Growing your own Garlic Bulbs

Try growing your own garlic bulbs. It is easy, and can last you the entire year, without using a significant amount of space. Garlic stores well and even has the effect of reducing pests to other plants.

The Fine Print

There are two main varieties of garlic, soft necked and hard necked. The growing of these tends to be the same but the end result is different.

There are several key differences between soft and hard necked garlic, including the flavour profile. The list below shows you the difference for when you are growing your own garlic bulbs.

  • Hard necked garlic: Literally has a hard stem. These do not store as well as soft necked varieties, up to about 10 months, however many people say the flavour profile is significantly better, with different types having different flavours depending on a whole raft of factors.
  • Soft necked garlic: These varieties are great for storing and with the soft neck they are able to be tied into plaits a lot more easily. These can also store much longer, for up to several years if required and stored correctly.

There is also a similar plant called elephant garlic. This is not actually garlic, instead it is a type of leek, but grows in a similar way to garlic. We will have a sperate growing guide on this shortly.

Garlic is a great vegetable to grow, and many people grow it amongst other vegetables, as it has a habit of keeping pests away. Grow it near grape vines or in borders and it can be really useful as it grows.

Getting Started

The cool thing about growing garlic is that you can plant some varieties in November through to December and some in the early spring. However, you get much smaller bulbs for spring planted garlic. Growing your own garlic is easy with either planting time.

Traditional gardening wisdom suggests you plant on the shortest day of the year, and harvest on the longest. In reality, for the biggest bulbs, plant before this but harvest around the longest day, as this also tends to be relatively dry for most places in the UK (relatively being the key word).

Often you will buy garlic bulbs whole and split them into cloves to plant. Be careful when you do this as you don’t want to damage the skin and want to keep some of the root stock on the flat end.

In early November or February simply dig a hole in the ground about 2 inches deep and wide enough for a single clove. I simply use my finger to poke a hole and that works really well when you have well draining soil. If a bit claggy add some sand or grit to help with the drainage. Then drop the bulb in, flat end down. Cover over with loose earth and water gently. And then leave it.

Growing Big Bulbs

There are several things to remember when growing your own garlic bulbs, especially if you want to get big bulbs. Much of the work in order to get big bulbs happens early on, prior to planting.

  • Garlic bulbs rely on having larger garlic cloves planted. Save your largest cloves for planting the next year.
  • Prepare the soil by digging it through and mixing with compost.
  • Add nitrogen and potassium to soil prior to planting, and continue fertilising with these throughout growing season, until the scapes come out.
  • Ensure you plant the garlic at enough distance. 8 inches around each bulb should be enough. So that is 8 inches between rows and between plants.
  • Weed weed weed! Weeds can really reduce the size of your garlic bulbs. Mulching can work to reduce the amount of weeds quite well.
Freshly harvested garlic bulbs

Pests that you will encounter when growing your own Garlic Bulbs

Although co-planting garlic is a good way to keep pests away from other plants, there are some pests which go for garlic as well.

  • Leek rust: a common problem which causes yellow and red stains on leaves. A little bit won’t harm your plants, but a lot will stunt the growth of the bulb. Once you have leek rust there is not much you can do though. So it is more a preventative strategy that is needed. Try reducing the humidity by making sure plants are further apart. Also don’t plant in the same space the next year.
  • Onion white rot: this is a nasty pest, and one that you cannot do much about. It exists in the soil and rots roots and bulbs, wilting the leaves of the garlic. There is no cure and no way to destroy the rot in the soil. If you have this then you will need to grow something else in the bed other than garlic, onions or leeks, and be careful as the rot can spread through contaminated soil, even on a spade, fork or trowel.
  • Pigeons and other birds: Pigeons are a general nightmare in the garden and will peck at small garlic plants.  If you are not in the habit of reducing the pigeon population by projectile means then use chicken wire to create a cage to protect the garlic until it gets a little larger. Interestingly, pigeon cooked with a garlic crust is a particularly tasty meal!

Harvesting your Garlic Bulbs

A really key thing to remember in regards to your garlic is that the bulb is not the only part that is edible. You can use the stems of the plants much in the same way as spring onion. However, my favourite part (other than the bulb) is the garlic scape. This is the top of the stem, where the flower head is forming. These are delicious cooked as part of a stew, maybe try in a cassoulet, or used finely chopped in a stir fry with some fresh broad beans.

These scapes need cutting off anyway, so you may as well use them. When the plant starts to try to flower it puts all of its energy into creating the flower and trying to reproduce. You want it to put its energy into creating a larger bulb instead.

Cut the scapes off when they start to form and curl over but before the flowers form.

A small handful of garlic scapes

However, you are here to see how to grow your own garlic bulbs. It can be difficult to work out when to harvest your garlic, however there are several things to look out for.

  • Thick stems: Although you will get stems of different thicknesses, a thicker well formed stem tends to indicate bigger bulbs.
  • Leaves starting to turn yellow and die back: This is your best way to check that garlic bulbs have formed. The leaves start turning yellow quite early, however you want to see most of the leaves going yellow rather than just one or two.
  • Time of the year: Depending upon when you planted your garlic, you may have bulbs ready to come out at different times. If you planted in Autumn they should be ready in June/ July, if you plant in Spring they should be ready later on in the Summer.

Curing your Garlic Bulbs

Air drying garlic bulbs

Curing your garlic bulbs is important if you want to store your garlic bulbs longer term and I find my bulbs can last me almost 12 months, meaning I don’t need to buy garlic for the entire year! And I use a lot of garlic. This means this is one of the most important stages in growing your own garlic bulbs.

Basically curing the garlic dries out the skin ensuring that the flesh does not rot. You want to ensure there is plenty of airflow so no mould can grow between the bulbs.

In the video above this is done by tying the stems to string and stretching it as much as possible. In good weather this can be done outside, but if there is a threat of rain you will need to do it undercover.

Do not do this in a green house though! You want to reduce humidity so a shed or spare bedroom work perfectly.

Seed Varieties

When growing your own garlic bulbs, never plant supermarket bought garlic. Do you remember above when I told you about white onion rot, well, some of the supermarket garlic may be infected, meaning you are infecting your garden, and if you are on an allotment your entire allotment could suffer!

Use one of our links below to buy seeds from our trusted suppliers.  These are some of our favourite garlic varieties to grow, but it is not an exhaustive list.

  • Cledor (softneck) – Suttons seeds: strong skinned white bulbs with a good flavour. Perfect for Autumn growing. £4.99 for 8-12 cloves.
  • Edenrose (hardneck) – Suttons Seeds: Rose coloured, easy peel skin. Strong flavour. Lots of cloves per bulb. Spring planted variety. £4.99 for 250g pack.
  • Lautrec Wight (hardneck) – The Garlic Farm: 2 or four bulbs. Pale white skin with cloves covered in pink skin. Very versatile and can be planted Autumn through to Spring. From £5.95 for 2 bulbs.
  • Mersley Wight (softneck) – The Garlic Farm: 2 or 4 bulbs. Bright white bulbs which are quite large. Spring planted variety, good for a mid February planting. Provides between 6 and 10 cloves per bulb. From 6.95 for 2 bulbs.
  • Red Duke (hardneck) – Marshalls seeds: beautiful red cloves inside a thick durable white skin. Really good for growing throughout UK. Strong tasting cloves with a good resistance to Rust. 6.99 for 2 bulbs.
  • Solent Wight (softneck) – The Garlic Farm: Great for planting in Autumn or Spring, large bulbs with between 10 and 18 cloves per bulb. Good looking bulbs which are perfect for plaiting and well suited for growing in the southern UK climate. From £6.95 for 2 bulbs.
  • Winter planting pack – The Garlic Farm: contains 4 bulbs including 2 Provence Wight bulbs, 1 Carcassonne Wight, and 3 cloves of Elephant Garlic. £12.95 for variety pack.

Now you have read about growing your own garlic bulbs, maybe you are ready to cook with it? Why not do a classic French dish of allotment snails in garlic? It takes a little while but is delicious! Or what about making your own garlic bread?