garlic

  • Grow at Home: Companion Planting

    Companion Planting

    Companion planting is where two or more crops are grown together for the benefit of one, or all. The most successful combinations mirror nature.  They can be an important part of planning a successful and productive garden.

     

    Deterrent Smell

    Plants have natural affinities with others of their kind.  The smell of volatile oils from many plants can above all discourage pests, making them excellent companion plants. Perhaps the most well known is the relationship between the tomato plant and the strong smelling French Marigold.  This is said to deter whitefly, for instance.

    While there is little scientific proof of these associations working, if you talk to any experienced gardener they will certainly provide plenty of anecdotal evidence.  Tomatoes like to be grown with Basil and Parsley.  Useful for cooks as well as gardeners.  And separating rows of brassicas with onions has always been popular.  This is possibly due to the strong scent of onions confusing the cabbage pests.

    Companion_planting_marigold_carrotsAttracting Pollinators

    English Marigold (Calendula) can provide welcome splashes of colour in the kitchen garden.  The added benefit is that they attract pollinators.  Along with Yarrow (Achillea) and Hyssop they also attract hover flies.  The hover flies will lay their eggs around these plants and when they hatch the larvae feast on aphids.

    Lavender_in_pot_in_flowerEnhancing fragrance

    Some gardeners know Chamomile as the 'plant doctor'.  This is because of its alleged ability to encourage the production of essential oils making their scent and taste stronger. It is attractive and easy to grow so a worthwhile addition to any planting scheme.

    Another garden 'must have' is the super fragrant Lavender. This acts as a general insect repellent whilst still attracting bees to your plot.

    Crops and their Companions

    Different combinations work in different conditions, so experimentation and experience is the best guide. Below are some combinations of crops and their companions that work well in most situations:

    • Asparagus: Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil
    • Beans: Carrots, lettuce,parsley, spinach
    • Beetroot: Onions, cabbages
    • Cabbages: Celery, mint, thyme, onions, nasturtiums
    • Carrots: Peas, radish, chives, onion, leek
    • Courgette: Nasturtiums
    • Lettuce: Strawberry, beetroot, radish
    • Onions: Carrots, beetroot, chamomile, courgette
    • Parship: Garlic
    • Peas: Potatoes, radish, carrot
    • Spinach: Strawberry
    • Tomato: Celery, basil, marigolds, foxglove
  • Grow at Home: Onions from seed

    Many people grow onions from sets - mini, immature onion bulbs - to get a head start.  The advantage of growing onions from seeds, instead of from sets, is that it is far cheaper if you are going for a big harvest. So if you eat a lot of onions then seeds are worth a try but you need to get them in ASAP now.

    Sowing

    Make sure you use fresh seeds as the germination rate reduces the older seeds get.  They will still germinate but if you are using a packet from last year you may need to sow a few more to get the crop you are hoping for.  Sow the seeds on a windowsill or in the greenhouse, from February to April.

    spring_onion_cutThey will germinate without extra heat, but providing a little heat underneath the seed trays or pots will speed up the germination process.  So, add a lid or enclose in a plastic bag and put it on a heat mat or somewhere warm like on top of the fridge.  Germination should take around 7 to 10 days.

    Onion seedlings sometimes have trouble shedding the seed husk and end up doubled up like an ostrich with their head in the sand.  If you want to help them move along then you can snip the thinner bit, pull it out complete with seed husk and discard it.  The thicker side of the loop can then get on with growing.  This is fiddly and they will sort themselves out eventually so you can decide if you have the time and energy to do this or want to just let them get on with it.

    Whether you are growing in the ground or containers make sure that that the young onions get plenty of light. If you are not growing in a greenhouse, then put the seedlings outside on warm sunny days to get maximum light benefit and to help harden them off. Use a large Bell cloche, poly lantern cloche or poly tunnel to help protect from wind and temperatures below 10˚c. Once you are happy that night time temperatures are well above 8˚C then the onions can stay out without protection.

    Planting Outside

    onions_growingTransplant them outside in May or June when they produce a third leaf and are about 3” (8cm) high. Dig some rich fertiliser into the ground where you are going to plant them.  Make sure you put it directly under where the onions will be as their roots are concentrated directly down from the bulb.

    Plant them vertically and handle them gently. The bulb should be ½” (1cm) below the surface. Depending on the onions final sizes, plant them between 2-10” (4-25cm) apart, with 9" (22cm) between rows.

    Container Growing

    If you want to grow onions in containers then transplant them at the same stage as for outdoors. The container will need to be at least 10" (25cm) deep and each onion will need about 8cm (3 inches) of space to grow. So, the wider the container the better.  Make sure that the compost you use to fill the container is not too high in nitrogen.  If it is you will get a lovely leafy display above ground and very little below ground.

    Looking after your Plants

    The important thing while they are growing is to keep the weeds down.  Onion seedlings don't compete well with weeds and it will affect the size of your onions.  So weed regularly.

    You can also keep trimming them back to around 5" so that they don't flop over.  Once again they will be OK if you leave them to their own devices, so if you're not growing them for the Village Show you may want to miss this step.

    Keep them well watered especially when it is dry. When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Possibly even clear a little of the soil at the top of the bulb too.

    Harvest

    onion_bulb_in_groundHarvest them from July to October.  Lift the onions as you need them from July to October.  There is a danger that they can rot in the ground when it starts to get very wet so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie in the sun for a couple of days.

    Storage

    Only store the onions that are perfect - use any that aren't straight away.   The best way to store them is in a jute Veg Sack.  This allows air to circulate and keeps them cool and dark. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

    Top Tip

    When peeling chopped onions, light a couple of candles.  This should stop your eyes watering, as the vapours from the onions will be absorbed in the candle flames.

  • Grow at Home - Garlic

    Used in everything from stir fry to Shepherds Pie it is pretty rare to find a household that does not have garlic in their kitchen cupboard. But, despite it being relatively easy to grow, many gardeners do not include it in their planting.

    It is a hard working plant that does more than just give a delicious crop though.  Like most of the onion family, garlic is great for companion planting.  Plant between rows of vegetables especially carrots and its scent will deter pests.  This gives a natural boost to your garden's pest protection.  Also, garlic is pollinated by bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects too so great for encouraging wildlife onto your plot.

    Types of garlic

    There are two main sorts.

    Softneck

    Softneck (Allium sativum var. sativum) is the garlic which most supermarkets stock.  The bulb has a slightly hotter flavour than the Hardnecks, produces more smaller cloves and stores very well. Since the necks are soft, this is the sort you want if you have the time and energy create a garlic plait.  They also sprout relatively quickly so are satisfying to grow for the garlic novice.

    Hardneck

    Hardnecks (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) are closer to wild garlic, with more complex flavours. These garlics have subtle flavour differences created from the soil and weather patterns in the region where you grow them. The advantage of Hardneck varieties for the cook is that their skins usually slip off easily.  They do not store as long as Softnecks though.  Cure and eat them within 3 to 10 months, depending on the variety.

    Garlic_bulbs_with_flowers

     

    There is some debate about hardiness with some believing that Softneck will grow only in the warmer parts of the UK so if in doubt in the coolest parts of the UK it might be a better to choose Hardneck.  Which you choose is up to you though as there is anecdotal evidence of both thriving in areas of the country where they should be struggling.

    There are many varieties of each sort to choose from depending on the flavour and bulb size you would like to produce.

     

    Planting

    When to Plant

    Garlic needs a long growing season.  The cloves can be planted in late Autumn or early Spring but you will get a bigger crop if you plant in Autumn.

    Garlic_plants_in_bed

    Whatever variety you choose, to grow well, it needs a cold period of at least two months. For Autumn sowing, it is therefore essential to sow from early-October to allow the roots to develop before the cold weather sets in. With this in mind Hardnecks should be planted at the beginning of October but Softnecks can wait until around Christmas time. 

    The  Hardnecks will be slower to show themselves so even with this planting timetable you may see the Softnecks appear first.

    Where to plant

    We recommend growing garlic in a rotation system with carrots, onions, leeks, and other root vegetables.  A classic rotation is tomato family, broccoli family, onion family including your garlic.  But as a companion plant we find it makes a great space filler between carrots, sweet peppers, spinach, lettuce and parsnips, roses and other flowers too.

    How to plantrows_of_garlic_growing

    Garlic is rarely planted from seed with the cloves used instead.  These are readily available from seed companies and garden centres but you can use pretty much any garlic cloves hanging around your kitchen ... just gently break apart the bulb and each clove will produce it's own plant

    It can be planted directly into the soil but if you suffer from pests such as birds ripping out your young plants then sowing into Rootrainers first may help your plants survive.  See our recent Overwintering Onions Blog for the full story.

    Plant in fertile, well-drained soil. A Raised Bed works very well. Remove stones from the top 6 inches of soil. Work several inches of compost or well-rotted manure into the bed, along with your fertiliser of choice.

    Planting
    1. Break up the bulbs no longer than 24 hours before you plant them.  Be careful not to bruise or damage them.
    2. Sow the individual cloves 10 cm below the surface, root down (pointy end up) around 4 inches apart to give the bulb room to grow.
    3. Hardneck garlic loves to flower.  Cut off the stem close to the base of the bulb once the flower stem starts to coil.  This will concentrate the plants' energy into the crop beneath increasing the size of the bulb.
    4. Once the leaves go yellow/brown stop watering the plants.  Harvest 2 to 3 weeks later (June onwards)
    5. Try to harvest when the weather is dry.  Loosen beneath it with a fork to prevent bruising the bulb then pull up like a weed.  Leave the plants on the surface of the soil to dry in the sun for a few hours.  Move to somewhere warm and dry, to cure for 3 weeks.
    6. Thoroughly dry the bulbs then store them in a cool, ventilated place away from sun.

    Eating Garlic

    Garlic is unbelievably good for you.  It can lower blood pressure, fat and cholesterol levels.  It can also combat bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

    There are lots of opportunities for the gardener growing their own garlic to plant a few extra and leave it to flower or to experiment with young garlic, picked before it has matured.

    As well as eating the bulb the leaves and flowers are also edible.  They have a milder flavor than the bulbs, and are most often consumed while immature and still tender. You may see "green garlic" in the shops.  This is immature plant that has been pulled rather like a scallion.
    When green garlic has grown past the "scallion" stage, but not fully matured, it may produce a garlic "round", a bulb not separated into cloves like a mature bulb. This imparts a garlic flavor and aroma in food, minus the spiciness of the mature bulb.

  • Exploring the rhizosphere: how to grow trouble free onion sets...

    Rootrainers are what I've chosen for years to grow overwintering onion sets, garlic and spring planted onion sets. Onion sets (small immature onions) allow me to have onions all year round. But, originally manufactured to grow tree seedlings, why would I use Rootrainers for onion sets?

    Growing Onions using Haxnicks Rootrainers
    Growing onions from seeds can be a hit and miss affair, with weather, birds and the like all affecting the young seedlings’ growth outdoors, particularly those seedlings that have to overwinter. I am not after prize winning onions anyway or even huge onions so don't need to use onion seeds. I prefer sets. However, whenever I planted sets direct into the soil outdoors, within a few days, I would find many of the sets had been pulled up from where I had planted them and scattered all over the soil. Who or what was responsible?

    Some detective work - root zones and rhizospheres...

    The root zone is the name for the region of the soil around plant roots as they grow.  The roots produce secretions that help and protect them as they force their way downwards through the soil. The immediate area around the root is called the rhizosphere. There will be many rhizospheres within the root zone of a plant.

    The rhizosphere is the most dynamic environment in the soil, or a microbe ‘hot spot’, the fast food areas of the soil! The roots are also continually shedding old tissue and sloughed-off plant cells. The root secretions and dead plant cells are a feast for microbes living in the soil. In return the soil microbes provide nutrients for the plants, which encourage plant growth. More plant growth means more roots. A win-win situation! Hence soil microbes themselves congregate around the roots. Microbes in turn are a beacon for earthworms, who sense the root secretions and microbes in the soil and target such ‘hot spots’ to feast upon them!

    The Culprit!

    In my garden its the blackbird.  Blackbirds deliberately pull up the onion sets to seek out earthworms and other such tasty morsels, living and feeding in the root zone underneath the onion set.

    By planting onion sets in Rootrainers, the roots will grow in and around the compost, binding it together.  Then when planting them outdoors, unless the blackbird has fed on at least 3 Weetabix (!) that morning, it will not have the energy or strength to pull out the onion set with its well rooted fibrous compost ball, which is a lot heavier than an onion set on its own. Result:  no more scattered onion sets!

    Due to their size onion sets are great for children and school projects too.  Handling them is easy.  Planting requires less skill as sets are easier to handle than seeds.  Together, sets and rootrainers make the exercise easy and interesting for children to do for themselves. One major advantage for schools is that the children can grow AND harvest them all within the school year.

     

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