We are currently enjoying one of those crisp November mornings, bright sunshine, fairly mild and no frost on the ground yet. This makes it an ideal last chance to get garlic in to the ground if you haven’t already done so.
If you haven’t already bought your varieties then I would seriously recommend Carcassonne which has taken over from Solent Wight as my favourite variety. Carcassonne is town in France close to the border with Spain and is on the Way of St James/Pietmont pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. Because of that Carcassonne garlic may have been brought to Carcassone by pilgrims although this may be an urban myth. Needless to say the langeudoc region is famous for garlic sausage, confit duck and cassoulet which both contain large amounts of garlic.. The Wight on the end of the name indicates that it was originally brought to the UK by the The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight.
Carcassonne is a hardneck garlic variety which means it stores well with large bulbs (growing up to 7cm across in ideal conditions) and cloves who’s skin has a pink tinge.
In the Kitchen
Probably because of its large clove size Carcassonne has quite a mild creamy flavour so would be good for garlic sceptics or where raw garlic is require like in aioli.
Yield and Plant health
Other than elephant garlic Carcassonne is the largest garlic bulb/clove that I have grown and is hardy/vigorous in the UK so gives good yield. Unfortunately like all garlic it is susceptible to all the usual garlic pests and diseases.
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.