Growing garlic in containers is an excellent way of providing your kitchen with one the freshest, and most flavoursome of herbs, especially if you are a little short of space in the garden. Not only is garlic simple to grow, it has also been used throughout history for its medicinal value too.
The best time to plant garlic in containers is mid-October as the cold weather helps to initialize growth that will result in far larger bulbs and a greater number of cloves.
When planting at this time of year you must stick to using specific cultivated varieties such as ‘White Pearl’, 'Albigensian Wight', 'Early Purple Wight', ' Iberian Wight', 'Lautrec Wight' - widely regarded as Frances finest garlic, and Purple Moldovan Wight, all of which are known to suitable for growing our northern climates. Unfortunately, if you try to some of the larger supermarket bulbs they have probably been treated to prevent sprouting and are highly likely to die off in the cold wet weather.
You can plant as late as April although your ‘crop’ won’t be as big, although at this warmer time of year you can try planting up any spare cloves left over from a supermarket bought garlic. Start by dividing the cloves of garlic from the bulb and then setting the largest and healthiest looking cloves aside for planting.
Fill a deep container - with a circumference of at least 6 inches - with John Innes ‘Seed and potting compost’. The depth is important here as although garlic is now a highly cultivated plant – its wild ancestors would have originate from the mountainous regions of Asia. In this environment their fine roots were programmed to search for water far deeper than other similar plants, a natural result evolved to ensure their survival in these harsh conditions. Plant one clove per pot in an upright position, no more than 1 ½ inch below the soil surface - the bottom of the clove is identified by its flattened, slightly concave end.
Water the pots well and place them outside in a sunny position, and if you are planting up before winter, try and keep the pots out of the way of cold winds. From early-June onwards, begin feeding with a general purpose plant food every two weeks.
Your garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August to September depending on both the weather and individual varieties. The problem with harvesting garlic is knowing when they are ripe in order to lift them. Harvest them too early and the bulbs will be too small, but harvest too late and the bulbs will begin to loose their quality, and so a more accurate method is needed to determine whether or not the garlic is ready to harvested. If the weather is wet in early August, pull up a single bulb and see how many sheaths (the thin papery layers that surround the bulb) you can peel off the bulb, if the answer is three then the bulb is ready to be lifted. If you can remove four or more layers then it is best to wait another couple of weeks or at least until most of the leaves have turned brown.
When harvesting garlic bulbs, gently ease them out of the ground using a trowel to loosen the surrounding soil, taking care not to bruise them as they will then not keep for long. Once lifted,
most of the bulbs can be washed and dried, and then placed into a warm dry part of the garden dry out, however if rain is forecast then they will need to be brought indoors. Once dried off, these bulbs should now keep in good condition for between 3-4 months.