We're nearing the end of the growing season now, and most garlic is almost ready to harvest. No matter how long we have been farming Isle of Wight garlic, nothing beats the excitement of seeing the garlic seed we planted back in the autumn come to fruition - and nothing beats the satisfaction of eating food you've grown and nurtured yourself!
Garlic is probably one of the easiest crops to grow at home, and it's a great plant for the first-time gardener to flex their green fingers on, since it grows equally well in a vegetable patch, flower-bed, garden pots or even a window box. Start with the best seed garlic you can find, plant it in fertile or nutrient-enriched soil, feed it from time to time with a mineral-rich fertiliser, and then wait for your homegrown harvest to appear! Of course, like any plants, there are a few things you can do to optimise garlic's growth; here's what to look out for during the nine months from planting to harvest:
How to care for seed garlic
Roughly two months after planting your garlic seed, you will begin to see green shoots appearing above the soil (although autumn-planted garlic bulbs are slower to emerge than spring-planted bulbs). In the early spring, we recommend adding our specialist garlic fertiliser. After that, all you need do is ensure the plants remain weed-free, and don't dry out. From late spring, as the weather starts to warm up, keep the bulbs well-watered until about a week before harvesting.
What pests or diseases can affect garlic?
You will find information on our website about common pests and diseases and more detailed advice in our Garlic Growing Guide book (available online for £3.75). Some basic principles include:
- always use clean and healthy planting stock
- avoid an over-supply of nitrogen to the soil
- don't use compost containing garlic debris
- dry your garlic well after harvest
- remove all garlic stems and leaves from the soil after harvest
- rotate your crop, leaving three years before planting in the same flower-beds, and planting non-allium crops in between
How to care for your garlic crop before harvest
A few weeks before harvest, prune the scapes (flower stalks) that emerge on hardneck garlic bulbs, in order to direct the plant's growing energy back into the garlic bulb. Happily, scapes are edible - and delicious! - see our Recipe Resource page for ideas on how to cook scapes. The bulb can now increase in size by as much as 50%, so this is a very important step if you're keen to grow the biggest, most flavoursome garlic.
When is the best time to harvest garlic?
Softneck garlic varieties are ready to harvest when half the crop stems have begun to droop to one side. Hardneck garlic is best harvested when 30% of the leaves have turned brown. These signs indicate that the garlic growing cycle is complete and the bulbs have reached full size.