Planting French Garlic in Autumn
It's the start of Autumn here and we’re clinging on to a vague suggestion of an Indian Summer. It's still dry enough to spend a bit of time in the garden and there are a few seasonal jobs that are perfect for this time of year. It is the time to start thinking about planting garlic. That means preparing your beds and ordering the bulbs for planting. I foolishly keep putting off tidying the garden, always waiting for that nice day when I can spend the whole afternoon leisurely pottering about outdoors. This invariably ends up some time in December with me tugging at old weeds in a damp corner of the garden with rain pouring down the neck of my anorak. Obviously, my advice would be to seize the moment as early as possible and take advantage of any mild weather available. Begin preparing your garlic bed like any other, clear any weeds and large stones. There’s no need to dig the ground over but gently free up the soil, turning the surface over with a hand fork so its not compacted, giving the new bulbs something to stretch their feet into as they find somewhere to take root. Since garlic will be in the bed for the extent of the Winter and most of Spring it will have to put up with a whole host of wet and windy weather conditions. Improving the drainage of your bed at this stage will go a long way towards helping these plants make it through till May. Adding a small proportion of sand or grit will help prevent water logging during the rainy season and working in some organic matter, home compost is ideal, will help retain a friable soil structure. If you can poke your finger into the soil without any compacting then you have a good soil structure. Once your beds have been tidied, prepared and given a feed of you’ll now have the time to select your bulbs and place an order. There are many garlic varieties available to chose from but its always important to go for a variety that suits you and your garden. It's best to select a good seed stock that will prosper here. Many supermarket varieties are commonly grown in China or South America in a much different climate to ours and may not be disease free. Garlic cultivation originated in Kazakhstan thousands of years ago before its production spread worldwide. Most British garlic comes the Isle of Wight, whose varieties we have been stocking, and growing, for some time time. We are adding some French varieties to our range this year just to make that choice all the more tantalising, and again we are hoping for some great results. France is renowned for its garlic, a staple in their formidable culinary repertoire. Like cheese and wine, garlic is produced under strict guidelines to protect the traditions involved and to ensure that the finest quality is maintained. The growing regions have a long tradition of cultivating garlic under the most favourable conditions and by practising long crop rotations, up to five years or more, they continue to improve soil quality and reduce the damage to the crop, and its seed, caused by pests and disease. Only plants that have been grown in the correct conditions, without cross-pollination, can be certified and then distributed. We have chosen two great varieties from the French registry and we are confident that they will be a great success. They are certified free from virus which means a a stronger, healthier plant and a greater yield. Germidour is a late maturing variety of French garlic with purple skinned cloves. This soft-necked garlic doesn’t produce a scape so won’t go to seed, allowing it to remain in the ground longer and will store very well. The large white bulbs that are produced are considered mild but still boast a rich flavour. Messidrome is also a soft-necked variety, with all the advantages of being bolt-resistant and easy to store. This reliable, white skinned variety, grown in the Drome region of France near Provence, is highly praised for its culinary attributes. These bulbs are very easy to grow and will produce a delightful crop, requiring very little attention other than some light weeding and a Spring feed. They have a gentle flavour which intesifies when added to a dish. My favourite method is to roast the whole bulb in a hot oven. When cooked, peel open the neatly wrapped parcel and scoop out the sensory melange of smell, taste and texture. Serve with anything. Bon appetit!