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ELEPHANT GARLIC (Allium ampeloprasum)

admin / November 17, 2017

There is some mystery and controversy about the sudden appearance of this vegetable in the last few years. One plausible explanation suggests that Elephant Garlic (Allium Ampdoprasum), is originally from the East Mediterranean, and was taken to the State of Oregon in the U.S.A. by immigrants from the Eastern Balkans, for their own use. It was re-discovered in their abandoned settlement in 1941, by a plantsman who selected it for size. It has also been suggested that Elephant Garlic and Leeks have both been selected over many centuries from wild garlic. Certainly, ordinary garlic, elephant garlic and leeks, all have the same form of flat, strap-like leaves, while onions and shallots have round, hollow leaves.

The name comes from its much larger size, being as big as the clenched fist of a man. It is much milder than traditional garlic, but the individual cloves are big enough to roast whole.

There is general agreement that it is more closely related to the Leek than traditional Garlic, which may be why it does not seem to be so prone to white rot and is more resistant to wet conditions. Indeed, it grows better in moist, well drained soil. It grows very well in the Glasgow Area where there is plenty of regular moisture but it apparently does not do so well in the drier Eastern areas of Scotland.

If you have been having problems growing normal garlic, try elephant garlic instead.

Because it is much bigger than the normal garlic, the individual cloves should be spaced about 20 cm apart, with rows about 30 cm apart, and just buried in the fertile soil.

It needs a long growing season and should be planted in October or November. Ageneral fertilizer should be used when planting the Garlic.

For the first two months or so, you may see no growth visible at all, but underneath the soil it will be steadily growing roots. It will also be changing it’s shape from a clove to a round. Eventually, a central stem will emerge. Later, the round will split into 5 or 6 large cloves.

Elephant Garlic produces a flower spike some 1.5 m high with a pretty pinkish globular head of small flowers, much loved by bees. Indeed, it would not be out of place at the back of a flower border.

To get the biggest cloves of Elephant Garlic, the flower bud should be removed as soon as it appears to conserve the energy of the plant. As the flower spike grows in between the cloves, it does not affect the keeping quality of the cloves.

Some “rounds” of Elephant Garlic do not split into cloves. From my observations, the likely reasons for this are starting with very small cloves, planting them too late or transplanting them and checking their growth. Others have suggested that it is due to a lack of growing in soil below 10 C for a month. However, there is a more than ample period of growing in cold soil in Glasgow, so this is unlikely to be the only reason.

If “rounds” are dried off at the end of the growing  season and replanted for growing the following year, they will produce extra large cloves.

When lifting the heads of elephant garlic, you may notice bulbils on short root stems or still protected by the papery layers of the head of garlic. These can be planted to produce a small “round” or undivided head of garlic the next year. However, these can be particularly difficult to get to grow if you have let them dry off and let the outer skin become tough. It must be one of the hardest, water resistant coatings known in the vegetable kingdom!

It is best to immediately replant these bulbils in a small area set aside where they can grow on for the following year undisturbed to grow into a small “round”. Eventually, the outer covering should break down to show another brown coating surrounding a round bulbil. This will eventually break down allowing the tiny roots to grow. See the three stages of growth of a bulbil, in the much enlarged photo.

Deciding when to harvest the bulbs is always a tricky decision. It is most likely to be June in the South, July in the North of the UK. If the weather has been wet for some time, the Elephant garlic tends to continue to grow, but if dry, you will suddenly see the Elephant garlic leaves start to die down and go yellow or brown. Lift one of the plants and check that the roots are dying back and the papery covering to the bulb is nice and dry. That is the time to lift any bulbs that look if they are ready and place them on wire racks in a well ventilated, covered location such as a cold frame to dry off for a month or two. I find that all the heads do not ripen at once, and you may will have to check them over several times.

Storage of Elephant Garlic. Once the heads of Elephant Garlic have been fully dried off, they will store best in an open weave net, hung up in a cool, dry place. They should then keep in perfect condition for a year, and I have even used them when they were 18 months old, and had a few wrinkles.

Pests and diseases. I have been growing Elephant Garlic in cold, wet conditions for some five years, and I have found it to be virtually pest free. Even slugs, snails, birds, squirrels, mice and rats all hate it. Long may this unusual, happy state of affairs continue!

However, it is affected by white rot. See here for description and possible treatment.

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