A long time ago the British were highly sceptical of garlic and very few would eat it, let alone grow it and you could buy olive oil but only in pharmacies for the treatment of ear problems.
Then along came the cookery writer Elizabeth David and suddenly garlic and olive oil became exciting and the British became more adventurous in their eating habits. Inspired by her, Colin Boswell on the Isle of Wight decided to start growing garlic and went on to develop many strains suitable to be grown in the British climate, the first of which was Solent Wight.
Solent Wight is a soft neck garlic variety that stores well. It has medium to large bulbs with good sized cloves. It is hardy and one of the most reliable to grow in the UK climate and can be planted in the autumn to overwinter.
Garlic comes in a couple of different types, hard neck and soft neck. The difference is the stem that comes up from the bulb. In hard neck the stem is hard, soft neck…soft.
Hard neck bulbs in general are slower growing, have fewer but bigger cloves and do not store quite as well as soft neck.
Soft neck varieties mature faster so can be better in cooler climates, have more but smaller cloves and store for longer than hard necks. Their softer stem means they can also be plaited in to the traditional garlic plaits seen in traditional food markets.
On top of this you also get varieties of garlic that are best sown in autumn or others which can be sown in spring. Do buy garlic bulbs from a reputable supplier to reduce the risk of bringing onion rot on to your site.
Garlic likes a sunny, well-drained site. Before planting dig in some well-rotted organic matter. Break the bulbs in to individual cloves, discarding any that are damaged or small. Plant the individual cloves pointed side up, 2.5cm deep and 15cm apart, leaving 30 cm between rows.
Water only during dry spells in spring and early summer and not at all once the leaves start to turn yellow. Keep weed free by mulching or weeding by hand to prevent damage to shallow roots.
Harvest starts in June/July. The leaves will be starting to brown. Harvest during a dry period by gently loosening the roots with a fork before lifting the garlic. Don’t pull hard or you may leave the bulb in the ground.
Dust the earth off the roots and trim them before drying. The most successful method of drying in the UK is to tie several bulbs together with string and suspend in a cool dark place such as a shed or garage. After several weeks you can either trim the stems or plait and continue to store in a cool dark place.
Garlic can suffer from two main problems which is rust which will appear most in warm damp conditions. It makes the plants look a little unsightly and will stunt growth a little but will not affect the bulbs or storage. There are no current rust resistant varieties. The other problem is birds which may pull out cloves when they are first planted. Give them a check every couple of days and replant.
In the kitchen:
Solent Wight is a robust garlic, not too strong so can be used raw in moderation. It stores very well.
Yield and plant health:
Plants were healthy, although they did succumb to rust. Cloves were well formed and damage/disease free. 100% success rate on planted cloves forming a bulb from an autumn sowing and a very wet cold winter down to minus 8.
Most major UK seed suppliers and