Another Autumn day

It’s been calm today, a light wind blowing up the valley, but cold with it. Our neighbour across the valley has retrieved their polytunnel, or rather the frame. Looking at the wreckage a few days ago, a casualty of the storms that battered our coast, we thought it had been comprehensively demolished, but the frame looks intact, at least from where we’re standing, and covering can be replaced.

We’ve been working on the garlic bed; open composting with the remnants of earlier crops, and then covering with a layer of seaweed, and today covering with compost from the paths. We lay woodchip every year and find that after a couple of years the wood chip has been trodden into the path, and rotted, making wonderful compost. We dig the paths out, replace with wood chip, start the process again; in a couple of years the compost/path will be ready to spread across beds again.

These are shorter days now; sitting in the shed drinking tea in the fading light is a lovely way to watch the day pass.




Planting Jim’s Dad’s Garlic Again

A couple of years ago Jim asked us to plant some of his Dad’s garlic. He plants cloves on his birthday and harvests the bulbs on his dad’s birthday. It’s a ritual, a celebration of the memory of his father. He had some cloves and thought we’d like to plant extra garlic. So in they went and we harvested the garlic, ate some and kept some for planting on. His Dad’s garlic has become part of our yearly planting cycle, and is one of the most productive varieties we save each year. We’ve also discovered there are several varieties amongst the garlic we were given, and they’re adapting to our soil conditions.

Jim's Dad's Garlic [1]

They’re in the ground again this year, along with elephant garlic we’ve grown from the bulbils we find every year  on the bulb roots.

Jim’s Dad’s Garlic

Every year, since his Dad died, Jim has been planting the garlic that his Dad used to grow in a small brick bed he’d made in his backyard. For Jim, it’s a ritual, a celebratory gesture to the memory of his father. Jim plants 27 cloves on his birthday in November, and harvests the garlic on 27th. July, his Dad’s birthday.
This year he’s given us a few cloves for the allotment. We’ve planted them, a little late, but they’re sprouting. We will eat some and keep some for planting, and to pass on to other allotment holders so preserving and spreading a sense of Jim’s father. Maybe in time people will forget exactly why they are growing Jim’s Dad’s Garlic but it will grow anyway as long as some bulbs are stored each year in preparation for the next, and that seems a fitting enough echo for a life.

jims dads garlic [planting]3

Spring Cleaning

Sunday afternoon, the clouds cleared and it felt like the first truly sunny day of the year, warm on the hillside but still cool at the bottom of the allotment.

Over the weekend we’ve been clearing the allotment, planting out new hedging, pruning and thinning existing hedges that have been neglected; our foray into fruit tree pruning has given us courage and a bit more knowledge about the process. We ended up with an enormous amount of wood, so we lit a rare bonfire to burn the diseased applewood that John pruned out last week. We also burnt the hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble – all the vicious stuff – and added the smaller branches to the compost heap to open it up, encourage more oxygen to circulate.

Our hedges badly needed pruning into shape, particularly where they’re growing out into the boundary paths. We’ve also allowed the flowering currant to grow too large. The bushes make a brilliant shady area in the summer but they’ve grown over a path making it impossible to use. Now that the sun’s shifted we also need to thin and lower the hedge at the bottom of the allotment so that the beds get more sun later in the day. We planted a hazel six years ago and it now has some very useful straight trunks ready for use as beanpoles; we’ll coppice it to the ground to encourage new growth for harvesting as native-grown beanpoles, instead of buying imported bamboo. Unfortunately, not all the growth will be useable; the local council send in contractors once a year who mutilate all the hedges without prior notice and the hazel became a victim of this ‘management’ practice two years ago. A case of ‘managing’ rather than understanding or caring about growing practices. Tick the box, job done, contract fulfilled, doesn’t matter that they’ve just ruined a hedge. Continue reading

Strange Alliums

We were given these garlic bulbs by a friend whose father had kept them growing for decades.
One bulb looks like garlic, the other three look more like a form of shallot, or elephant garlic.
Does anybody recognise them? Whatever type of allium, we’re planting them in pots to get them started before planting on in the allotment, then giving some back, which was the reason they were originally shared.

garlic ? [2]

A fascination with Garlick

I love growing garlic. When we started this blog, garlic was granted a starring role; I also discovered the joys and disappointments of searching for information about a crop on the web – unsourced and unattributed ‘factoids’ that tell you little! My research training swept into action and the results were HortusLudi’s 1st series of posts drawing upon both historical and botanical sources.

My next obsession is testing growing conditions and trailing new crops and ways of growing things. I’ve just planted out a series of special garlic varieties I received from Julieanne @GwenfarsLottie. Julianne also sent cloves to growers in other parts of the UK and we’re intendng to compare results in the autumn. I’ve therefore set myself a record keeping task, checking & photographing, sharing success & failure. As if last year wasn’t hard work!

A beginning
I’ve begun rather late due to weather and work. I do normally plant out garlic in December and shallots in January/February, so not really late, but certainly not the late autumn/early winter that’s recommended. The main crop went in on Boxing Day, using cloves from last year’s crop. I always select the best & largest & hang those bulbs I intend to plant separately to the bunches for cooking. Despite the rain, we only had a small amount of white rot on the crop in 2012 (endemic across the allotment site) and managed to get it lifted at the beginning of July before the rot spread – it’s only ever present in small intermittent pockets. I planted out a special section with 7 varieties, 2/3 cloves each – the rest of the bed has been planted up with shallots saved from last year’s crop – the sets only expanded slightly rather than multiplied. All 3 garlic beds had seaweed on them through autumn before a top-dressing of our own compost mixed with leaf mould. Some seaweed is still evident but will disappear by spring. This is the 1st time I’ve used seaweed directly on garlic beds, even though it went on in November and has been covered with compost. Risky? I’d say its worth a try: the beds are at the top of our allotment, made of old scaffolding boards, set along a chalk ridge, so are free draining but needed compost to enrich a very chalky soil. I’m hopeful the experiment will work. The planting site gets more sun than the rest of the allotment, from early to late, so this might help the cloves grow and ripen, even if we have similar weather to 2012.

The 7 sets of cloves I’ve planted out – I know, they all look the same, but they are quite different, really :


You can still see the seaweed we put on the bed, but it disappears surprisingly quickly: 30th December 2012. The bed was covered in netting to stop cats, foxes & birds digging in the soil – there was a distinctly foxy smell around the top of the allotment, so probably along a fox route through the site.

So, an experiment started; while the garlic is putting down roots I’ve several new crops to attempt – I’ll tell you about them later.

Nearly forgot practicalities: garlic cloves planted at 7″ intervals in staggered rows, with at least 1″ of soil above the cloves.

A miscellany of Garlick

I complete my journey through garlic’s pungent history with a brisk summary of historical & literary references, intended to illustrate garlic’s extensive cultural influences:

According to Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions, there is an Islamic myth that suggests that, when Satan left the Garden of Eden after the Fall, garlic sprang from the spot where he had placed his left foot, and onion from the spot where he had placed his right.

Garlic’s medicinal properties were described in the Navanitaka text written in the 4th century AD, by Buddhists. This large medical treatise forms the second part of the Bower Manuscript written in a mixture of Sanskrit and Prakrit. The Bower Manuscript (mss), named after its discoverer, Lieutenant H. Bower, was found in 1890, in Kuchar, in Eastern Turkestan, on the caravan route to China.

The Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang, visiting the Indian sub-continent in the 7th century AD,  stated that the food use of garlic was unknown, which would have been particularly true of the Buddhist circles in which he moved.   These attitudes changed and by the period of Muslim rule, garlic, ginger and onion were an indispensable trio of flavours in South Asian cooking.


Cult images and altars of Hecate in her triplicate or trimorphic form were placed at crossroads, (though they also appeared before private homes and in front of city gates). Hecate was also closely associated with plant lore and the concoction of medicines and poisons. In particular, she was thought to give instruction in these closely related arts, and was said to favour offerings of garlic, which was closely associated with her cult.


The genus name Allium, the Latin name of garlic, gave rise to garlic’s name in Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.  The French name Ail, Thériaque des pauvres (Theriac of the poor) reflects the medical value of garlic; Galen eulogised garlic as ‘the rustic’s Theriac’ or ‘Heal All’.  In the Middle Ages, an expensive and complicated mixture of mostly very exotic ingredients called ‘theriac’ was believed to be extremely powerful against every kind of illness (snake bite, bone fracture, plague, etc…).

Garlic was used to treat leprosy during the Middle Ages, so that garlic and leprosy became inseparably associated. From this we get the term ‘pil-garlic’, signifying one who is shunned like a leper, because lepers were compelled (by the force of circumstances) to peel, or pil, their own garlic and commonly these outcasts were dubbed ‘pil-garlics’ Ref:  Brewer’s dictionary of phrase and fable.

Garlic formed the principal ingredient in the ‘Four Thieves’ Vinegar’, a protection against the plague, so named because in Marseilles (or Toulouse) four thieves who were arrested for robbing corpses credited their immunity to wearing masks soaked in vinegar, garlic and other herbs; this took place anytime between the 14th and 18th century depending upon the storyteller!

References to garlic eating as a term of abuse seems to have historical roots. The Romans were said to feed garlic to their workers to improve their strength and to their soldiers to make them courageous. Apparently in ancient Rome the Latin expression allium olere (stinking of garlic) was used to refer to people belonging to the lower social classes.

After the Age of Exploration (15th-17th centuries), its use spread rapidly to Africa and both Americas. There are references to garlic in reports of Cortes in Mexico, although it is not native to the country and therefore probably an introduction. Garlic was not considered an essential cooking ingredient in general use in the United States until the first quarter of the twentieth century, and was used almost exclusively in ethnic dishes and in working class districts. Derogatory slang from the 1920s referencing garlic’s class and ethnic origins in the US, referred to it as Bronx vanilla and Italian perfume, echoing the Latin slang of ancient Rome.

Garlic has a distinguished literary history that also echoes its cultural roots outlined above (I quoted Beowulf previously) :

Chaucer says of the summoner:

“Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,” a spiritual failing that aggravates his physical problems.

In Finnegans Wake, Joyce puns: “I knew I smelt the garlic leek!”