Garlic: rust, harvest, plaiting

I just harvested my garlic.  The garden (as well as my blog) has been neglected somewhat, as it always is in June while I go off to Glastonbury to exercise a couple of my alter egos. I came back to rusty garlic. I don’t think it really matters, and anyway there’s nothing you can do about it.  Once the rust has appeared the bulbs never grow any bigger so I just harvested it – which I think I should have already done anyway. Apparently the rust can spread to any allium so they say to burn the leaves, but I’m not a great one for bonfires so I’ll probably just put it in the slug-farm bin (don’t ask). On Gardners’ World last week Monty Don was talking about his garlic rust, saying how it had affected some varieties of garlic but not others – even though they were right next to each other. So I’m not going to worry about it unduly. I’ve got about 10 varieties of allium and none of the others are showing any rusty tendencies. In some ways I think the rust was a good thing. I’d probably have never got round to harvesting it otherwise.
Rust notwithstanding, I’m rather pleased with the crop. I planted the large French bulbs I bought from The Olive Branch at Totnes Market – not strictly elephant garlic, but they were still pretty huge. I’m sure it is the way to go. I just can’t see the point in piddling about with miniature garlic.  What I can never understand with recipes is why they tell you to use ‘a’ clove of garlic. Why in heaven’s name would you use one clove? It’s all I can do to limit myself to one bulb. So I bought five bulbs, each with ten cloves, for £1 each (I see they are 65p on their website) – which is still a lot cheaper than seed garlic. From the fifty, I seem to have got forty one, many of which are a really good size. Some are probably the same size as the bought bulbs, and even those that aren’t are nice and plump. Considering they are grown in Devon rather than Provence, I would expect a slightly poorer result. It is certainly the most successful garlic I have ever grown – which I put down largely to the correct timing (I planted nice and early), growing in a raised bed (gives room for the roots to develop) and using the big bulbs.

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Having a real crop of garlic has meant preserving it properly – and that involves plaiting – or ‘braiding’ as the Americans call it. You can then hang the plaits somewhere airy and use it as and when you need it. There are YouTube videos: I used this one from Gardenerd. You need a pair of scissors, a longish one of those little wire ties to start the plait off with the first three bulbs, and grippy string to finish it at the end. You have to cut off all the roots, and I also stripped off the crustiest of the rusty leaves. Then you settle down outside in the sun with the plait on your lap, adding one bulb at a time and plaiting it in. Best to watch the video.

Three garlic plaits

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Some of the plants had started to produce little bulbs that form inside the stalk – you can see and feel the bulbous lump.  I slit the stalk with my thumbnail and took them out – partly as an extra yield, but also because they would have got in the way of the plaiting. On the plant they would have matured eventually into bulbils that could be planted to reproduce more garlic, but as mine looked immature and green I decided to keep them to use for cooking. They have the same strong garlicky taste as the actual cloves of garlic.

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The other thing I kept was the best of the bulbs to use as seed for next year. It’s hard not to eat the lushest and best, especially when they are the least fiddly to cook with. But it is generally accepted that you do better year on year if you keep the best of the crop to use as seed. If I had a bit more space I might keep all of it – like some guy I heard on The Food Programme a few months ago whose wife bought him a few bulbs for his birthday and he refused to eat any and he’s now growing acres of the stuff. Eventually he had enough to start selling it. I never will. I love the stuff.

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