Garlic is a staple in any herb or kitchen garden, but not everyone knows that you can grow it in a container.
While any type of container will do, as long as it drains well and is a minimum size of 25 x 25 cm (10 x 10 in.), I prefer Italian terra cotta, as it gets nice and warm in the summer sun and provides excellent air exchange for the developing bulbs. The advantage of growing garlic in containers is that it’s easier to control weeds. Garlic should be planted in very early spring or late fall. Fill the container with sterilized soil, or mix your own (see recipe), then gently nestle in the garlic cloves, pointy side up, and plant 4 cm (15⁄8 in.) deep and 15 cm (6 in.) apart. When growth appears in spring, use a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer, such as kelp or fish fertilizer. Continue feeding every two weeks until around June 1, then stop. Now, reduce the nitrogen and focus on phosphorus; an application of liquid bone meal will help the garlic develop to its full potential. Constant watering during the hot summer is extremely important for garlic in containers or in the garden; a crop can be ruined in just a few dry days. As the summer progresses the greens will become yellow and die back and you can begin to harvest. Gently dig down and take a peek; if the skin has formed around the garlic, it is ready; if not, continue to grow for two weeks, then re-check. Shake off the extra soil and immediately move the plants out of direct sunlight. Leaving the stalks and roots attached, hang the garlic to dry in a semi-lit, well-ventilated area. Good air circulation is important to prevent mould and rot. When the garlic is cured – 3 weeks to 2 months, depending on variety and size – trim the roots and stalks and store the bulbs in a dry area.
Sheena’s favourite garlic
‘Music’ porcelain garlic, a Canadian introduction, is a hardneck that is easy to peel and chop and has a vibrant aroma and taste. Often a confusing subject is the difference between hard-neck and soft-neck garlics: While all true garlics fall under the species Allium sativum, there are two subspecies – ophioscorodon or hard-neck garlics, and sativum or soft-neck garlics. Hard-necks were the original garlics while soft-necks were cultivated over centuries. While hard-necks send up a number of bubils that resemble a flower and should be removed, they yield larger and tastier cloves. Soft-necks have a longer storage life, are easier to grow and produce more than hard-necks. Most commercial varieties are soft-necks.