As a child with insomnia I spent a lot of time lying awake in bed with my mind whirring and worrying about various different topics: When I was old enough to shave how would I know how to do it?, How could I convince a girl to kiss me if I wanted to get married? etc…. Once I had exhausted this list of serious stuff my mind invariably turned to my favourite night time terror – Vampires. I had (stupidly) done plenty of research and knew all their various schemes to enter my bedroom and help themselves to my blood.
Of course I also had the most up to date information on how to prevent this happening but couldn’t quite see myself driving a stake through the heart of a fully grown vampire so naturally I tended towards the easier to source remedies. As garlic could be easily found in the kitchen it became my weapon of choice and as I never had to use it in anger it proved its success as a preventative measure. My consumption of large quantities and my habit of keeping a stash in my bed probably didn’t help with the aforementioned kissing issue but signaled the beginning of a very different love affair, a passion for all things garlic!
Apart from warding off blood sucking creatures of the night Garlic is the most fabulous ingredient in the kitchen, has many health benefits and crucially is pretty easy to grow. You need to stick to a couple of growing tips to ensure success but once you get the conditions right you will be rewarded with a great crop of this essential culinary ingredient.
We have always supplied garlic cloves in the Autumn but this year we’re expanding our choices by supplying garlic bulbs from the the famous Isle of Wight garlic farm. The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm is a family run business which specializes only in garlic. We have picked five of our favourite varieties for you to choose from and will be offering them for sale towards the middle of September. As far as we’re aware we’re the only suppliers of this range of garlic cloves in Ireland and hope you’ll be excited by the opportunity to grow these excellent varieties.
Garlic needs a period of at least 6 weeks of temperatures below 10 degrees C so Autumn/Winter and early Spring is the best time to put them in. You can store your garlic until the Spring but you’ll find with most varieties it’s best to get them in before December.
To see how to grow garlic you can skip to the ‘Growing Garlic’ article here.
Softneck and hardneck varieties
There are two main sub varieties of garlic, soft and hard neck varieties.
Almost all supermarket varieties of garlic are softneck varieties as thay are easier to plant and harvest mechanically and have a longer shelf life. Softnecks have a white papery skin and large amounts of cloves which can form in several layers around the central core. The flexible stalk on a softneck variety enables it to be plaited into braids for storage. Varieties include: Tuscany, Iberian, Early Purple, Picardy, Provence, Solent, Carcassonne and Albigensian.
Hardneck varieties, as the name suggests, have a long hard stalk or neck. The bulbs contain fewer but larger cloves and have less papery skin around the bulb. Varieties include: Spanish Rocambole, Lautrec, Chesnok, Avingon and Bella Italiano. We haven’t included any hardnecks in our selection but include these for your general enlightenment!
Elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks and produces very large heads, sometimes weighing up to a pound each. One single clove of Elephant garlic can weigh as much as a single clove of ordinary garlic so a bit of a novelty to grow in the garden. The flavour is milder and sweeter making them fantastic to roast whole. If you want to make a strength of flavour comparison: garlic is to elephant garlic as onions are to leeks (If that makes sense).
With plenty of help from Klaus Laitenberger, here’s the varieties we’ve selected and heartily recommend:
Provence Wight (allium sativum – softneck).
Originating in the Drome valleys of northern Provence this variety produces large white generous sized bulbs which can sometimes reach the size of Elephant garlic. The large fat cloves are perfect for mediterranean style dishes and keep well if stored properly. Can also be planted in the Spring time but bulb size will be substantially smaller.
Heavy watering in the 3 months leading up to harvest is recommended.
Solent Wight (allium sativum – softneck).
This is a great one, retains flavour particularily well when cooked and producing long, white easy to plait stems for a beautiful display in the kitchen. Hard dense bulbs that look like they’ll explode from the tight, pure white papery skin. Will keep well for a long time, well into April and beyond. December to January planting the best but will still crop well from planting at the end of March.
Early Purple Wight (allium sativum – softneck).
Early purple gives the first taste of the new season garlic and is ready for harvest at the end of May to the beginning of June. You are better using this one as soon as it’s harvested as it will only keep until October. Dries quickly and is usually consumed when still green. Plant October till January with early planting recommended.
Elephant Garlic (allium ampleosparum).
Elephant garlic is more closely related to a leek and produces very large cloves which are delicious roasted. One clove of elephant garlic can weigh the same as a whole head of ordinary garlic so plant the garlic at a wider spacing of at least 12 inches apart.
Has a sweet, mild garlic flavour, apparently ‘de rigueur’ at the more fashionable dinner tables these days. Plant September to October for best results.
To purchase these great garlic varieties please see the links below: