about 5cm below soil surface, with the pointy end facing up

Mulch beds heavily as soon as you’ve sown your cloves – it helps retain soil moisture, and also means you won’t have to disturb bulbs with constant weeding.

Don’t over or under water your bulbs. In cold water-logged soils, the cloves can start to rot before they sprout, while plants stressed by a lack of water in late spring or summer often go on to produce only one, poor quality clove, like a fat bottomed spring onion.

Plants are ready to harvest when their strappy green leaves start to collapse and die back, generally around 16–24 weeks after planting.

Don’t pull garlic out of the ground — you may have planted a small clove, but the bulb is now many times the size it was, with a strong root system. Dig your rows up, brush off any soil clinging to bulbs, and let them dry out for a day or two in the sun. If there’s a shortage of sun, choose a well ventilated room, or a dry place outside. Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off, and you can also further clean by removing outer skins — just be careful not to expose any of the cloves. Another idea is to plait your dried plants into swags, or tie into bunches, and hang in a warm, dry room out of direct sunlight, until you’re ready to use.

Garlic will grow just as well in a pot as in the garden – if you’re short of space, plant single cloves in a rich, well-drained soil in a large container. Garlic enjoys lime, so mix a tablespoon of lime into the soil as well.