Growing garlic – a few tricks
Garlic is arguably one of Mediterranean cuisine’s most important flavours. Fresh tastes best, but it’s not always easy to get hold of freshly picked cloves. Solve the problem by growing it yourself! The process is a little tricky but not impossible. Here’s how to do it.
Countless narratives surround this onion-like plant with its unique aroma. In Ancient Greece, anyone smelling of garlic was denied access to holy temples. And garlic is apparently great for keeping vampires away – for those who believe in them! It’s unsurprising that garlic’s heady aroma is so divisive. But whether you enjoy the smell or are repulsed by it, one thing is certain: garlic helps keep your heart and your immune system healthy. We’re mad about this bulb vegetable, but primarily as a cooking ingredient. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any of our savoury dishes without it!
Fresh garlic is the best garlic
Like so many herbs and vegetables, garlic tastes best when it’s fresh. Unfortunately, as fresh garlic doesn’t keep for long, many supermarkets only stock dried out, peeling bulbs. “Fresh garlic bulbs are easily identifiable by their velvety husk. The skin between their cloves is pale pink and not white,” our Vapianisti tell us. “And fresh garlic also has a luscious green stem.”
If you’re fed up with the dry, flaky bulbs in the shops, how about growing your own? It’s not as difficult as you may think. Garlic lovers swear by fresh garlic and so do we. In fact, it’s all we use in our Vapiano restaurants. “You don’t even need a garden to grow garlic,” says our Vapianisti. “A pot on the balcony is ample!”
Planting garlic – get it right
September and October are the best times to start cultivating garlic, but the bulb is so hardy it can be planted all the way through to February. Garlic likes loose, fertile earth in a sunny spot with just a little watering. If your clove has a short green shoot sprouting from the top, it’s the ideal time to plant it out. Plant around 2.5 cm deep and leave around 10 cm between each clove. A layer of mulch keeps the young garlic warm and encourages growth. Cover with straw, mulch or brushwood before it gets really cold. But even frost doesn’t seem to bother this hardy little bulb. Its biggest enemy is water logging, which can quickly cause its roots to rot. The best recipe for home-grown success is to water in moderation, allowing the plants to dry out occasionally.
Harvesting garlic – when’s best?
Although growing garlic seems easy, when to harvest the bulbs does throw up some questions. A lot of hobby gardeners aren’t sure whether to leave them for one year or two. It’s good to know that garlic can be left to grow for two years without losing any of its flavour.
Garlic can be harvested throughout summer. Spring is when the plants sprout and grow new bulbs. Plant out in autumn without worrying about frost and you’ll have lovely, aromatic bulbs two years down the line. Can’t wait that long? No worries. Garlic can be harvested after a year, although the cloves won’t be as large or have such an intense taste.
Garlic plants keep bugs at bay
Garlic is a superhero style protector of the plant world, which is great news for the rest of your bed! If garlic is planted between flowers, grasses or other plants, the essential oils help keep nasty bugs and beasties away. If your house plant has fallen victim to greenfly, simply stick a clove of garlic in the earth and watch the bugs run for the hills. They hate garlic!
Storing, prepping and cooking with garlic
Garlic adds the perfect flavour to all kinds of recipes. “Imagine fresh bruschetta without garlic!” our Vapianisti says. While fresh garlic cloves have a particularly intense taste, other parts of the plant can also be used in the kitchen. “The green shoots are a great alternative to spring onions for salads or as a garnish,” is our Vapianisti’s own tip. Preserving peeled cloves in oil is a brilliant way of keeping them fresher for longer. Add herbs or chilli to the oil to flavour. But however you use your fresh, home-grown garlic, make sure you store it correctly to get the best out of it. Garlic should always be kept in a cool, dry, dark place. In these conditions, it can easily keep for up to six months.
• Frying garlic too hot causes it to become bitter.
• A single clove can measure between 5 and 20 cm.
• Garlic plants grow to 30 -90 cm with 15 mm wide green leaves. The flowers are white or pale pink. When they fall off small cylinder shaped bulbils form, which can in turn be used to grow more garlic.