Size isn’t everything they say, but when it comes to garlic cloves I am generally of the opinion that bigger is always better. There is nothing more frustrating and lets face it, a little wiffy, than fiddling round with tiny cloves.
If like me you love large garlic then your breath is likely to be taken away by Elephant garlic who’s bulbs can be as large as your hand. However the elephant in the room is that it is not actually garlic at all, it is actually an unusually adapted leek, native to Western Europe and even naturalised on the Cornish coast of the UK.
In the Kitchen
Elephant garlic is very mild, almost mild enough to eat raw and certainly for those who are unconvinced of the merits of garlic. Its taste is not quite like true garlic, it is closer to leek with a bit more peppery hotness.
A common way to cook with elephant garlic is to slice away the stem and then cut in half across the bulb to expose the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. put the two halves back together and wrap in foil. Roast at 160c/320f for 40-60 minutes until starting to caramelise. You can then squeeze out the individual cloves and spread on toast. Cooked like this its natural sweetness and mild taste come out.
For those who are garlic skeptics try using it in the place of normal garlic for a milder taste. If can also be used raw, try it in tomato bruschetta or grated with some cucumber and yogurt to make tzatziki.
Yield and plant health
Elephant garlic can be up to 4 inches across with individual cloves that can be as large as your thumb. In my midlands, heavy clay allotment they tend to be a little smaller, maybe two inches across. Elephant garlic needs a long period to develop and should be planted in the Autumn. This will not only encourage larger bulbs but give them the period of cool needed to split the bulb. If you do not have that period of cool weather then you will end up with one giant clove!
Although being a leek, Elephant garlic is as susceptible to the same pests and diseases as normal garlic. In the photo below you can see some damage caused by allium leaf miner. In this instance I removed skin until i could see the pupae and then removed it with tweezers to be green municipal waste composted. Temperatures are so hot in the municipal waste that any pupae will be killed however you should not dispose of in your own compost as you will not have hot enough temperatures.
The Garlic farm (UK)
Mr Fothergills (UK)
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 four main problems Firstly is rust which will appear 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 second problem is allium leaf miner who pupae burrow down in to the follage and can cause rotting. The only organic solution for this if it is on your plot is to cover with insect mesh and do not allow the foliage to touch the mesh and rotate your crops on an annual basis.
If you find your cloves pulled out it is most likely to be birds which may pull out cloves when they are first planted. Give them a check every couple of days and replant.
The final issue you will not spot until it is too late is that garlic bulbs need a prolonged period of cold to split otherwise they tend to produce one giant bulb. This is especially an issue for Elephant Garlic. It is worth before planting your garlic exposing it to a very cold fridge before you plant. This is especially important for any garlic that you plant in spring rather than in Autumn. There is nothing wrong with one giant clove and it can be used in cooking as normal, it is just not what most people are after.
There are no true alternatives to elephant garlic which is the biggest and mildest garlic you can grow. However good garlics to grow as well are