Hello to all garlic growers, present and future! We’re at this glorious time of the year when the long wait is over and we can enjoy the first fruits of our garlic growing adventures! Garlic harvest is upon us and I have recently visited one cheerful garlic grower in his greenhouse in St Martin’s (Guernsey, Channel Islands). Dave Tostevin was kind enough to give me a little tour and tell me about his latest garlic growing success.
In their St Martin’s greenhouse, Dave Tostevin and his wife grow all sorts of vegetables, fruits and greens: carrots, potatoes, onions, courgette, grapes, raspberries, tayberries to list a few… cut flowers (including gorgeous lilies he used to send to Covent Garden), lots of herbs and of course quite a few varieties of garlic, which are in particular Dave’s babies. Oh what a joy!
On the day of my visit one very attractive batch of garlic variety called Purple Check garlic was ready to be lifted and I managed to get a few pics for you. Dave’s Purple Check garlic is characterised by purple stripes on the outer layers of papery wrappers protecting the garlic bulb. The bulbs are well formed with 14 (on average) firm, juicy, fully developed cloves inside.
Purple Check is moderately pungent and works great in any dish calling for garlic, raw or cooked. I absolutely love it roasted! Dave’s Purple Check is about 40% larger than the local supermarket bought garlic – no surprise that with such high quality product many local shops like to have it on their shelves! If you live in Guernsey visit Dave’s hedge in St Martins, on the way to Jerbourg (right hand side, past the first crossroad), before it is all gone!
For those of you not familiar with Guernsey, a Guernsey hedge is an euphemism given to the habit of local small-produce growers of putting their produce out for sale on their garden wall or on a shelf by their hedge on the roadside, with a box or tin to put your money in when you take whatever they are selling (eggs, fruits, vegetables, plants in pots etc.).
So how does Dave do it?
Dave got seeds (cloves) of the Purple Check garlic while in the Dalmatia region of south Croatia. Dalmatia is governed by a Mediterranean climate, therefore in Guernsey only a greenhouse can match these conditions. For the convenience of an easy reach he grows his garlic in raised beds in a large greenhouse where the temperatures never fall below 32F (0C).
Garlic is not a demanding plant to grow in general, but picking the right seed for your growing conditions can result in more satisfying results. The best way to go about growing any plant is to first make sure that you are able to mimic the growing conditions that this particular variety of plant thrives in indigenously before pulling your wallet out.
Having said that, when it comes to garlic you are very likely to achieve some success anyway.
I think that if Dave grew his Purple Check outdoors he would still get a nice harvest, but probably later in the year and bulbs would probably be smaller.
Dave planted his Purple Check Garlic in September, which might seem quite early if you think to grow garlic outside. (Growers at The Garlic Farm in the Isle of Wight, UK say that in this part of the world you should plant garlic outdoors a bit later, right before the first frost, but then they don’t grow a Mediterranean variety and in a greenhouse!).
Apart from providing well drained soil Dave feeds his garlic with Solubor (number 9 diluted in water 200 to 1) and stops watering and feeding about 2 weeks before the harvest in early June.
I was surprised to learn that Dave doesn’t remove the garlic scapes at any point before the harvest! I know that many garlic growers do, but then most growers I know grow their garlic outdoors! Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be doing the Purple Check any harm.
It is a shame that Dave hasn’t found any interest in the scapes apart from me! He lifts his garlic as the scapes become almost straight and most leaves turn yellow. The scapes are removed with the leaves about 10 days later to land on the compost pile and the garlic bulbs are left to cure (dry out, which preserves them).
Fyi: Garlic scapes (Dave calls them spears:)) are flowering stems of hardneck garlic, which are responsible for producing seeds (as opposed to the softneck, which doesn’t produce flowers and seeds).
Garlic scapes are a seasonal delicacy, which I haven’t had a chance to cook with yet although I tried them and was well impressed with the crunchy texture and strong flavour! Growers like to remove the scapes as they straighten up. They do so to redirect the energy back to the bulb if they grow their garlic for the bulbs and not for the seeds. Scapes will flower soon after they uncurl and this is around the same time the bulbs are ready to be lifted.
Thank you again Dave for having me snooping about in your greenhouse and sharing your extensive knowledge about growing garlic. I had a lovely time and soon will be back for more garlic (and also to see this wonderful light filtered through the roof and walls of your greenhouse!).
Are you thinking about growing garlic? Go for it! It is really easy and rewarding! There are only 2 things to do beforehand:
- Find a local garlic seed supplier. You can buy good quality, disease free seeds really cheaply! You can also ask what kind of results you can expect from the seller! Yes, you can grow garlic from cloves separated from a garlic bulb purchased in a supermarket. Nobody recommends that though as you are likely to end up with a small, undeveloped bulb, prone to diseases.
- Ask about the best practises and conditions of growing garlic in the climate you want to grow in.
Oh, oh, before you go! Here are some great ideas about what to with the garlic scapes from BonApetit.
I made a simple pesto with Dave’s scapes and froze it in an ice-tray for the convenience of use in the future. Gosh they are delicious!!!