Farming for Garlic… on the Isle of Wight?

Farming for Garlic… on the Isle of Wight?

Did you know that the Island is the biggest garlic producer in the UK?

When Colin Boswell began growing garlic commercially in Newchurch 30 years ago, Islanders were somewhat perplexed. It seemed an odd choice of crop – we’d all thought of it as a French import.

But now the Garlic Farm has 50 acres of garlic, produces 150 tons per year and supplies 600 different retail outlets – even supplying it to the French market. It is sold to delicatessens and fine food shops across Britain and supermarket, Waitrose in East Cowes and all of the Island’s Co Op stores.

A visit to the Garlic Farm Shop is a must for, well, anything to do with garlic really! There are loads of different fresh garlic to choose from, garlic plants for planting in your garden, garlic pickles and chutneys and even smoked garlic. Or maybe you are searching for that perfect garlic crusher or grater or garlic emblazoned pinnie… the list is endless.

The Garlic Farm Café has been open two years and is fast becoming a favourite with Islanders and visitors alike. Its attractive wooden and glass exterior gives an airy feel to the interior and the food is all locally produced.

All the main timbers are Macrocarpa, planted and grown on the farm by Colin and his father. The 10ft columns are supported on staddlestones and a slate roof and flagstone floor, complemented by traditional wood-burners for the winter, make the Farm Shop and Cafe a great visit anytime of the year.

New this year is the Heritage Centre and the Education Centre where visitors and local schoolchildren will learn about the history of garlic and its production. Colin’s daughter Jo Boswell, who is the manager of the shop and café, is passionate about these new facilities and has been busy taking a course to become a qualified farm teacher.

“We will follow through the garlic from the time it’s planted to the time it’s picked,” said Jo. “And there is also the history of the farm – we’ve found a lot of Roman artifacts here and we can follow the development of the Arreton valley through the building of the farm 450 years ago.

“We’ve found evidence that the Romans ate garlic – particularly a paste that they used for flavouring which was a mixture of garlic, anchovies and olive oil.

“We want people to leave the farm not only with full bellies but with full brains,” said Colin Boswell, who has roamed the world in search of the origins of garlic.

“There’s a metaphysic in this – it’s something that touches beyond just a food. It has improved our heath and wellbeing as well as our appreciation of nature,” added Colin who is returning to Kazakhstan this summer.

“I’m going to revisit the mother of all garlic, riding in the foothills of the Tien Shan,” said Colin. ‘There’s always more garlic to find.”

Tom Honeyman Brown is the farm’s general Manager. “We grow 16 different varieties of garlic and supply seed to most of the wholesale seed buyers – Thompsons, Fothergill’s, Marshalls and Suttons,” said Tom. “We also sell seed direct to customers in our shop or online.

“Garlic is a very easy plant to grow, but to grow it well on a large scale takes a lot of skill. Garlic in terms of companion planting is a natural pesticide too.

“Solent Wight and Elephant garlic are both great for gardeners to grow. Solent Wight is quintessential garlic: very strong and long lasting with 15 to 16 cloves per bulb. Elephant garlic is the biggest and is a real trophy piece, sometimes growing bigger than a grapefruit,” he added.

“It is mild and sweet and best roasted – ideal for garlic bread,” enthused Jo. “We probably now eat garlic as often we do potatoes, as additives and flavourings in foods, but people can’t name any types of garlic.”

This is something that the Heritage and Education Centres will hope to address. “The centre of origin is in Kazakhstan and it traveled with early man,’ said Jo. “You can see the route that garlic took.

“Garlic is a really tough rugged plant that grows on rocky escarpments, just below the snow line, in loose rocky soil, in mountainous regions of Central Asia, where it has long sunlight hours and melting snow water flowing through its roots. It needs soil that drains easily, which we have here, and the Isle of Wight has really good sunlight hours.”

And where better to while away some of those sunlight hours after learning all about garlic than in the courtyard or inside the café, sampling some of the best food that the Island has to offer. It’s not all cooked with garlic but as Jo said: “You certainly won’t be disappointed if you’re a garlic lover.”