Colin Boswell used to supply 70% of the supermarket garlic trade from his farm on the Isle of Wight but is now finding niche and specialist supply more rewarding

Anyone can grow good garlic, but the key to great garlic is the harvesting and storing, says Colin Boswell, owner of The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight.

Provided it has adequate water in a fertile soil, garlic will grow anywhere in the UK. Boswell's land south east of Newport is ideal for the crop.

He first planted garlic in 1976, rapidly growing the business. In 1979 he began to supply several of the major multiples with garlic alongside the sweetcorn he already sold to them. By 1990, Boswell had 70% of the UK supermarket trade in garlic.

Only one in 10 of the bulbs he supplied was grown on his farm, with the rest being brought in from Spain. The business grew until it was even peeling and puréeing garlic for other manufacturers to use.

Sales hit more than £10m a year before an HSE case surrounding sweetcorn ended up in court and he was forced to sell the business, which was snapped up by Cambridgeshire-based G's Marketing.

"I decided to concentrate on growing garlic for its own sake and supplying the niche markets with seed for amateur gardeners and bulbs for farm shops and delis across the UK," says Boswell. "For sheer eye appeal, some of the rare Moldovan purple garlic is spectacular - usually just five fat cloves per bulb. They make some of the best garlic bread possible."

Another variety under trial is from the Caucasus. Boswell is soon off to Kazakhstan to trace the origins of his favourite plant.

He is even working on a sweet garlic concoction that allegedly fights erectile dysfunction in men.

Rechristened The Garlic Farm, the business has been transformed into a vibrant tourist attraction on the island. Since 1983 it has been the focus of an annual garlic festival, which attracted 25,000 visitors last year.

The multiple sector is more prepared to work with smaller suppliers these days, says Boswell - so much so that Tesco has contacted him about supplying just a handful of Tesco stores in the capital.

He's not sure what the outcome will be, but Boswell is cautious about getting back with the multiples.

"I find what we're doing outside the supermarkets is more rewarding, although it's hard work, of course. Additionally we've got a kind of appelation contrôlée for garlic and supplying the retailers would undermine our independent customers."