Colin’s connection with garlic goes back 30 years to 1976 when his mother experimented by growing some in the kitchen garden of the family farm in Newchurch.
In the last seven years the farm has moved away from supplying large supermarkets and has, instead, concentrated on becoming a specialist niche producer supplying delis and farm shops up and down the country.
Colin explained that supermarkets tend to want the same small, regular white bulbs because these will make the biggest profit margins. But at Mersley Farm, Colin and his family have developed a dozen different types of garlic which are ready at different times of the year and which also have a greater variety of flavour. “Our earliest garlic is our ‘early Wight’ which originates from China and is ready by the middle of May. Then we have our ‘early purple’ which is ready at the end of May and into June. Later comes the Albigensian which comes originally from the south west of France. This was the garlic of the 13th century Cathars and those growing this purple tinted garlic were thought to be susceptible to their heretical beliefs.
“We also have a purple Moldovan which has big fat cloves and is ready in early July. It’s a relic of the Sarmatian Black Sea civilisation. It’s said that their women, fortified, no doubt, by the garlic, were excellent warriors and experts at the Parthian shot. This garlic also makes the best garlic bread you’ll ever taste,” he adds.
The true Isle of Wight garlic, however, is the Solent Wight, which has been developed from a variety originating from the Auvergne in France. “We start harvesting this one in July and its keeping quality is excellent – it will last right through the winter to the following April.”
Garlic grows particularly well on the Island because of the light intensity and Colin has discovered over the years that if it grows well here it can grow successfully all over the UK. “We bring in strains from around the world and grow them for several years. We only take on to the following year the very best that a particular strain of garlic produces.
“As they become adapted to the Isle of Wight climate, this enables them to grow anywhere in the UK. Amateur gardeners all over the country are growing our Isle of Wight garlic.” Colin also finds himself sending a lot of seed garlic abroad to British people living in France. He says: “All they can find to grow is the garlic of their region – the French are extremely regional. They protect the produce of the ‘terroir’. But the British are keen to have more variety in their gardens and the French garlic doesn’t keep so well.”
This year sees Colin developing his niche business still further by branching out with a new line in kitchenware. Garlic Farm Cookware is a range of hand-cast pans and casseroles exclusively imported for the Garlic Farm from southern Germany. They are fired three times separately and have a cast aluminium base and a titanium ceramic finish. This means they retain no garlic flavours so you can cook with garlic one moment and then with milk the next. They are half the weight of Le Creuset and cost from £50 to £120. Colin adds: “And you know the old story about Le Creuset – by the time you can afford it you can’t pick it up.”
Another new arrival in his shop this summer is a beautiful reproduction of a celtic influenced armband. The original was found on the arm of a young woman who had lived 1,700 years ago in a house which stood in the field opposite Yaverland Manor. Her body was found trapped under a wall during a Time Team dig in the 1990s. Island Silversmith Theodosia in Newport made an exact copy of it and it was then taken to silversmiths in Mumbai who have faithfully reproduced it. It will be on sale in the Garlic Farm Shop priced at £75.
The Garlic Farm, Newchurch. Tel: 01983 865378