Save Money - Grow Garlic!
Grow Garlic: Harvest 2009
Grow Your Own Garlic
Your money is better off in your own pocket than that of a supermarket, so saving even a small amount is a bonus. Garlic is really easy to grow and requires hardly any maintenance once it's planted, so it's a simple way to save a little cash.
Then, there's the flavour! The flavour of supermarket vegetables just doesn't compare with those fresh from your garden.
And the number of uses. Garlic has far more uses than just as a bit of flavouring in your cooking, but that's another hub! Then there's the fact that you'll expend a little energy tending your garlic crop, and that has to be good.
First of all obtain your garlic sets. Sets grow away much more quickly and reliably than seeds. I have experimented with growing garlic from seed, but it's hard work and probably not worth the effort unless you are a gardening nerd like myself. My advice to you is don't bother.
Buy garlic sets from a reputable source, rather than the supermarket bulbs, which may seem like a good cheap option, but they're not. I have tried using garlic bulbs from supermarkets and they really don't grow well, many seem diseased, and the idea is that you are trying to save money not waste it.
Prepare The Soil
This is easy enough to do. Your garlic patch will need a dig over, so that the soil is fine crumbly and week free. I grow my garlic on soil that was manured the previous year (as I like to grow carrots in between the garlic rows), but don't worry if you haven't prepared your soil in this way. You can always feed your garlic throughout the season
Garden advice generally tells you to plant the sets with their root end just in the soil and the tips out of the soil. However, the Jackdaws on my allotment think the tips might be a tasty grub and keep pulling the sets out, so unless you want to visit your plot every day to replace uprooted garlic sets, do as I do and plant the whole thing just under the soil. It doesn't seem to hinder their growth in any way and it gets rid of those pesky birds.
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Maintaining Your Garlic
Over the winter garlic will establish itself and throw up some nice green shoots. I'll probably feed my garlic once between October and Christmas with some organic feed, such as pelletted chicken manure (which my dogs will try and eat if I'm not careful). Then I'll feed it once more between Christmas and March. After March, when the garlic is growing rapidly I'll feed it monthly.
I only water when the weather has been dry for several days, preferring that the garlic throws out a good root system to find it's own water if possible, as you get a nice strong plant that way, and I'm inherently lazy and my allotment is a long way from the water butt.
Keep weeding the garlic. You'll probably need to hoe once a week, even if you don't see any weeds. That way the weeds will never take hold. It's much easier hoeing with a really sharp tool, so sharpen all your garden tools weekly. My son bought me a simple whetstone as a Christmas gift. It cost around two quid and is one of the most useful pieces of garden equipment I have. Sharp tools make all the jobs so much less back-breaking.
Around July, the green leaves of your garlic will start to go brown and wilt. This is the time to gently stick a fork in and lift the lovely fat bulbs. If possible try to do this when you know there are going to be a few dry sunny days. OK, this is the UK, try to find a dryish few hours then.
The bulbs will benefit from a few days resting on the soil to dry out before you store them. If the weather's awful like this year, just lift the bulbs when you can, then dry them on some newspaper in your kitchen, spare bedroom, airing cupboard - you choose.
Really Useful Piece of Kit
I have one of those polythene greenhouses and it's been a boon. These little greenhouses are dirt cheap and take up very little space, which is great for people in modern UK gardens where space is often very limited.
Mine has four shelves, so there's plenty of room for trays of seeds in spring, even when I get to the pricking out stage. In late summer and autumn I use it for drying off and storing vegetables. I also store all my onions in here too. I personally think one of these makes a really great gardening gift, or Christmas gift, but then, I admit to being a gardening nerd.
Garlic stores well, and if you've grown plenty, your harvest should last you until harvest time next year. It's best stored in a cool dry place, and you can go to all the trouble of plaiting the bulbs into those long strings so loved by the French if you wish. I'm told that this prevents them from trying to shoot in storage and preserves them better; besides, it looks very pretty.
To be honest, I don't have time for all that and I'll twist off the dried leaves and just store mine in a tray in the little greenhouse. The trays I use are the plastic bread trays frequently discarded by shops and businesses, as the holes let the air circulate and they are stackable.
There are lots of companies out there selling garlic bulbs for planting and it pays to shop around and try a few varieties.
I have bought garlic sets from The Garlic Farm in the Isle of Wight and have alsways been very satisfied with the quality. I particularly liked Purple Wight and Lautrec from them, but wasn't keen on elephant garlic, which was just a bit sickly. Last year I grew Marco from a local farmers store, Mole Valley and that did well, despite 364 days of rain!
Recipe for Roasted Garlic
You know, I thought everyone knew this easy recipe for roasted garlic, but chatting to some of my colleagues in my day job I discovered this was not the case, so I thought I'd publish it here, then everyone can have a go at this tasty little snack.
You need a shallow casserole dish with a lid, or some foil to cover the garlic. We have a garlic roaster specifically for the purpose; this is basically a shallow casserole, with a lid shaped like a garlic bulb, but you don't necessarily need a kitsch thing like this.
Take your whole garlic bulbs and slice the entire top off around two thirds of the way up the bulb. There's no need to skin the garlic or anything like that. Place the bulb in the casserole dish and pour on a decent quantity of good extra virgin olive oil. I like to grind some fresh black pepper over the top using my little electric pepper grinder. Do as many heads of garlic as you think you can eat, then cover them and pop them in the oven, on hottish 195F, for 30 to 45 mins.
They're ready when the garlic is soft and gently caramelised. Leave them to cool, as they're better eaten just warm rather than roasting.
To enjoy, part a clove from the parent garlic and squeeze the warm, caramelised contents on to some good French bread (or spelt bread in my case), spread a little with a knife and eat. Delicious with a good glass of Bordeaux - or my faviourite - a Saint Emilion Grand Cru. Mmmmm!