One autumn crop I love planting and which I would never willingly be without is garlic. It’s embarrassingly easy to grow, takes very little time to plant out, doesn’t require much attention and provides the basis for the following year’s worth of culinary delights – all for a very modest investment.
One thing to note when choosing which variety to plant is that garlic broadly falls into two categories which have slightly different properties; hard neck and soft neck. Soft neck garlic has a milder flavour, it stores very well. Its cloves form several layers around the central soft neck. The soft neck makes it very suitable for braiding together to display and store. Hard neck garlics are much closer to wild garlic, having a stronger, punchier flavour. They form only one layer of cloves around a central hard neck and these cloves have thin skins which are are easier to peel. Unfortunately they don’t store as well as their soft neck cousins.
I’m still at the stage of my growing journey where I haven’t found my ‘go to’ variety of many plants, so I am consciously choosing to sow and grow as many different varieties as possible. It’s all a learning journey! So for the purposes of comparison I have picked one soft neck and one hard neck type to grow this year. The two varieties I have chosen are:
Messidrome (right above) is a soft neck garlic of French origin. It forms white bulbs which are described as having a “good culinary flavour” by the seller, whatever that means! I chose it because it looks like a solid standard soft neck type.
Red Duke (left above) is a hardneck variety, excitingly described as “the last stronghold of rare exotic hardnecks with fierce and spicy flavours”. I love love love the flavour of garlic, often doubling the amount in any given recipe, so I’m really looking forward to cooking with this and seeing whether it lives up to the description! The skins are bright white with plump purple cloves.
Regardless of which types you choose, the sowing and growing instructions are broadly the same. Separate the bulbs into cloves and sow directly into the ground in October to January, placing each clove just below the soil surface and planting 4″ apart in rows spaced 8″ apart. Top tip: it’s important to plant in winter as the bulbs require a cold spell to form cloves! Keep watered and weed free and lift the bulbs in July for storage in an airy, frost-free place.
That’s it! Let me know in the comments if you’re growing garlic this winter. I’d especially love to hear about which varieties you chose and why, and if you have a particular variety which is worth trying!