Thursday, October 28, 2010

Allium cepa, Allium sativum

The time is now to get your sets in! If you've never planted garlic or onions, you have to give it a try! They are one of the easiest things to grow over winter here, and even if you mess up, you'll have some good results!

For best results, garlic and onions should be grown in loose, well drained soil. While many garden books say to plant in spring, DON'T! Out growing season is too short, and by getting them in a few weeks before first frost, you'll allow them to grow just enough to survive their winter dormancy.

Our recent haphazard springs over the last two years have played havoc on onions, since the back and forth between heat and cold often forces them to seed. Onions that have seeded cannot be stored, as they have a hollow core, which invites rot. However, the seed heads and stalks are easily sautéed, and leaving flowering onions in the ground until the minute you want to use them brings amazing flavor to your table!

Garlic can flower, seed, and get trampled to almost no ill result. My first year planting garlic, it contended with bear, deer and great dane puppies tramping through the patch, and we had an excellent harvest.

To plant garlic, break the bulb apart and place the cloves in rows, one foot part and six inches apart It is best to plant them right side up, with the pointed tip facing upwards, though they'll figure out a way to right themselves if you don't. Onions use the same spacing, but after planting, you want to pack them down a bit, otherwise they tend to push their crowns out of the ground.

As they grow, you may occasionally have to re-mound soil around the tops of the bulbs to keep them from getting sun scarred. Make sure to keep the moisture level steady, never water logging or allowing the soil to completely dry out.

Onions and garlic are ready to harvest when the tops of the plants brown and wilt, usually in mid to late summer. I like to bunch my garlic together with just twine and hang them by their stalks to dry. Onions are easiest to harvest when their stalks fall down. Take a firm rake and rake gently along the top of the rows to break off the tops, and let the onions sit in the ground. A day or two later, pull the onions up out of the ground and leave them sitting for a day or two to further cure. You can use them  right out of the ground, but this curing makes them store better through winter. You should let them dry single stacked in a cool, dry, place protected from excess light if possible, then stack them in milk crates, mesh bags or similar containers once the weather starts to cool. Keeping them in a dark place helps prevent sprouting.

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