Saturday, 9 January 2016

Garlic advice I successfully ignored: Never grow supermarket garlic. And never save it from year to year.

The plan was to take advantage of a dry Saturday morning forecast to spend some quality time with Sue, but I awoke to the pitter patter of raindrops on the window, so you'll just have to wait a while longer to see of our living willow chair.
Instead, I've been sorting through the garlic bulbs and shallot sets.

I've selected nice plump garlic cloves which look ready to grow.
I also put aside the smallest shallot sets when I harvested them
last summer. Both of these are now, I think fourth generation.
By collecting my own, I've not experienced any fall in quality or any
disease. In fact, if anything, I think that the process of selection means that
they gradually become better adapted to local conditions.
The original garlic was shop-brought, lovely and fresh from an
Indian supermarket. Maybe I've just struck lucky, but I've saved myself
a small fortune by ignoring  the traditional advise to buy in
special (specially expensive!) garlic bulbs each year.
Garlic and shallots need to go into the ground to overwinter and I normally take the shortest day as my cue, which is convenient as it always falls in the school holidays when I've got time to get jobs done.
Some people like to get them in the ground even earlier than this, but I am very happy with the results I've had with my dates. In fact, with the ridiculously warm and wet winters we're increasingly experiencing, I no longer have a clue when I should be planting them!

But this year the ground in later December was too sodden even to ruffle up the surface enough for a few garlic cloves and shallot sets. No worry, I thought, it can wait till New Year's Day. Little did I bargain for the deluge which early January has brought us. We're lucky in that we are at minimal risk of flooding (even though we live in the low-lying Fens, a robust system of drains and dykes is well-maintained and designed over many years to manage water levels). But our heavy soil is absolutely waterlogged at the moment and any fresh rainfall simply has nowhere to go but to sit on the surface and seep slowly, very slowly into the ground. Ever larger and more permanent puddles are appearing.

Yesterday, however, I did at least manage to turn over some of the soil. I trod on boards so as not to compact it any further and I'd added a layer of semi-decomposed compost a couple of weeks back and let the worms and the chickens do their magic on it.
The result was not too bad. All I need now is next week's forecast of frosty weather and, if the ground is frozen early in the morning I can get the rotavator onto it, at least until the winter sun warms it up to cloggy again. If temperatures stay below zero through the day, I can rotavate until my hands get too cold to continue.

Meanwhile, the garlic hung up in the kitchen is just starting to sprout, so it's time to either puree it ready for the freezer or dehydrate it. One braid has gone off with a friend to be smoked.

I've just been searching for the post with the photo of that Indian supermarket and drawn a blank, but I did find this corresponding post from 2014. 2014 garlic planting
The date was a few days earlier and the soil was a bit more crumbly,  but I love the way these things come round year on year. That was the first year I planted these cloves purchased from Pretty Fruiterers, that little grocers in North London. I also planted some cloves saved from specially purchased garlic - I think it was Garlic Marco. But for the second time that failed to produce well.
Funny how the expensive garlic purchased specially for growing and costing about £2 per bulb doesn't seem to save from year to year isn't it!
I think I purchased a whole bag full of my garlic for that much. It grows better, gives much plumper cloves, is whiter and more disease resistant.

small print
all the horticultural suppliers and references say that if you just use purchased supermarket garlic it won't be disease resistant and you are laying yourself open to importing nasty things like white rot, which stays in the soil for an awfully long time and stops you growing any of the onion family in that piece of soil. So if you decide to try what I've done, on your head be it! Maybe try them in a very small piece of soil which you could easily avoid growing onions on in the future if need be... and keep a close eye on them for disease.

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