|:: Gar-leeks unearthed ::|
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!