Veg Hero - Wet Garlic

The mild, damp climate of the UK seems incongruous with growing a characteristically Mediterranean crop such as garlic, and with good reason. Unlike in France and Spain where months of unbroken, hot weather allows farmers to dry their garlic crops in open fields, attempting such a practice here would most likely give disappointing results. The answer is instead to either dry the crop indoors or under glass, or harvest it as the much-revered (on the Continent anyway) ‘wet garlic’.

We opt for the latter at Riverford, planting the cloves in late October and early November to give us a fresh spring harvest in May that helps us plug the hungry gap with a vibrant and refreshing vegetable, when most of the new season crops are not yet ready. It’s a seminal moment in our farming year when the last clove goes in the ground, as it marks the end of the planting season. Given that we planted around 121,000 cloves on our farms last year alone, it’s also a moment that is keenly anticipated by our intrepid field workers! The crop grows through the winter, pausing in the coldest months, then picking up pace again when the soil warms up in March and April. Peter Richardson’s Home Farm crop will be ready this week, and his team will be pulling them by hand before getting them packed into your vegboxes, usually within 24-36 hours of picking.

As with all our veg, growing wet garlic organically is not without its challenges. May and June are generally wet and warm months, providing ideal conditions for fungal growth. Without chemical sprays, the biggest threat is from rust mould and mildew appearing on the leaves. We’ve found that applying a natural mixture of seaweed, citrus and (ironically) garlic keeps things under control; especially important given that the green leaves are as useful in cooking as the immature bulb is itself. Milder and sweeter than dried garlic and with a hint of creaminess, you can use it as you use ordinary garlic; just use more. Cook it in olive oil before adding summer greens or broccoli, gently fry with chilli and olive oil and stir through pasta for a simple but satisfying dressing, or add to scrambled eggs halfway through cooking.