Winter weekend project: plant garlic for an early crop

Lia Leendertz

Old gardening wisdom says that you should plant garlic on the shortest day and harvest it on the longest. It’s not a bad way of remembering the rough pattern of growth – but, in fact, planting garlic a little earlier will give it a head start before the really cold weather arrives. 

In theory, garlic can also be planted in spring, but the yields will be about half that of autumn-sown garlic. November may feel like an odd time to start a crop so associated with heat and the Mediterranean, but planting now allows it to put down roots and send up its sturdy, winter-defying shoots early, ready to make the most of next year’s season. 

Garlic grows well in Britain on all but the heaviest soils. Unfortunately I garden on one such soil, but have found that forming my claggy clay into a ridge and mixing in plenty of horticultural grit creates drainage good enough for it to succeed. 

Don’t use garlic bought at the supermarket – it may carry viruses and is unlikely to be the best strain for our climate (check where it was grown if you want confirmation of this). The ‘Wight’ strains have been bred for UK conditions and are available from thegarlicfarm.co.uk. The Garlic Lovers Collection from suttons.co.uk has a long-storing softneck variety and two of the gourmet hardnecks; the latter are more closely related to wild garlic and have a more complex flavour.

They are a little trickier but well worth trying.  Break bulbs apart just before planting and push cloves into the ground pointy end up. Mulching with straw or rough compost can really help to buffer the plants against winter weather, and improve yields when summer harvest time comes around. 

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018 by Lia Leendertz (Unbound, £9.99). To buy a copy for £7.99 plus p&p, call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk