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Growing garlic in France

The French word for garlic is ail and its well known that the French are partial to a clove or two, particularly in the south of France.  Garlic is a key ingredient in Mediterranean dishes and a great example of this is the garlic mayonnaise of Provence, Aïoli.  The basic recipe calls from garlic to be crushed with salt, egg yolk and olive oil to be added and then mixed to a smooth creamy texture which is served with vegetables or fish – or anything you like really!

I planted some garlic in the greenhouse in pots at the end of November, the ground is very soggy right now in the veg patch so I didn’t want it to rot plus the chickens are roaming while their new big pen is being built and they would pull it up if they see the little points stick out.

Garlic has to get cold to grow and although I’ll plant the majority straight into the ground early next year I have got some going a bit early as a precaution against problems in the garden and so that I can harvest some early – I put about 20 cloves into small pots (4 inches) and will leave them through the winter, watering them occasionally as needed.  I’ll transplant them in the New Year when conditions are more favourable.

I’ve been growing my own garlic for two years now, it’s very easy to grow and I love the way it pokes up early in the year when everything else is bare.  I usually grow it in neat rows when the cats don’t dig it up and mess up my planting plan, and the moles never seem to dig anywhere near when I plant it which is a bonus!

Garlic is supposed to be good for your health and I use it quite a lot as I like to experiment with French recipes and of course they are the kings of garlic in food here in France.  All the gardening books I’ve read say not to plant cloves from shop bought garlic to ensure it’s free from virus – I have tried it and it seemed to work fine but this year I am growing a French bought variety called Therador, a white garlic variety (ail blanc).  You can get rose and violet garlic too and I may try those next year.

Generally it’s best to plant your garlic in November and, failing that February/March.  The November planted cloves do tend to be bigger as they have had longer to grow so I’m hoping that putting them in pots in the Greenhouse will help me achieve a bigger “head”!  I plant them about 6 inches apart in rows with just a little bit sticking up so as not to attract the attention of the many wild birds we have here.  I keep the area well-watered in dry spells like we had in my region early this year and I try very hard to keep the weeds out so there’s not much competition for nutrients.


This year I had to harvest my garlic early, we had such a wet summer that the bulbs were starting to rot so I dug them up and hung them to dry for 3 weeks under the terrace which has a clear roof so the sun can get through.  Generally you can pull garlic up and use it as and when you need it once it forms reasonably sized heads – it doesn’t keep for long when its “green” like this though so for storing pull it when the foliage turns brown.  If you have sunny weather you can leave it out to dry naturally and if that’s not guaranteed dry it somewhere dry, light and airy.

You can string and store your garlic for some months if you have the correct variety for storing (they don’t all store well) preferably in the house rather than a shed or similar place, as the house is generally warmer but somewhere cool and dry should see your garlic last through winter.

This is an easy going vegetable, simple to grow, and it gives you a lot more back than you put in as you can use it in so many recipes.

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