In the depths of winter there is only so much ‘greenhouse gardening’ that can occur. But there is one crop that can be started now in an unheated greenhouse that is not only a very lucrative plant to grow but it is also very educational too.
Garlic is one of the few vegetables grown today that almost never sets seed, so it actually increases by vegetative propagation. Gardeners will be familiar with the process, but it’s a great way to teach the kids and it’s pretty foolproof too.
You buy a bulb of what is called ‘seed garlic’ which is virus free and selected for good garden performance and then you split this bulb into its individual cloves. During growth, each clove fattens and divides under its papery skin, it also produces tall strappy leaves, which eventually die back. The result is a new fat bulb of many cloves and the process continues.
Garlic has extraordinary health giving properties as well as fending off vampires and other undesirables. Garlic has incredible medicinal powers. DNA testing suggests that it has been in cultivation and in use for somewhere between 10 20 000 years and over that period it has been used as a home medicine chest and heralded as an anti fungal, antiseptic and an immune booster. It thins the blood and so is good for the heart. It can be used to treat diarrhoea, protects against infections, can be used to stop wounds becoming infected,and alleviates athlete’s foot. It is a powerful antioxidant and is thought to interfere with tumor activity in some cancers. In its centre of origin it is used to remedy scurvy, anaemia and improve general health. It was a common folk medicine against TB and bronchitis and was also used to help cure pneumonia and lung problems. It is a natural insect and pest repellent, used to combat aphids, white flies, spiders, mosquitoes and moths, so who knows it may even play a part in keeping your greenhouse free of winter bugs. It is also a powerful ally in the fight against colds and flu.
Easy to grow
Garlic is extremely easy to grow from cloves. Don’t try to grow the bulbs you buy in the supermarket, even if they are starting to sprout. They often hail from far distant shores and may not be suited to British climatic conditions and could even harbour new pests or diseases. Instead choose good garden varieties from a reputable supplier.
If your greenhouse isn’t buried in snow and inaccessible and your compost isn’t frozen rock solid, then planting garlic is a great winter project. Simply plant individual cloves into separate pots of quality potting compost now and place these inside an unheated greenhouse to get them off to the best possible start. They will root, start to swell and be ready to plant out into their final growing positions as soon as the soil outside becomes workable.