Despite their name, elephant garlic isn’t actually a member of the garlic family at all; in fact, they’re actually more closely-related to leeks than they are to your standard culinary garlic.
However don’t let this put you off; with their giant bulbs, offering individual cloves up to 5cm across, filled with subtle garlic flavours, elephant garlic really does look as good as it tastes. If you’re keen to try your hand at growing elephant garlic this year, here’s what you need to know to succeed…
When to Plant Elephant Garlic
Like more traditional garlics, elephant garlic – Latin name Allium ampeloprasum – can be planted either in late Autumn or early Spring. Planting in the Autumn gives your plants a little more time to establish themselves before the cold weather arrives, so can lead to earlier crops.
If you’re more of a fair-weather gardener then they can be sown up until March or April, though be aware that later sowings will mean later harvests (and likely smaller bulbs, too).
How to Plant Elephant Garlic Bulbs
One of the real joys of growing garlic is just how hassle-free it is. Unlike many other vegetable crops, which require large amounts of effort and ongoing maintenance, elephant garlic is a perfect crop for those gardeners with minimal time.
Start off with your elephant garlic bulb, and gently break it into the individual cloves. Each of these is then planted separately, and will grow into a whole new bulb in time. For best results plant the cloves with the flat base facing downward, roughly one inch below soil level.
Cloves should be planted roughly four inches part, in rows of no less than 12 inches. This gives the bulbs plenty of space to draw in nutrients and grow, with the biggest bulbs reserved for those areas with the most space.
While garlic is not a fussy crop, for best results aim to plant your elephant garlic in a sunny position with well-drained soil. This drainage will minimise the chances of your garlic rotting during persistent wet winter weather.
Elephant Garlic Maintenance
Elephant garlic requires very little ongoing maintenance. They seem to suffer from very few pests or diseases, most likely thanks to their strong flavour. All you need to do is keep the weeds at bay throughout the growing season. Apart from this, simply let the plants get on with life and you’ll be richly rewarded!
How to Harvest Elephant Garlic
By late summer you’ll start to see the lush green leaves of your plants yellowing. Once they’re really past their best it is time to harvest. Using the leaves as a guide, gently ease a fork into the ground some 4-6″ away from the bulb and gently lever it out of the soil.
Once harvested, elephant garlic can be used immediately, or it can be stored for months to come. If you want to still be enjoying your harvest in mind-winter then it’s important to allow the outer skin of the bulbs to dry thoroughly. This helps to prevent rotting, and seals the goodness into the bulbs.
Simply lay your crop out in a warm, dry place (a sunny windowsill or shed works well) for a few weeks. Check on the bulbs regularly and turn them once a week to ensure that they have dried evenly.
At this point they can be strung up for storage, where they will survive for months in a dark, dry place.
Growing Elephant Garlic as a Perennial
As a final point of interest, elephant garlic can actually be grown as a perennial crop. Rather than harvesting all your bulbs at the end of the season, simply dig up what you need and leave the rest of the bulbs in the ground.
Here they will lay dormant over winter, before they begin growing again in the spring. In this way, if you end up with far more plants than you expected, the bulbs can continue on the next year.