When to plant

Like onions, garlic is often said to be best planted on the shortest day (in winter) and harvest on the longest day (mid-summer). This saying is a good guide, if you live in a climate with milder winter temperatures (little or no snow).

For best results, plant garlic anytime from mid to late winter. This advice applies If you live in an area where night time temperatures don't get more than a couple of degrees below freezing. Garlic is frost-tolerant (or hardy), meaning frost won't kill it. However, as with most hardy plants, very low temperatures will stunt its growth.

If you live in a colder area, then early to mid-spring may be the best time to plant. Garlic matures heading into summer and a good run of warmer, drier weather will help the bulbs fatten properly.

Method

Growing garlic is easy, garlic is a true "plant and forget vegetable". It is safest to buy bulbs from a garden center. Supermarket garlic can be used but only if it has not been treated to stop it sprouting.

Prepare the soil, adding manure and other organic matter. Separate the bulbs and plant individually about 6cm (2.5 inch) deep. Planting slightly deeper is fine, but don't plant any shallower otherwise the bulbs may push out of the ground as they grow.

Only use the best cloves, throw away any small or deformed cloves. You usually get between 4 and 7 usable cloves out of a bulb.

You can plant garlic as close as 10cm (4 inch) apart in rows 20cm (8 inch) apart.

Keep your garlic patch moist but don't over water until the shoots poke through 3-6 weeks later. See garden watering tips.

Apart from keeping the patch weed free, no further work is required for 4-6 months when the garlic is ready to harvest.

Harvest time

After 4-6 months, the tops will start to yellow and then dry off in hot weather. Stop watering when this happens. To harvest garlic, use a fork to dig right down underneath the plants and gently fork out of the ground. Don't just pull up like a carrot because this could break the stems off. Garlic stores better with the stems on.

Brush off excess dirt and lay in the sun for the afternoon to cure if possible. Then leave to sit in a dry place (such as a shed). You can plait the tops together to make an attractive bunch to hang in the corner of your garage.

Use as you would shop bought garlic, peeling away the layers and cutting off the ends of the individual cloves with a sharp knife.

The flavor of fresh garlic is great and not too strong. Try roasting with a little olive oil or use more than you would of bottled garlic in cooking.

Common problems growing garlic

Garlic doesn't germinate (sprout): If you used garlic from the supermarket it may have been treated with something to stop it sprouting. Buy organic bulbs or buy from a garden center.

Garlic bulbs re-sprout before harvest: When the tops begin to yellow and dry off, stop watering. Harvest your garlic if rain is forecast. Watering at this late stage of development can cause the bulbs to sprout and become less-usable.

Garlic sends up multiple shoots: Make sure you separate the bulbs so you are only planting one clove at a time.