Nature’s MSG


It’s winter solstice time, and you know what that means…

Yes, it means the shortest day/longest night of the year. It also means you should have your garlic in the ground by now.

They say garlic should be planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest. Around these parts we generally go about a month before that. Once the garlic bulbs from last season start to sprout in your cupboard, prompted by the cold nights and sunny days of autumn, it’s time to pop those babies in the garden.

Here are mine.


Young garlic plants

Garlic is a great thing to grow in winter because it seems to really love the cold. While the rest of the garden is either frost burnt to death, making slow and pitiful attempts to grow, or just sitting there inert, garlic cheerfully pokes its little sprouts through the ground and shoots up with enthusiasm through the coldest days. If you like going out in your garden and seeing a plant with a smile on its face, garlic will bring you winter cheer.

It eventually grows a great long stem with a flower on the top, and when the flower dies it is time to harvest. Or in time for making hummus for the rounds of Christmas parties in December.

I’m a big fan of garlic, both in the garden and in the kitchen. For a while I have jokingly nicknamed it ‘nature’s MSG’ because it makes everything taste yum. I refuse to use bought stock in soups, and I am always worried about my soups being bland, so they all get a good dose of garlic and parsley. It goes in tomato sauce, spicy plum sauce and sweet chilli sauce. It is great mixed in with herbs to make a flavoured soft goat cheese. And I have been known to put a little bit in mashed potatoes to give them a bit of oomph.

And then there is hummus, pretty much anything Italian, and as an accompaniment to roast meat. Yep, I love garlic.

If you want to grow it, there is still time, but not much. If bulbs you have bought from the supermarket have sprouted in your spud box, simply separate the cloves and plant about 15cm apart in well-drained soil. It is really easy to grow, doesn’t need much looking after through the cold months, and each clove grows into a whole new bulb.

It keeps for several months after harvesting, simply plait or bundle several stems together and hang the whole lot in a shady place. Mine did well in the garage, although I can’t tell you exactly how long they will keep because we ran out of home-grown garlic a couple of months ago. I successfully grew a few bulbs in pots last year, enabling me to harvest some even though we moved house at the start of December. This year I have planted more, and next year I will increase the crop even more.

You will probably find that home-grown garlic, like most home-grown things, has a stronger flavour than shop-bought stuff, especially if you are inclined to buy pre-mashed garlic in jars. You will get used to the stronger flavour.

So if you are an amateur gardener, or you just love cooking with garlic, try garlic for a low-risk, high return crop. It takes a while to grow, but it gives you something to look at while the rest of your garden sooks in the corner and waits for the temperature to reach ten degrees again.