My flower bulbs were planted way back in September, but there is one bulb that prefers to be planted later on in the year. That is garlic. It is about the easiest thing to plant. Break a globe into segments and then push them gently into the soil, burying them about 50mm below the surface. The books say plant 200mm apart, but I plant them far more closely, probably about 120mm in both directions. If some of the bulbs are a bit small they can be planted together and will form a nice cluster by next autumn. Garlic can also be planted more closely together and then thinned in the spring to provide a tasty spring onion like crop. However this practice might compromise the size of the ones left in the ground to mature.
Garlic grows well in my veg plot. They don’t take up much space, and because they are slow growers, they can be inter-planted in early summer with leaf crops. Leave the plants to fend for themselves in a sunny spot and by August/September you will find that the foliage begins to die down. By then, below the soil surface, each bulb will have transformed itself into a fat globe. If I get a good crop I save the fattest for planting next year.
There is some evidence that garlic is a very locally sensitive crop. So by selecting the best globe each year, and replanting it, I should be able to develop a local cultivar. I’m hoping that I will eventually be able to market a “Chateau Vegplot” variety.
There are two different types, hard-top and soft-top.
Hard-neck garlic – this is the type of garlic that can be purchased in the supermarket. In fact, as long as the garlic you buy comes from a British grower, then it should be possible to plant it out in the garden. It doesn’t set seed, so all the goodness will go into the bulb. However it is not so pretty in the vegplot as soft-neck.
Soft-neck garlic, Allium sativium,gives two crops. It grows more leaf and it will flower. In mid-summer the young leaves and flowers are delicious, if lightly stewed. Cutting them does not seem to harm the bulb below the soil, though I do leave a good proportion of the green stem intact. These are called scantlings, or scapes in some parts of the country.
However soft-neck garlic that looks to me identical to its hard neck variety, does not keep as well as the hard neck. I like garlic; Early Purple Wight that comes from the famous garlic farm on the Isle of Wight. It has a lovely purple skin and does crop early if planted out in the autumn.
If you leave the flowers in place you will be rewarded in good years by a constellation of bulb-lets around the flower. This looks pretty and they can be eaten, but if sewn and left for two years they will turn into garlic bulbs. I’ve never tried this.
Garlic likes a period of chill, hence the autumn planting can increase yields, though some varieties have been produced for spring planting. So if something dire happens to the autumn crop, don’t despair.
There is also elephant garlic, a massive bulb that turns into a monster, but its roots go down well below the globe, so I wouldn’t recommend it for shallow growing conditions.