21 Sept 2011

The Gar-Leek question

:: Gar-leeks unearthed ::
First things first, thank you to everyone who commented on my gar-leek conundrum. I've since pulled up a few more - they are, as you can see, quite definitely leeks (which is handy as I didn't get round to sowing any earlier this year) - and, despite my questionable sanity, I quite definitely planted garlic cloves.  Trust me, if I'd sown leeks they wouldn't have been nearly so neatly spaced. When planting garlic cloves, I get my dibber out (aka wooden spoon handle); my seeds, however, are sprinkled enthusiastically and rarely (if ever) transplanted neatly.  Ah well.  They're going to be cooked as leeks, although I'm slightly miffed at having to actually buy garlic in the forthcoming months as I've almost finished my store of last year's crop.

One very plausible suggestion, provided by Alex, has struck a chord:  "are they elephant garlic?".  Considering that elephant garlic is not true garlic but, in fact, a relative of the leek family, it seems that my garlic reverted to its genetic roots.

Reading up on the subject (as always - isn't the internet wonderful?), I've learnt that garlic sets need very specific TLC to thrive. And there's me thinking you just bung them in the ground and wait.  Suitability for the growing location and climate is a good start, as is planting in late autumn (early October-ish) so that the roots establish well before soggy soil and frost become the norm. (I've always gone for spring planting which, although possible, should be my second and last-chance choice.) Plant in free-draining soil (to prevent bulb rot) and, if possible, prepare the soil with a good layer of well-rotted compost to really get them off to a flying start. Mulch if the winter is severe and then clear the mulch off when temperatures rise and days lengthen.  Often the bulbs are triggered to set cloves by the lengthening daylight.

So, where did it all go horribly wrong for me this year?  Well, for starters, I planted my sets in spring and then the weather was unseasonably hot. I've now read that some varieties just will not grow in hot areas or will only set one clove or no bulb at all. The other (big) mistake I made was to make the cardinal error of growing my garlic in the same bed as the year before - although I improved the soil with a top dressing of compost, the sets were still at the mercy of any diseases left in the soil from the previous year; this, apparently, can be another cause for no bulb. None of this, though, explains how the leaves grew looking like leek leaves - although the bulb also looks like a giant spring onion or green garlic.  Hmmm, it will have to remain as one of nature's mysteries.

Am I downhearted by all this?  Not At All. On the contrary, it's amazing the knowledge that a year's hands-on experience will give you.  And expect my sister's Leek and Potato Pie on the menu sometime soon.

This evening I've just been out to lift all the gar-leeks; I noticed that a few of the withering leaves seemed to have a light sprinkling of rust.  Again with the research, and I discovered that this is an airborne fungus which lurks in the soil, only affecting onions and leeks.  Triggered by certain levels of wetness and heat, it's advisable to lift the affected plants and destroy the leaves.  Absolutely do not add these to your compost. The bit of the leek that you'd normally eat is still edible.  I think this is nature reminding me to read the rules!


  1. I'm sure they taste delicious whatever they are.

  2. Jo, I hope so! Although I may have to put a side dish of parsley with the "leek" pie! x

  3. You've got two crops in one there. Great if you're short on space! Just trying to find a positive!

  4. Bridget, you're like me - always looking on the bright side! I'm grateful to have a crop, whatever it is, and there's always next year to try again!

  5. I was going to say and there's always next year...but I see you've beaten me to it! Flighty xx

  6. Flighty, great minds think alike!! xx

  7. Hey Caro,

    So I was buying some elephant garlic and the shop had a 'tip' which may resolve your issue! Quote: 'Elephant garlic isn’t actually garlic. It is different, more closely related to the leek, and has a different growing requirements. To get those big cloves, you need to wait two years between planting the seed garlic and harvesting the plant. If you harvest after one year, you’ll get a solid bulb that hasn’t produced any cloves and is only marginally smaller than normal garlic.' Amazing! I am hoping that you can now sleep at night...Philippa x

    1. Thanks for this Philippa, I think you're right. It would have paid not to be so hasty and to left a few in to see what happened. I'm curious now to grow Elephant Garlic and see what happens!

  8. I came across your blog via doing a Google search using 'garlic looks like leeks". Mine did this too (2012) and I used my own seed (cloves) from the previous year, and I have never planted elephant garlic. It was a hot year however but not in the early part of the summer season here (Saskatchewan, Canada) when they would have been developing. I too am very disappointed to have to be buying garlic from the store this year. It's odd because some did form properly, others approaching 2 or 3 cloves, but some just look like leeks. There will be several batches of garlic soup this fall to get them used up since they don't keep well.

  9. Hi Thanks for taking the time to comment, it really helps to know that others have experienced the same. I grew garlic cloves according to my own rules this year (2012) but they didn't do well either - lots of leaf and tiny little cloves, too fiddly to use for anything other than the stockpot. This year I'm blaming the overly wet British weather as the leaves had started to develop a fungus looking black spot.

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  11. Thank you for this article, very useful. I had the Gar-Leek problem last year, but only in two of six troughs! Every plant in those troughs did it, whereas all other troughs produced normal garlic. Having harvested a couple of plants and found the problem, I left them in over winter - which according to one of the comments here may result in bulbs this year? We will see! Couple of theories - the troughs were the Southern-most ones, so had no shade from the others, so may simply have been too hot (Spring-planted garlic). Also, I planted three different varieties of garlic - so all of these ones may have been the same variety, and the other varieties fared better in last year's conditions?


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