Elephant Garlic needs a little understanding to be appreciated. Colin explains:
A large, vigorous and impressive leafy plant in the field with a mild and less urgent need to enforce itself on the palate than its cousin, garlic, it is really a fat bottomed leek with garlic tendencies.
It can be found growing wild as “Babington's Leek" in coastal situations in the west of England and Ireland, notably around some Cornish surfing beaches. In the 1920s it was chosen by Californian plant raiser and for some, genius, Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa, who developed by careful selection a leek that produced a garlic flavoured bulb with the potential to produce bulbs weighing over 2lb/1kg. Luther Burbank had many plant successes including the Burbank Russet potato, the mainstay of the potato chipping industry for many years.
Luther Burbank's other great strength was as a marketeer. Much of the success of “allium ampeloprasum" in Burbank's hands was his choice of name for it – Elephant Garlic. The name confirms the plant and all expectations for it. An assured reward for the gardener who plants it.
When it comes to planting time, which for us on the Isle of Wight is September, then there is a real pleasure in planting cloves the size of most garlic bulbs, in rows, three plants to the yard/metre, with the Island sun on our backs and that glorious soft September light enhancing the beautiful landscape, yet still warm enough to make the soil feel welcoming to next year's Elephant crop to be.
Our garlic planting team is led by our farm manager, Feras, who has been with the Garlic Farm for almost 10 years. He has an arable team, several of whom learnt their horticultural skills working on their grandparents' farms, mostly in Romania.
Like onions, Elephant Garlic needs a small amount of nitrogen in the seedbed with phosphate and potash sufficient to take the plant through the winter. Across the UK, growth starts in February, early in the month in the south, later further north. 3oz/80gm of sulphate of potash and some nitrogen, worked into the soil around the plants will provide essential nutrients and protective sulphur right up to harvest.
Our garlic farm fertiliser pack contains the essential nutrients required. Apply half in the soil at planting and half hoed in during February.
Hoeing the soil around the plant every three weeks keeps it loose, friable and weed-free. Particularly remove any grasses as soon as they appear. We go through the crop up to five times with a tractor and steerage hoe, a person mounted on the back to fine adjust the hoe away from fragile garlic stems.
We irrigate the crop, as required, never letting the soil dry out. Keeping the soil loose and aerated at this time can be equal to an inch of rain.
Successful gardeners always have an eye and a thought for what is happening in the garden. Feras, our farm manager and his team also have a continual watch on the crop. John, Adrian, Nicolae and Nico are the mainstay of The Garlic Farm arable team, having been with us for years. They know more than most so called experts about the crop.
Due to the high light intensity of the Isle of Wight, many crops can be weeks early compared to those grown just across the Solent. Whilst our Elephant Garlic is planted, it's not too late to plant your own and we still have some cloves available here.