Updated: Oct 20
One of my clients lives in the Highlands and regularly stays in Glasgow for work, arranging in-person sessions with me when she is in the city. At one of our sessions in late 2018, she asked my advice on planting garlic. She wanted to grow it for the first time but wasn't sure about how to go about it. When she returned home, she sourced some garlic bulbs, planted the cloves in the winter of 2018 and, in the summer of 2019, sent me photos of the wonderful healthy garlic she had grown and harvested.
One Saturday morning in the Autumn of 2019, I arrived at the Glasgow Osteopathic Centre for my appointments. At the end of the busy day, Suzie - one of the receptionists at the centre - gave me a small bag saying that a client had handed it in for me during the week. All she knew was that the woman had said she couldn't stay long as she was just travelling through. There was no note on the bag but when I opened it I knew immediately who it was from. Inside was a bulb of garlic, with long crispy leaves and little bits of soil attached to the roots.
Two months later, I managed to plant this garlic in a pot and placed it on my back doorstep. I had moved house in that Autumn and my garden - the WytchWood potager - was just a patch of grass, some broken decking and masses of concrete and rubble at the time, with no growing space in the ground suitable to sustain this little bulb. I avidly kept my eyes on this pot for signs of life; watering, tending, sheltering it since Autumn 2019.
As I write this, in early 2020, I am delighted to have found the beginnings of a cluster of these new garlic bulbs making their first tentative steps into the world, peeking out of the soil - these are in the photograph above. The garlic she gifted me is one of the very few things currently growing in the garden of my new home, one of the first things that I planted in it myself. As I watch these grow and, when the time comes, harvest them and save some for replanting and cook with them this year, I will be constantly reminded of the lovely meaning they have for me and the sharing kindness behind them.
Amelia Earhart, author and aviator pioneer, said 'A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.' How right she was.
Update Autumn 2020
The garlic shoots in the pot on the back doorstep were gently transplanted into a raised bed in Spring 2020, and produced the lovely red skinned 2nd generation specimens above, harvested in late Summer 2020. These were divided and each individual clove has been planted again this Autumn. I look forward to harvesting the 3rd generation next Summer!
How To Grow Garlic
Growing garlic is easy and can be done in a pot, bed or in a planter using most types of soil or compost that have good drainage. The bulbs are usually planted in Autumn but there are some varieties that can be planted in Spring for an Autumn harvest - give it a go, with your own garlic you've sourced no matter what the variety, there's really nothing to lose. Garlic likes well-drained soil and they like a sunny spot - if you're using a planter or pot, make sure it has a little drainage hole in the bottom. Garlic doesn't like being in a waterlogged space and tends to rot.
Any garlic from a greengrocer will do or from farmers markets, food co-operatives and supermarkets, or from a mail order plant company or garden centre. I have used bulbs specifically from a garden centre/nursery (the most recent variety was Casablanca) but most of the time I've used what I've bought from a shop and they've worked great, if not as big as cultivar varieties. Generally it's a better idea to use organic garlic. This way you'll have lovely organic garlic, grown organically in your own little green space or garden, tended with love from you. There's not much better than that! Pesticides and herbicides are a no-no as there are lots of natural non toxic ways of control and, I can assure you, you don't want to be ingesting weedkiller if you can help it.
Take a healthy garlic bulb and split it apart by hand, separating the cloves from each other. Don't peel the skins off but don't worry if they come off while you're separating it. Put a dibber, trowel handle or your own finger into the soil to create a hole that's just wider than the width of each clove and with a depth of around twice the height of the clove. The holes should be about 6inches/15cm apart to give the cloves space to grow into bulbs (this is what happens - one clove grows to become a bulb forming lots of other cloves - amazing isn't it!). Place a clove in each hole, with the flat end of the clove downward and the pointy end upward and gently cover with soil. Water a little and leave for around 6 months, watering a little when the soil seems a little dry, but generally just leave them be.
It may not seem that much is happening over the winter months but this is the time the garlic are storing all of their energy and putting it into creating roots. Small green round tipped shoots will begin to appear after a little time and these may need covering with horticultural fleece, a cloche or similar to prevent the birds from pecking at them. Sometimes new garlic shoots are munched by baby bunnies who, unlike the more experienced adult rabbits, don't realise they don't like them yet. If they've had a little nibble, don't worry, they'll recover quite well.
The garlic will grow tall and thin and when the flowers are produced in early Spring, cut these off, before they open, to encourage the energy to be directed by the plant into the bulb. The flowers are called scapes and these can be chopped up and fried, used in cooking.
To weed around the garlic, try not to use a hoe but weed by hand instead; it's easy to accidentally cut the leaves off at the base with a hoe - I've done it myself. Don't overwater, especially when the bulbs are large and have become well formed. You may see the garlic bulb pushing itself up through the soil as it grows but it only becomes ready to harvest when the leaves begin yellowing. Some of the green leaves can be used in salads but only harvest the bulbs after the green leaves have yellowed on the plant. Carefully lift them with a garden fork, shake the soil off the roots and you can either lay them out or bunch them up to dry a little. Laying out flat helps the air circulate around each bulb helping to avoid any dampness or rotting.
When they're rustling and the skin is dry, they're ready to use - and to share with another who is keen to grow their own garlic. Spread that love and energy you've put into those bulbs!
Copyright 2020 © Andrea Doran, Holistic Medicine Specialist, Flourish and Contributors | For personal use and information only - date of original post 15th January 2020.