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Harvesting the Garlic

June 25th, 2012

Over the weekend I harvested my garlic. I usually wait until there are 5 or 6 green leaves left on the plants. Here’s my post on How to Tell if Garlic is Ready to Harvest.

My garlic crop is a mix of varieties that I’ve been growing for a few years now. There are white and purple varities, some that produce HUGE bulbs and some that produce small ones. All of the type I grow are hardneck, though next year I’ll be adding some softneck garlic because I hear it stores longer.

Overall it was a great year for garlic. The final tally is 160 bulbs harvested. Looks like we’ll be having a savory year! You might wonder what we do with so much garlic? We eat it in just about every day in something. Garlic is so healthy we make sure to include as much of it as we can. It’s a good thing I grow my own because purchasing this much garlic throughout the year for cooking would cost a fortune. I’ll also save 15-25 bulbs for planting this fall saving myself a bundle on seed garlic too!

Have you harvested your garlic yet? What’s your favorite dish that contains garlic?

Beauty in all seasons

June 24th, 2012

There is beauty, certainly, at all seasons: in winter, when the skeletons of the standard currants and gooseberries, the espaliered apples, show cleanest against the snow-covered rows, all plastid like seersucker; in early spring, when the rows, fecund and mellowed from their winter sleep, lie ready for the seeding of the first crops–radishes, lettuce, board beans, and mesclun; in late spring, when neat green lines of sprouted seed give further definition to the rows and the promise of so many good highs to come; in high summer, when the integrity of those rows, their pattern on sprawling stem, creating a maze to wander through; and in autumn, when frosts threaten and all the work of the growing year must be hastily undone, stripping tomato vines, gathers potatoes, searching for squash and pumpkins, trundling all under cover in the hurried exhilaration of final harvest. But in high spring and early summer, when the pea vines produce their wan, white mothlike flowers, the garden is at perhaps its most beautiful. It is then, most certainly, that we know why we are here, and what we are doing.

Joe Eck & Wayne Winterrowd in Living Seasonally: The Kitchen Garden and the Table at North Hill

While I do appreciate and enjoy all the seasons of the garden here in NE Ohio, I especially love the exuberance in the this time of year. I have to agree with the authors above, it truly is the most beautiful time in the edible garden.

What season do you think is most lovely when it comes to the garden?


June 23rd, 2012

Since I’m the gardener everyone knows, I’m often asked to plant sit when friends go on vacation. So far this month I’ve spent 2 weeks looking in on different people’s plants.

The funny thing is that I rarely ask anyone to plant sit for me, though I met a neighbor last year that I’ll ask next time we are away. Over the years, I’ve developed a system for my plants when we’re gone. What’s my system?

I move everything to a shady corner of the garden. I collect some big plastic storage containers and put the pots in those. Then I water them well the night before we leave and top them off the morning of our departure. I try to make sure there’s an inch or two of water in the bottom of the container. I’ve successfully used this method many times when we’ve been gone. When we are planning on being gone for more than a week I usually move the potted plants to the basement and put a grow light on them. After watering them in well they will last for almost a month with no water in the cool basement.

In the last eight months we’ve become great friends with a neighbor that lives only a few houses away. She’s an avid gardener as well and is well versed in taking care of container plants. I’m actually plant sitting for her this week, so next trip we take I’ll have her look after all my potted plants.

Do you ever plantsit for others when they travel? Do you have someone that watches your plants while you’re gone?

Alternative Alliums for Your Plate

June 22nd, 2012

Many of us have small gardens and would never be able to grow all the bulb onions we use in a year. We can supplement those bulb onions with other alliums, it’s especially helpful if they can be grown during the off seasons and throughout the winter. Over the past couple years I’ve been adding a couple alternative alliums to the garden to fill our plates.

Leeks are a perfect stand-in for onions in winter and spring. After growing them once I wondered why I had never grown them before. I planted them in late summer and overwintered them in the garden. They were harvested throughout the winter and on into spring. It was the perfect way to supplement the storage onions. They are perfect for growing in fall/winter/spring and are quite tasty used like regular onions. If you’ve never grown leeks in the garden before I’d highly recommend giving them a try. Seeds are available from a variety of sources.

Potato Onions are planted in fall like garlic and are harvested around this time. If you plant a large onion they turn into lots of smaller onions, if you plant smaller ones they turn into large potato onions. You save onions from the previous year to replant in the fall. These onions are nice because you don’t have to buy seed, sets or plants after your initial purchase.  These are nice because they’re ready much earlier than the bulging onions you plant in the garden.  Shallots are very similar to potato onions, only they’re more mild.   (source: Southern Exposure)

Bunching Onions are hardy onions and are harvested and used as scallions or green onions. I planted ‘Japanese White Bunching’ a few years ago and have been letting them bunch for the past couple years. I harvest them all winter long, there’s nothing like having green onions to use in the middle of winter.  It would definitely be worth adding a small patch of hardy bunching onions to your garden. This year I added another variety called ‘Red Welsh’ and I can’t wait to try them this fall.  (source: Japanese Bunching from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Red Welsh Bunching onion from Baker Creek)

Perennial Leeks produce small bulbs and tiny leeks from the base of the main leek plant. They’re like regular leeks only smaller with a bulbous end and you don’t need to start seeds for them each year.  To propagate, you dig up the main leeks and replant the small bulbs that form around it (kind of like garlic). My initial planting of perennial leeks last year so I didn’t harvest any this spring for eating, I wanted them to multiply as much as possible. As a result, I have a nice crop of small leeks, I’ll be digging them up shortly to replant for fall/winter/spring harvests. (source: Southern Exposure)

Egyptian Walking Onions are harvested like green onions. Besides the bunching onions, they’re the earliest onions harvested each spring. They reproduce by forming little bulblets on top of the plant. The main leaf then falls over and the little bulblets produce a small bunch of onions, thus they “walk” around the garden. I started these onions a few years ago and I’ve been working on establishing a good sized patch of them since they multiply so readily and are so easy.
It’s no wonder Thomas Jefferson grew these at Monticello! (source: Southern Exposure)

It’s been really interesting researching all these different varieties of alliums and growing them in the garden. They definitely make it much easier to produce a larger percentage of the food that we eat. The thing I like most about all of these is that they produce fresh harvests during those times of the year that you’re really craving something fresh!

Do you grow any alternative alliums? Which ones? Any great advice? If not, which one do you think you’d like to try first?

Storing Homegrown Onions

June 21st, 2012

After posting about onions yesterday, everyone was asking about how I store my onions. The home in which I spent part of my childhood had a proper root cellar. It was located under the porch and had a gravel floor. As a result it stayed cold and humid. It was full of spiders and had one a lightbulb in the middle of the room – you had to open the wooden door and step into the damp dark room while feeling around for the pull cord – it was the scariest thing in the world when we were little (right up there with the basement stairs without backs). A proper root cellar like this is the best place to store crops, but many of us do not have such spaces.

Our home is like most modern homes, we have a basement, but no proper root cellar. Generally I simply store my onions in baskets on shelves in the basement. We don’t heat our basement so it stays about 50-55 degrees all winter long. A little warm for storing vegetables, but better than the upstairs. Things would store a bit longer if we could keep it cooler, but they usually store until we eat them all. The biggest challenge you will face if you don’t have a cool enough spot is that your onions will start to sprout, That’s not a huge problem since they can still be used.

I often store my onions in the workshop off the garage until the weather starts to get below freezing. In the fall it’s much cooler than our basement. If you have an enclosed porch that hovers around these temperatures that might work as well. We’ve considered turning our basement stairway into a root cellar but haven’t taken the plunge. I have friends that store their potatoes in their barns in makeshift root cellars made of bales of straw. My grandpa tells stories of them using a pit in the yard to store potatoes between layers of straw. Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition has a section that describes how to build a few different types of root cellars. Here’s an article on how to build a proper root cellar into your basement via Mother Earth News

Here are a few things that you can do to ensure longer storage of your homegrown onions.

Select the right variety. Some onions are long-keepers and are meant to be stored in root cellars, others are not. Most companies will list this information in the description. If not, head off to Google to find out. Consider starting your onions from seed or purchasing onion plants. Seed started onions generally will store longer than onions grown from sets. If you grow both, make sure you label each kind and keep them separate so you can eat the set grown onions first.

Don’t over fertilize. Onions are heavy feeders and like a lot of water, but over fertilizing can cause crown rot. It’s better to have smaller onions that keep longer than huge onions that rot. Keeping onions well watered and well weeded will help the bulbs grow larger without as much fertilizer. Eat large onions from you pantry first as they don’t seem to store as long as the smaller onions.

Cure onions before storing them. In summer the tops of your onions will flop over and the leaves will start to yellow. This signals to the plant that it’s time to get ready for the winter ahead. When the necks look dry, pull onions and allow them to cure in a warm spot to cure. Let them sit in a single layer in a warm dry location for two weeks (a garage or attic works well for this). Once the necks of the onions are completely dry you can store them in baskets in a cool dark location (35-40 degrees is best).

Check onions in storage regularly and use up those that are starting to soften or sprout first. If you notice that the majority of your onions are sprouting, cut them all up, cook them and freeze them.

You can also grow a variety of other alliums to fill in the gaps throughout the year. Here at Chiot’s Run we also grow: traditional leeks, potato onions, shallots, Egyptian walking onions, scallions, bunching onions and perennial leeks. More on these alternative alliums tomorrow.

Do you have any tips to share on storing homegrown onions?

Highly recommended reading about long term vegetable storage:

Seeds and Sundries
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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.