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Between the Rows: Onions and garlic and scapes, oh my

  • These two garlic bulbs show the effect of removing the scapes. The scapes will sap the strength of the growing garlic and result in a smaller bulb. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • A healthy garlic harvest before the stems have had their final trimming after drying. The roots have not been trimmed, either. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Pat Leuchtman



For The Recorder
Friday, July 28, 2017

The onion (allium) family is a large one. Cooks can hardly start a dinner without peeling an onion, or some garlic — or maybe a shallot. For all the common necessities of onions in the kitchen, or even the gourmet at the table, alliums are not difficult to grow.

I have grown regular onions and garlic. Onions can be grown from seed. The onions I usually grow begin as a handful of sets — immature plants that you can buy at local garden stores in the spring or order online from a farm like Dixondale Farms that specializes in organic onions, leeks and shallots. This is one way you can find a wide variety of onion plants.

In our region, we can grow long-day onions that need 14 or more hours of sun every day. The onion patch should have fertile, slightly acidic (pH 6 to 6.8), well-drained soil and be sited where there is full sun. Onions are hardy plants, and can be planted four to six weeks before the last expected frost. Here in Greenfield, that could be as early as April 1.

Onion sets should be planted in a well-prepared and fertilized bed, about 1 to 2 inches deep and watered well. Because they have such shallow roots, they should be watered regularly and kept well weeded.

Onions are ready for harvest when the tops bend over. You can always pull up a slightly immature onion before the top flops, but don’t rush that bending of the tops. When the onion tops have fallen over, and the onion shoulders are in view, pull them up and leave them to dry in the garden for a few days. Bring them to a sheltered space if there is rain. After they are dry, trim the top and the roots and store them in a cool place.

Although I always thought of onions as something to add savor to my cooking, they do have health benefits. Onions are a source of vitamin C, sulphuric compounds (the element that makes your eyes water) flavonoids and phytochemicals. These phytochemicals have antimicrobial properties and can help lower blood pressure. They are high in antioxidents, which battle the free radicals in our blood, which can cause disease.

Garlic is another common member of the allium family, and like onions, garlic has health-giving phytochemicals and antioxidants.

It is not too late to get a garlic crop for 2018 in the ground. In fact, garlic is planted in the fall, toward the end of October. You want to plant at least four weeks before the ground freezes. You can plant the individual cloves from a supermarket garlic bulb, but it really is best to begin with good seed garlic from a place like Filaree Garlic Farm, which sells 100 varieties of organic garlic. I guarantee this is a way to get a better crop from your own garden.

In late October, prepare your garlic bed. Garlic also needs rich, well-drained soil. Dig in well-rotted compost before planting. I made three furrows about 6 to 8 inches apart. Push the cloves into the furrow, point up and cover with soil so it is about 3 inches deep. Plant cloves about 4 to 6 inches apart. Water well and mulch with an 8-inch layer of hay or straw. Tucked into rich soil the cloves will start to send out roots before the frost. There are many varieties and flavors of garlic. If you plant different varieties, be sure to label your rows so you can later identify the varieties you like best.

Garlic starts to send up shoots through the mulch early in the spring. When the weather is really warm, you can remove some of the mulch to let the soil warm up. Keep the garlic watered, as you would any vegetable bed.

Curly scapes will appear in June. The scapes should be cut off, because they steal energy needed by the forming bulb. I didn’t cut off the scapes of my first harvest, and the bulbs were quite small. The scapes can be diced and used for flavor in any recipe calling for garlic.

In July, the foliage will start to yellow. When half of the foliage is yellow — some time in July — it is time to dig up the new garlic bulbs. Do not pull them up. Be careful with your spade not to dig into the bulbs.

Let them dry in a shady spot for a couple of days, being careful not to damage the papery skins. When dry, cut off the stem, leaving only about an inch, and trim the roots. Store them in a cool place. They will be fully ripe in about 6 weeks, but, of course, you can use them as you need them.

Choose a different place for your garlic every year.

Alliums are an essential part of our pantries, and they are easy to have right at hand.

To see some of the edible possibilities in Greenfield gardens, Temple Israel is holding a garden tour on Sunday, July 30, from 4 to 7 p.m. The tour will begin at the temple and visit neighborhood gardens — then go a little further afield, ending at a multi-use property with a community garden, vegetable gardens, chickens and a low-impact greenhouse. A pizza picnic will complete the tour. Bring fruit, dessert or a beverage to share. Please RSVP to: office@templeisraelgreenfield.org