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November in the GIY Garden

Being a contrary sort I have always sown my garlic in the spring time, and it’s an approach that has served me well over the years.  In fact, it has worked so well that I never really saw the point of winter garlic sowing and I always felt very clever indeed for holding off until spring.  This year however, I got caught out by mild spring weather. Garlic needs a prolonged cold snap (4-8 weeks of sub 10 degrees Celsius) to yield nice big tasty bulbs, and the spring weather this year didn’t supply the conditions needed.  The result?  Puny little garlic bulbs and a dollop of humble pie.


The reason that the majority of growers sow their garlic pre-Christmas is that it gives the bulbs more of a chance of getting the prolonged cold spell that they need in the soil.  We did a survey among GIYers and found that 89% sow their garlic pre-Christmas with just 11% sowing in the spring.  So, for next year’s garlic crop, I’ve decided to join the sensible majority.


In previous years I’ve enjoyed taking a complete break from sowing things outdoors between late September and February, but this year I’ve been uncharacteristically busy on the sowing front, getting garlic, overwintering red onions and broad beans in the soil.  I have enjoyed these sowings immensely, which seem in defiance of the changing seasons and must confess that it’s wonderful to see little shoots appearing through the soil at this time of year. 


The bed where the garlic will grow next year is a big square raised bed beside the polytunnel.  Since removing this year’s crop from it (brassicas), I’ve kept the bed well hoed in preparation for the garlic.  So the soil was in good, ‘weed-free’ nick and a simple raking was enough to get it ready for sowing. This year I sowed four varieties – Early Purple Wight, Carcassone, Provence and Solent - and sowed seven rows with ten cloves per row.  70 bulbs of garlic would be a mighty haul.


The question arises then – if you are sowing something in a bed over the winter, how do you go about the normal winter job of returning fertility to the bed?  A trick I gleaned from our friend Monty Don is to mulch the bed with a good covering of home-made compost after sowing the cloves beneath the surface.  Since the surface of the soil was to be covered with a layer of compost, I sowed the garlic a little shallower than normal.

The Garden in November


Do not leave beds bare for the winter – sow a green manure, or cover with a thick layer of manure/compost and then black plastic or straw.  This will return nutrients to the soil, keep the worst of the weather off it, suppress weeds and prevent leaching of nutrients.  ‘Earth up’ or tie up vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.  Divide up your rhubarb if you want to propagate, and cover it with a thick mulch of manure.   Prune apple trees.  Mulch fruit bushes.  Take cuttings of currant bushes from current season’s wood.


Sow broad beans outside now for an early crop next spring.  To avoid rotting before germination, make small newspaper cups and germinate them indoors first.  Next summer’s garlic does best if it’s planted before Christmas – plant outdoors in well prepared soil in a sunny spot.  Though I have to admit I never bother with them, some varieties of onion can over-winter and will be ready to harvest in early summer.  


Continue to harvest perpetual spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, swede, parsnips, apples, pears. Start harvesting leeks, winter cabbage, kale, artichokes, Brussels sprouts.  Time to lift carrots and turnips or at least cover them with a good layer of straw to protect them from frost damage. 

Tip of the Month - Sow Garlic

If possible buy your garlic from a garden centre or reputable on-line retailer which will be certified virus free (the same can’t be said of supermarket garlic).  When you buy your bulbs, break up in to individual cloves.  Only the sow the better cloves and dump (or eat) any small ones.  Garlic likes a light free-draining soil so if you have heavy soil in your garden grow in raised beds or pots.  It will prefer a sunny position in the veg patch.  Hold each clove pointed end up, and push it into the soil so that the tip is 2cm or so beneath the soil surface.  The cloves should be 20cm apart in the rows, and the rows 25cm apart.  Garlic is part of the allium family so include it in your crop rotation and don’t sow it anywhere where any member of the allium family has grown in the previous 3-5 years (e.g. onions, garlic, leeks).  

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