scallions

  • 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.

  • Grow at Home: Onions from sets

    two_rows_of_young_green_onionsOnions are easy to grow from baby onions; otherwise known as sets.

    It is also possible to grow them from seed which is very cost effective if you use a lot of onions.  However, sets are a lot easier and quicker.

    if you still want to grow from seed, check out our Grow at home: Onions from seed blog .  If not, read on.

    Planting Onions

    Onions grow best in open ground.  However, they do grow well in containers.  Just choose a deep planter to allow room for the developing onions.  Potato planters work very well if you only have a small space.  A Raised Bed System that comes with a cover to protect them would also work if you have more room.

    Wherever you plant them, onions need a sunny, sheltered site with fertile, well-drained soil. For best results test your soil .  Inexpensive kits are available from your garden centre to make sure the pH is above 6.5. You may need to improve the soil before planting.  A bucket of well-rotted manure or garden compost to every square metre (yard) and some general purpose fertiliser will do the trick.

    You can buy your onion sets from your garden Centre.  There are many different varieties to choose from.  So, select something that you would like.  Maybe something out of the ordinary like giant onions that you can show off, red onions for a bit of colour or shallots for your winters stews.

    When to plant your Onions

    You can plant onions in spring or autumn.  Depending on their final size, plant the onion sets 5-25cm (2-10in) apart in rows 25-30cm (10-12in) apart from mid-March to mid-April for spring planting.

    Autumn onions should be planted in mid September to mid October.  They will pretty much look after themselves over the winter.  You need to take care as they have a long growing season and won't be ready for harvesting until next summer.  As a result they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring.

    There are two ways to plant: either directly into your ground or planter or into Rootrainers.

    Which you use depends on the number of birds you have in your area.  Birds can be a problem lifting the new sets.  They aren't after the sets themselves but the earth worms that congregate in the microbe rich area around the roots (see this interesting blog about what goes on in the Rhizosphere for more info.) Starting your sets in Rootrainers means by the time that you plant them out the roots will be strong enough to keep your plants where you planted them!

    If you choose to plant direct into the ground or planter then either cover with a Fleece Tunnel  or stretch some Birdscare across your bed until the roots are established.  This will give the  plants time to establish and be too firm for birds to pull out.

    However you choose to plant do it by gently pushing the sets into soft, well-worked soil so that the pointed tip is just showing, and firm the soil around them.

    Weeding and Watering Onions

    It is important to keep the weeds down as this can affect the size of your onions. Water when dry and give an occasional feed with a general liquid fertiliser. Stop watering and feeding once the onions have swollen in mid summer

    When the leaves start to turn yellow at the ends, you can bend the tops over to help with the ripening.  Some gardeners swear by this but not everyone agrees with it any more so you may want to try it and see how you get on.

    Remove any flower spikes as soon as you see them.

    Harvest & Storage

    Onions_large_pile_of_small_brown_onions_fills_frameOnions can be harvested when the foliage starts to turn yellow and topple over. For spring planted sets this will be in late summer to early autumn. And for winter planted sets this will be early to mid summer.

    Lift the bulbs as you need them, ideally before the foliage completely dies down.  Importantly,  don’t let them rot in the ground so harvest and store them before the end of October. After you lift them let them lie on a rack in the sun outdoors or a well-ventilated greenhouse for one to two weeks to ripen fully. They are ready for storage once the foliage is dry and papery,

    Only store the onions that are perfect. Store them either in natural jute Vegetable Sacks hung up or in old tights knotting after each onion. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

    Pest & Diseases

    Fungal diseases are the main problem for onions.  White Onion rot, Leek Rust and Onion Downy mildew are the main culprits.

    There is little you can do about any of these once they have taken hold so prevention is the answer.  Use the correct spacings to make sure there is plenty of light and air around each plant as humidity will encourage the spread of fungus.  Weed regularly and avoid overhead watering if possible. Remove infected leaves and dispose of away from the garden.  Fungus can be transported in contaminated soil, for example on muddy tools or boots. So take particular care not to pass it on to the next garden or allotment when you visit.

    Top Tip

    When peeling chopped onions, either use a ceramic knife - the extra sharpness means less crushing and so less vapour.  Or light a couple of candles.  The candle flames should absorb most of the vapours from the onions and stop your eyes watering, .

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