Garlic is the Marmite in our vegetable garden – I love it while my husband loathes it. So I grow and eat the garlic while he gives the whole process (and, at times, me) a wide berth. However, regardless of taste preferences, garlic is undeniably associated with France and French cooking.
In France garlic is classified according to colour – violet, white and pink. Violet and white varieties of garlic are stronger in flavour than pink and they give a higher yield in terms of the quantity and size of cloves per bulb. Pink garlic is more delicate and needs to be planted in the early spring. Conversely, the pink varieties tend to keep better than white or violet.
A healthy bulb of violet garlic
The time to plant white and violet garlic is now. They love sun and frost (which helps the clove you have planted develop into more cloves to form a healthy bulb) and by planting them now you allow the roots to establish before the plant puts its resources into leaf formation. It is also satisfying to have something to plant at this time of year. It makes me feel that spring is not too far away.
Garlic hates being too wet or being planted in heavy soil. It loves sunshine and an open, weed free setting, so choose your location with care and if your soil is on the heavy side, work in some grit, sand or organic matter. Buy the bulbs from a reputable supplier and do not simply use a bulb you bought in the supermarket as it could be contaminated with a virus. Divide the bulb up into individual cloves, selecting only the plumpest healthiest cloves for planting.
Push the cloves, individually, into your prepared soil, pushing them down so that they are planted at twice the depth of the clove itself, much as you would with bulbs in your flower garden. The pointy end should be at the top and they should be planted approximately 15 centimetres apart. Keep the soil weed free and leave them to their own devices. They will use the long winter period to establish a healthy root system. Some leaves will develop, but more vigorous leaf growth will take place next spring.
Garlic cloves all ready to be covered with earth
The French for garlic is ‘ail’, but in April and May you will also hear the term “aillet” used a lot. An aillet is a young garlic plant. It looks like a spring onion as it has long, green leaves but the bulb of garlic has not yet developed. Aillets are absolutely delicious. You slice them like a spring onion and use them cooked or raw. They impart a delicate garlic flavour.
A bunch of aillets
Traditionally baby garlic plants are used to make “l’omelette à l’aillet” on or around May 1st, but there are many other recipes which incorporate them. So make sure, when you plant your garlic cloves, that you plant enough to be able to harvest them as young garlics from May onwards, but still have enough to mature into large bulbs for use later in the year.
Harvest your mature garlic when you see the foliage begin to brown and fold over. Carefully lift them, making sure that you do not damage the bulbs. Don’t wash them or cut off leaves or roots. Brush off any dirt and then allow them to dry naturally. The outer skins of the bulbs and the leaves will become papery.
I find that garlic stores best if I leave roots and leaves intact and hang the bulbs in small bunches. You can also store them flat if you allow air to circulate around them. Store them in a cool, dry, well ventilated, dark place until ready to use. White and violet garlic will last around 6 months. Pink garlic lasts longer, so plant some of that, too, next spring, for a year-round supply.
Slugs and snails don’t like garlic either….
You can protect plants which are susceptible to being eaten by slugs and snails by creating a repellent spray. Crush and chop up a bulb of garlic then simmer in a litre of water for about 5 minutes, then leave the infusion to cool. Sieve to remove the bits and use the liquid to spray the plants you want to protect. Do this in the evening and about once a week. It is much kinder to hedgehogs than sprinkling blue pellets everywhere and your plant smells like a delicious bowl of salad.