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Autumn Gardening: Garlic

by Gillian Vine

To maintain or increase their strength, garlic was fed to Egyptian workmen slogging away on the pyramids and - for the same reason - given the athletes at the earliest Olympic Games in Greece, perhaps the first performance-enhancing drug.

An easy-to-grow vegetable, garlic traditionally planted on the shortest day, fine for those in areas that don't have harsh winters, but here in Dunedin I like to have mine in by late May.

There are two main types, hard neck and soft neck. Hard-neck garlice has a stiff stem and usually fewer cloves but they tend to be more even in size than soft-necked varieties. The soft-necked types are the ones to grow for plaiting the pliable stens and they reportedly keep better.

"Foragers swear by allium triquetrum, known here as wild onion or wild garlic".

It's not the same as ramsons (A. ursinum), the wild garlic widely found in Europe, and our version is a pale imitation of real garlic, as well as being a pernicious garlic weed. 

You can plant supermarket garlic but imported bulbs from China are not recommended, as these may carry pathogens.

Garlic loves rich, well-drained soil with lots of sun to ripen the bulbs. Press cloves into the ground, about 20cm apart, leaving the tip exposed, then sit back for six months. When the tops have died down, dig on a sunny day and leave to dry before storing.

Before peeling garlic, squash it with the blade of a heavy knife. The skin comes off much more easily than when peeling is attempted without squashing.

To get rid of the smell on a chopping board, rub in salt or a cut lemon, then rinse with cold water before washing.

The old wives'answer to pongy garlic breath was to eat more garlic - but be careful who you test this on!