Garlic, the Final Verdict

August 15, 2016

greenhouse garlic

As you may recall, last year I was very excitingly given three sets of heritage garlic bulbs by Marshall Seeds to trial and report on to see how they might cope with the sort of conditions we ‘enjoy’ in Scotland.

garlic under snow

garlic under the snow

Initially, I was worried about the garlic surviving the winter at all – but all of it managed to sail through some of the wettest, windiest and most changeable winters we’d experienced and come out looking pretty splendid.

garlic plants

Then – by way of a bonus – we discovered scapes, which are seriously one of the most delicious things you can grow in your garden and were entirely unexpected. Having enjoyed those we were looking forward to the main event – after all that nurturing and care.

garlic stems

But I’ve long said it’s not the winters that are the problem around here – it’s the summers. And as after a fine start, the summer quickly degenerated into wet weather, it did look as if I had missed the moment to actually harvest the bulbs themselves. It didn’t help that we were moving house, so I had other more pressing matters on my mind.

sprouting garlic

If you’re wondering if you’ve left your garlic too long before harvesting, this might tip you off …

By the time I got to them, many of those which hadn’t started to sprout, had started to rot in the soil, although some of them had formed really impressive bulbs. We managed to lift some to eat right away (chicken and garlic in white wine – a delicious way to use up garlic in a hurry), and a couple of weeks ago – just after we’d moved – I lifted the rest and left them to dry before going through the resulting bulbs to see what had survived

garlic harvest

Some have, unfortunately, rotted further, while others have sprouted but I have – just – managed to produce slightly more garlic than I started with. The Mikulov seems to have survived best, producing whole bulbs, which actually look as if they will store quite well (always assuming we don’t eat them first).

final garlic haul

And the pinkish ones (I think Bohemian Rose – unfortunately the labels blew away before I could harvest them) certainly look splendid, although they broke up into individual cloves as the papery skins got too soggy and soft in the claggy soil.

pinkish garlic cloves

All in all a qualified success (especially the scapes) and one I will repeat again but with the following minor modifications to my growing method:

1. get all the cloves straight into the ground and not mess around with pots, waiting till new year or anything like that
2. not move house just at the point when they’re ready to harvest
3. consider planting them in a dryer, sunnier location such as (to pick an example at random) not Scotland.

Oh, OK, maybe not the last one. Although with the weather we’ve had these last few weeks, Spain is looking distinctly tempting…

The Great Scape

June 16, 2016

OK, I’ll confess that I originally took this photo partly because it was cool but mainly because I wanted to google what was going wrong with my garlic that was making the flower stems come out all curly

garlic stems

This shows how little I know because I found out that not only are garlic flower stems (scapes, apparently, to those in the know or those who have recently typed ‘curly garlic stems’ into Google anyway) meant to be curly, they’re also considered a delicacy.

harvested scapes

A little nibble of a freshly cut stem had me a bit dubious – ‘pungent’ doesn’t even begin to describe it – but the Internet assured me that, once sautéd in a bit of olive oil and then roasted on a pizza, they would be delicious.

And bugger me, if the Internet wasn’t bang to rights. As tasty as asparagus but with a (much milder once cooked) wonderfully garlicky flavour.

parsnip flowers

Ahem. This is not because I never got round to harvesting the last parsnips. It’s to attract beneficial hoverflies. Or something

Must google to see if there’s anything you can do with parsnip flowers …

nettle and ground elder

Fortunately this part of the garden is not under my charge. It does have a certain magnificence to it though

… or nettle and ground elder

“But How’s the Garlic?”

May 14, 2016

The other half asked a couple of days ago as I was bemoaning the state of the garden. Regular readers may remember that last year I was asked to review Marshall’s Heritage Garlic Collection and they have since suffered storms Abigail to Frank, snow, heavy frost, the strangest spring weather since the plagues of Egypt and a certain amount of user error.

And the result? Well, put it this way, I was looking at them the other day and thinking ‘that’s odd, I could have sworn I’d dug up all the leeks already’.

garlic plants

Time will yet tell whether all this impressive growth actually translates into a decent garlic crop – and there is the tiny complication that somewhere between Abigail and Frank, all the labels blew away so I’m just going to have to guess which variety is which – but so far so good.

In Which I Remember I have a Garden

February 10, 2016

As forecast, the sun came out today, the wind dropped, and though there was a bit of frost when we woke, it soon dissipated; all in all a very pleasant day, adjusted for it being February

snowdrops under the trees

I haven’t been getting up to the garden much, except to raid it in the semi dark for vegetables having forgotten that we were planning on having leek or kale for supper (there’s not much else going on veg wise, although as the soil warms up I’ll soon discover if I’ve missed any significant parsnips). It’s been too wet to do anything useful up to now – and it’s still rather squelchy underfoot, but I thought I had better check on the progress of the garlic which has survived everything storms Abigail through to Henry could throw at them and come up smiling. Kudos to Marshalls Seeds and their heritage garlic collection which has so far proved much more robust than the labels I used to mark which variety was which. I really had better relabel everything before the last traces fade irrevocably away.

garlic shoots

I thought I had also better plant out the remaining cloves which I started in pots. I think I got to them in time …

roots emerging from pots

On the way up to the garden, I noticed this tiny earthwork running across the lawn. I think it must be either trainee moles, or the voles are putting up flood defences of their own …

ridges in the grass

Sprouting Times

January 3, 2016

There is interesting drainage news but that will have to wait, for I know you have been left on the edge of your seats, wondering what has happened to my garlic. Previously on Town Mouse your heroine had planted out her review garlic in the teeth of weather warnings and the warmest December on record, and had opted to hedge her bets by planting one third in the greenhouse, and one third outside, keeping the rest until it looked like slightly more propitious weather for planting garlic…

Since all of the garlic looked like it had got started before we left for the US, I then moved the greenhouse garlic outside so it could benefit from any cold weather that might be coming its way. All through our trip to Colorado I was watching the weather forecasts and imagining the pots being blown around the walled garden while the garlic in the ground just sadly rotted away or was washed out altogether. So I headed up to the plot with some trepidation to check what had happened in my neglectful absence

The good news was: the ex-greenhouse garlic, having got off to an excellent start, and being in a somewhat sheltered spot was doing fine.

greenhouse garlic

Ex greenhouse garlic. I’m aware you’re supposed to bury the clove when you plant it but these ones put out such ferocious roots they managed to unbury themselves…

As was the garlic which had been planted straight into the soil, underneath bottle cloches

garlic in vegetable bed

As, indeed, was the garlic in the kitchen waiting to be turned into supper

garlic in kitchen

And, er, the garlic I’d stored in the shed for safe keeping.

garlic stored in shed

So the moral of the story is, it’s not getting garlic going which is difficult … it’s stopping it.

Looks like I’d better go and find some non-waterlogged soil to plant the spares in, and pronto …

Flood Defences

December 7, 2015

There was only one choice of footwear for the ride down to the papershop today

cycling in wellies

I have yet to work out what additional information a ‘Flood’ sign brings to the party here, or most places, to be honest. This has long puzzled me (it’s not as if this one was any deeper or more dangerous to cross than any of the other stretches of flooding we see without the benefit of signs).

flood ahead

Still, they do seem to lead interesting lives. This one has clearly been in the wars. If may even be the one that had all but grown into the landscape on the outskirts of Papershop Village – perhaps washed free by the recent flooding?

battered flood sign

On the way home, I was rewarded by the sun coming out and catching everything with a fleeting brush of glorious light

fleeting winter sunshine

Meanwhile, up at the greenhouse …

garlic emerging

But I (and you) will have to wait for the next thrilling installment of GarlicWatch because tomorrow we pack our bags and head to Glasgow (trains and weather warnings permitting) to fly the next morning to Colorado where we shall, hopefully, be seeing a lot more of the sun, and a lot less flooding. And hopefully, a restored river path.

Don’t tell the Weather Gods…


November 29, 2015

Well, the weather continues grim. We haven’t had the snow that Scotland was getting further north, but the rain has been coming down stairrods and then coming sideways stairrods, if that’s possible, which now I come to think of it makes more sense for stairrods. It did ease off a bit this afternoon and the sun even came out but only for long enough to lure us out for a walk, before resuming in earnest before we could even contemplate checking the level of the ford.

road flooding

But who needs a ford, when your whole road network consists of running water? The other half was slightly disconcerted to notice that, when I cleared the leaves out of one of the drains, the water started to bubble up directly through the tarmac. Further up the road, a culvert must have got blocked somewhere and a burn has redirected itself into a field, through a wall and across the road into the field that the farmer spent all of the summer extensively and probably expensively draining.

water everywhere

It was also flooding somewhat outside our gate so I duly went out with the stick* to see what I could do. A bit of leaf clearing aside, the answer was ‘not much’: the field drain was draining water as fast as it possibly could, just not as fast as it was falling out of the sky.

field drain draining

None of this bodes well for the outside garlic, although I did manage to dash up this morning before the worst of it started and give it some protection with some bottle cloches before the soil got even more waterlogged (I know there are holes in the top of some of them; they still seem to provide a bit of protection from the worst of the weather). Whether they will make a blind bit of difference when the whole county is effectively sloshing about, remains to be seen.

garlic under cloches

*Oh and drivers? Please don’t try and rush me when I am out in the middle of the road with my stick. I am out there for your benefit and no, I’m not going to move over so you can roar past at top speed through the flood. And yes, the more reluctant you are to slow down when you see me, the longer it will take me to get out of the way.

Growing Pains

November 25, 2015

garlic in pots

It’s proving unexpectedly hard work, being a proper grown up blogger reviewing stuff. For a start, I’m having to actually attempt to grow garlic properly, or at least google it to see how the rest of the internet does it instead of just making it up as I go along. It turns out that growing garlic is more complicated than I thought because it needs prolonged vernalisation* for the bulbs to form properly. So there are roughly three schools of thought about growing garlic in Scotland. The first is that it’s no different from planting it in England and you should do so in October or November ‘when there’s still a bit of warmth in the soil’ so the cloves don’t rot in ground that’s too wet or too cold.** The second is that you can wait until January because prolonged periods of cold weather are easier to come by in Scotland than England, although how that is supposed to help with finding soil that is neither waterlogged nor frozen remains a mystery. The third is hahahahaha, seriously you’re trying to grow garlic in Scotland, are you insane, there’s a reason why traditional Scottish cuisine consists of potatoes and kale …

Now normally when the internet is divided in this way I just pick the way that suits me best and go with that, which would mean planning to plant it in January and then forgetting all about it.*** But I feel I have a responsibility to do a bit better for this garlic in order for my review to consist of something a bit more cogent than ‘if you’re looking for foolproof garlic, this wasn’t it, at least for this value of fool’. So I have decided to hedge my bets and split my garlic three ways. Taking advantage of a mildish day, one lot has been planted outside, on raised ridges to avoid waterlogging. One lot will wait until January, provided I remember where I have stored it. And one lot has been planted in pots in the greenhouse until established and will then be transferred outside for the rest of the winter.

Watch this space for more thrilling updates on the garlic progress – unless the lovely people at Marshalls realise they’ve made a terrible mistake entrusting it to me and stage a rescue mission for it in the dead of night.

* which obviously you all know means being exposed to a prolonged period of cold weather. And obviously I did too, being such an advanced gardener who would never forget all about her garlic and then end up planting it in April. Ahem. Although prolonged periods of cold weather can happen then too…

** erm. Have these people been in Scotland in November?

*** Twitter was busy urging me to just roast the lot and have it for supper

Digging for Dirt

November 23, 2015

Operation catch-up-with-the-garden continued over the weekend with the first order of business being finding the manure heap

The usual procedure with manure for the garden is that a nice farmer comes and drops off a large steaming heap of it at the top of the garden, and then everyone forgets about it until it’s needed. I’m not entirely certain when the current lot got delivered, but it has been in disguise as a nettle patch for most of the summer


manure mining …

Nettles don’t mess around when it comes to putting down roots, so that what was supposed to be a simple shovelling operation turned into something more complicated: with a certain amount of swearing and hacking away at it with a fork, I managed to open up a seam that wasn’t too nettle-infested and effectively burrowed my way into the heap.* It was worth it though. Lovely dark crumbly stuff. And only approximately another 57 barrowloads to hack out and ferry down to the walled garden until the whole veg patch is put to bed for the winter.

Muckheap closeup

In other news the garlic has arrived. The instructions say ‘plant as soon as possible in soil that is neither waterlogged nor frozen’. Looking at the forecast for the next week, I’m thinking two out of three isn’t bad…

garlic delivery

* it did occur to me that if the whole thing collapsed, nothing would be found of me but a pair of wellies sticking out of the bottom. But what a way for a gardener to go and think of the savings on the funeral costs.**

** plus imagine the roses you could grow …

Hitting the Big Time

November 20, 2015

Well, finally. After more than ten years of steady, even prolific blogging, someone has actually contacted me to offer me something to review that I would actually want. OK so it’s not the ‘waterproof in Scotland’ reviewing gig I’ve long been touting for (I note, with only a slight twinge of professional jealousy, that Lovely Bike is currently helping check whether things are ‘waterproof in Ireland‘ for Georgia in Dublin, but then again she manages to look entirely chic and soignée in their rainskirt whereas I look like a cross-dressing farmer so I can’t say I blame them) – but someone has actually read what I’ve written about my gardening and is still prepared to risk their heritage garlic bulbs to the tender mercy of the Weather Gods, Peter Rabbit and my own absent-mindedness so that I can review them. Thank you Marshalls Seeds … and watch this space.

With the garlic in the post, and my new found reputation as a pro-gardener at stake, I thought I’d better actually get up to the plot and try and retrieve the situation after what has been a season marked mainly by neglect. The good news is that the rabbits have either been eliminated or are on a diet because the purple sprouting broccoli is recovering from their attentions

purple-sprouting broccoli

I told you it was indestructible

and I even found two tiny surviving perpetual spinach plants; they won’t be much use on their own, but I didn’t have the heart to grub them up.

two surviving perpetual spinach plants

I suspect that for the rest of 2015 we’ll mainly be eating leeks and Red Winter kale though.

kale and leeks flourishing

Just occasionally, my somewhat slapdash approach to gardening pays off in unexpected ways – I was slow getting my second batch of salad in over the summer and had pretty much written it off in September, but the weather has been so mild, we’ve started picking it again. Not for much longer, I suspect, as the forecast for tonight is to reach freezing, but I have moved a few plants which I hadn’t got around to planting out and were still in modules (you may detect a theme here) into the greenhouse.

lettuce in November

Lettuce. In November. In Scotland. What is the world coming to?

Even so, I shall be sharpening up my act for this garlic and giving it my best shot so I can review it thoroughly. I’m sure you would expect nothing less…