In my past life as a chef one of my favourite ingredients was the humble clove – or two – of garlic. The piquancy of flavour could add a subtle distraction to a dish or completely overwhelm it. It’s strength of character would depend on distinct nuances between varieties, seasons, growing medium and the enlarging hole in the ozone layer…okay, well maybe the ozone layer had very little to do with it.

Yet, while some factors may have less bearing when it comes to growing garlic there are others that can make or break their success. Trust me, I’ve had more failures than I’ve had successes in the garlic growing department. But each season I try to improve on what I learnt from the last. With autumn now approaching I’m psyching myself up to start the most bountiful harvest ever – now there’s positive thinking in action.

While I’ve had success with garlic in the past, the results have been very sporadic. One bulb will be a gargantuan specimen worthy of a blue-ribbon in the local show while its neighbour appears smaller than the clove I originally planted. Obviously this is an exaggerated example, but you get my gist.

So what have I learned from years of trying to get this bulb to love my garden?

My gardening tips on growing garlic

  1. Early autumn is the best time to plant – usually summer finishes and autumn races towards winter and I often find myself planting cloves on the colder end of this season. If you really want a successful harvest of this allium then the cloves NEED to be in the ground at the start of autumn when the ground still has some warmth in it.
  2. The soil needs to be deliciously friable – I know, I know. All we’re ever recommended to grow in is friable soil and who ever has that? Well, in the case of growing garlic it’s more a necessity than a luxury. Those with clay soils will struggle equally as much as those with sandy soils. The clay soil will restrict the growth of the bulbs in the same way as they encourage bifurcation of carrots. And sandy soils just won’t be able to retain the moisture or nutrients that these precocious vegetables demand.

    If you want to grow a good crop of garlic then your soil needs to be a welcoming mat. They love a soil that is slightly on the acidic side so pouring compost and manures into your bed before planting will please them beyond imagination.

  3. Keep the soil moist – if your autumn and winters are fairly dry then keeping some irrigation on your young bulbs will prove invaluable. Otherwise, you might just want to mulch the beds. They don’t need heaps of water but they don’t appreciate drying out either.
  4. Source quality bulbs for planting – most often you can buy bulbs of garlic to grow straight from the supermarket. However, increasingly it seems that many producers are spraying bulbs with growth inhibitors to protect their stock. Your best source for quality bulbs would be from someone who has already grown their own from a past season or from organic producers.
  5. Plant the cloves the right way up! – like any other bulb, if it’s planted incorrectly they will never see the light of day – literally. The base of each clove should be pointing downwards while its peak should face the sun. Fairly obvious, one would assume, but the number of people who ask the question illustrates the need to make the point.

Once your cloves are in the ground you can easily engage the set-and-forget mindset. They will mostly take care of themselves and apart from a side dressing off liquid fertiliser once the foliage begins to show, they won’t need much more attention.

Then in late spring, when the leaves begin to die down you can begin to harvest these wonderful veggies leaving them to dry out in the sun before storing. And the best way to store garlic is by braiding and hanging.

Here’s a toast to a bountiful harvest of your own home grown garlic.