Posts Tagged ‘Garlic’


It makes sense to spread the time of harvest to have something fresh every month if possible. This is a tall order more difficult  if the temperature goes below freezing for any long period in the winter. Mind you, some crops don’t mind eg parsnips, the everlasting cabbage is pretty robust too.  However, Ireland is known for its temperate climate which suits the sowing of some seeds in the autumn to over-winter, as well as sowing in spring. The broad bean, autumn sown onion eg Radar, and most garlic varieties do well if sown in the autumn and give earlier crops than such crops sown in springtime.

Peas, like beans, have big seeds. They should be possible to sow in the autumn too as they have the reserves of energy to get by when there is little light or heat in the depths of winter. We have sown  (against expert advice!) Kelvedon Wonder pea seeds and a mixed variety of sweet pea in early November. Perhaps, they could have gone in a little earlier in October to be stronger  going in to the depths of winter. However, it is a bit of an experiment. We might even leave some of the pea plants

Áine tending some of the pea plants currently in the greenhouse to make the most of low light levels in winter.

Áine tending some of the pea plants currently in the greenhouse to make the most of low light levels in winter.

in the greenhouse to get an early crop. Spring sowing of peas in March or April is the norm. Successional sowing, at least from March to June, makes sense to have a continuous harvest over a few months. Hopefully we will be able to buy a larger freezer sometime so that we will not be short of a frozen pea at least, any time of the year.



Murrayfield is unlikely to become allotments for growing fruit and veg anytime soon. That does not mean there are not comparisons between Irish rugby players being good at kicking and crops being ripe for picking. The older players ripened last summer and autumn in gardening terms, and the younger lads have a little time to go yet before they are fully ripe. For growers of fruit and veg, this conundrum of ‘too old or too young’ is known as the ‘hungry gap’.

In the case of my small garden, the chard is hanging in to give me and guests fine leaves for tasty meals. (See picture.) However the yield is becoming patchier as the plant is past its prime. The garlic cloves planted last November are about 10cm high but will not be ripe until late July this year. Fearing a ‘hungry gap’, I can see that the purple sprouting broccoli and everlasting cabbage are looking good for the next couple of months. However, June and July will be sparse for harvesting anything substantial, apart from rhubarb under the rowan trees and the early spuds now growing in bags inside the sliding door of the breakfast room. Those spuds should be ready to harvest in June.

The bounty of Nature can be useful during the ‘hungry gap’. For example, the spring growth  of stinging nettles makes handy ingredients for delicious soups, steamed as a veg or fried and tossed in spaghetti. (Nettle recipe on p.33 of ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’, Lamb’s lettuce seeds itself each year in the garden and is prolific for the next couple of months. However, the hungry period is a challenge in the garden as the leaves available tend to be small and fiddly requiring more preparation time picking and cooking.

Irish rugby seems to be in a bit of a ‘hungry gap’ too, at the moment. Hopefully a few proverbial ‘green stinging nettles’ can be selected for the next match against the old warm weather loving

Pat O'Mara, Orchard Manager at Seed Savers, Scarriff, Co. Clare, ( cutting chard for dinner while a guest in 'Trevor's Kitchen Garden' before teaching a Sonairte course in fruit pruning up the road in Laytown. (

Pat O’Mara, Orchard Manager at Seed Savers, Scarriff, Co. Clare, ( cutting chard for dinner while a guest in ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ before teaching a Sonairte course in fruit pruning up the road in Laytown. (

‘French beans’!


DSC04836Garlic cloves were planted late October as usual in ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ (See the book pp. 260 -262, They are now growing well,  although barely above the soil, (or snow) surface at this stage. This picture taken yesterday morning shows the young organic  Vallelado variety garlic plants looking like small spears poking through the snow. The name ‘garlic‘ is derived from the Old English word ‘garleac’ meaning ‘spear leek’. It was first recorded as a home grown food in Siberia and the Chinese were raving about it in their records 5,000 years ago. Used as an antiseptic down the years, the Ancient Romans believed a feed of garlic cloves gave their soldiers stamina. The Vikings were also believed to chew it too before attacking. Could this be the earliest records of ‘chemical warfare’?

Enough of the battlefields, back to the kitchen garden! Unless the garlic cloves get a few days of below zero weather, they do not grow well and the bulbs do not fully form. This is the main reason I like to sow the cloves in late autumn or early winter. To avoid importing disease in to the garden, buy cloves from a garden centre. I buy my organic cloves by  mail order from  in Bantry, Co. Cork. Later on in the summer ripening garlic appreciates a bit of sunshine and warmth, like most of us. However, garlic’s Siberian origins are easy to imagine after this fall of snow in the attached photograph.


Breaking apart the garlic bulbs and picking out the healthiest biggest cloves for planting. Only buy from horticultural outlets to avoid white rot disease getting in to your garden.

I get my few garlic cloves from Fruit Hill Farm in Bantry by mail order as they are certified organic, and so I can plant them in my organic kitchen garden. By tapping in my order on I get next day delivery of a small net bag of ‘Vallelado’ garlic bulbs for autumn planting. The new garlic growing patch, left vacant after the beetroot harvest, needs very little preparation. Just a dressing of compost and wood ash lightly forked in and the patch is ready.

The garlic bulbs are gently pulled apart and the individual cloves spaced in rows across the vacant patch. I space my cloves about 6 inches (15cm) apart. They could be spaced closer but the harvested bulbs tend to be smaller as a result. I want the biggest bulbs I can grow as they are easier to cook with. The rest is up to Mother Nature so maybe a little prayer while I am on my knees is in order!

Meanwhile Ed Molloy contacted me through this blog site to give me the good news that he has hit upon a good new variety of garlic for Irish conditions, ‘Granard Red’. He has been trialling garlic varieties for 9 years and is now ready to break out in to commercial garlic growing! Another Irish grown organic product is very welcome, especially garlic, which Irish shops presently import from as far away as China! Ed is at His website will soon be operational at  Beir bua is beannacht, Ed!

GARLIC BULBS SMALLER THIS YEAR – 4th week in July 2012

The garlic has ceased growing and the leaves have turned brown indicating the time to harvest has arrived. I took the chance of a fleeting dry spell to lift the new bulbs and set them aside to dry naturally in an old metal griddle, out of the rain. A bit disappointed with the size of the garlic bulbs which I dug up with a garden fork. I guess the mild winter and wet summer do not make for good garlic growing conditions.

However, the first garlic bulb has already been used in cooking. No complaints about the taste – small is beautiful as E.F. Schumacher said! Being freshly harvested cloves, the skin simply rubbed off in my fingers. I hardly needed a knife to prepare the home grown garlic for cooking.

The rain is a pain for most growers, except for the lucky ones who are mainly tunnel or greenhouse based. That being said, the peas, beans, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, chard, beetroot and herbs are growing well outdoors

This year’s garlic harvest. Smaller than last year due to milder winter and wetter summer.

. The lettuces look a little battered and sad, while the apples could do with some sun, like us all! In the next dry spell, I hope to get time to harvest the blackcurrants. Rain or shine, they are ready for the table or the freezer. Blackcurrants are a taste of a sunny summer’s day, which I can imagine if I eat them with my eyes closed, topped with some yoghurt and honey!


I understand that garlic was briefly discussed at Cabinet recently. Cabinet confidentiality precludes me from going into further detail. However, just like any kitchen gardener, I am keen to  meet as much as possible of my own garlic needs from home-grown stocks. With this in mind I am planting a few extra cloves this month myself. I hope to have a few bulbs to spare at harvest time for the Minister for Finance. Whatever else our country is short of during these hard times, at least let us not be short of produce we can grow in ‘Ireland – the Food Island’.

Garlic requires a longer growing season than most vegetables and along with costs  and our damp climate,  this has meant that garlic is not  grown commercially to any extent in Ireland. There is a small amount grown on the Isle of Wight, I understand,  but most of the garlic I see in the shops comes from China. The cloves I sow in the back garden however come through a certified seed merchant. In this way I hope they are more suited to growing in this climate than the Chinese grown shop garlic.

If you have a choice of varieties in a garden centre, then Messidrome or Germidour are suited better to November sowing. Printador is more for early spring sowing. I would expect to be harvesting my own crop in July 2010.

The patch for my new garlic bed is alongside the recently sown Radar onions as garlic, onion, leek, shallots etc are all members of the allium family and have similar growing needs. First the garlic bulbs need to be carefully pulled apart and the individual cloves laid out on the freshly prepared seedbed. I have read that a sprinkling of wood ash raked in to the surface brings up the potash levels, but if anything my potash levels are too high  so I skip that bit of advice.

With cloves spaced about five inches apart, I sow them each about an inch and a half below the surface. A frost kick starts their root development, I am told but they need a good amount of dry weather to avoid rotting and especially the fungus, white rot. This may explain why there has been so little Irish grown garlic, and how the well-travelled Chinese garlic has cornered the market here.

Nonetheless the challenge of growing garlic in Ireland is an interesting one as I love it in pesto with home-grown basil. However while chewing it raw  may be very healthy, I think I’ll stick to chewing an apple a day instead!