Putting Away the Onions and Garlic

After some long weeks of drying and curing, the onions and garlic have been cleaned up and put away.

Garlic

The garlic, all hardneck varieties, was dug up and placed in baskets hanging from the basement ceiling to cure out of the sunlight. Normally a basement is a poor place to cure garlic, but we run dehumidifiers and with the sticky weather we were having for a while it was drier down there than a protected spot outdoors would have been.

Onions

The onions got the same treatment only they were placed on galvanized nursery trays and spent the first few weeks outside in a mostly shaded spot. See how nasty those leaves were from the fungal attack? I spoke with a plant disease expert at the urban horticulture field day at the University’s local agricultural research station last weekend. He said the black, horrible looking stuff was probably a secondary attack after the leaves had been infected with another fungus first, likely Botritis or Alternaria. The good news is that since the basal plates were intact and the bulbs themselves appear OK they should still store for a while at least. I’m keeping an especially close eye on a few that didn’t seem quite right, though.

All Cleaned Up

To clean the garlic up for storage I broke the hard wad of soil and roots off each bulb, trimmed off the roots and stem, and gently rubbed off any remaining soil and sometimes a layer of the outer papery skin. The onions got essentially the same treatment but since they have finer roots they didn’t have the soil wad to contend with.

The onions should keep us for a while. There are more smaller ones than usual this year. The garlic we have more than enough of even when I subtract out the ones for replanting in October. These two crops are among the most satisfying to grow and I’m hoping we don’t have to contend with a repeat performance of the fungal problem any time soon.

Garlic Planting

Much as I like the idea of late season and even winter gardening, I don’t seem to be able to get the timing right. This year I might have, but I can’t be sure because the lettuce seed that was just fine last spring failed to germinate for my fall planting. At least there is one reliable crop I can put in in the fall and keep my planting skills sharp.

Garlic1

Right around Halloween is the time to plant garlic here. We’ve been getting our seed garlic from a vendor at the farmers market. They’re all hardneck types. The guys we buy from don’t have a huge selection and this year we chose only three—Leningrad, Chengdu and German Porcelain. Interestingly, the bulbs we buy for seed are much smaller than the bulbs we grow out from them. I plant them in a grid I’ve scratched out on the bed and record the varieties on a diagram in my garden notebook so I don’t bother labeling them. According to what I’ve read I’m planting them too close together but we’ve been getting great crops so I’m not going to worry about that.

Garlic2

Now they’ll spend their time growing roots until it’s too cold to grow. I’ve mulched them with the asparagus tops I cut down the same day to keep the soil temperature fluctuations to a minimum and catch snow for additional insulation. Next spring their green leaves will spear up through the ground and I’ll be glad I got one more planting done of something in before winter really hit.

Garlic Growing Grandly

Garlic in May

This morning I went up to the garden to water as it’s forecast to be a hot day. The garlic was looking so good I just had to share. With the weather warming and some growth above ground it’s really starting to feel like the garden might actually produce something this year. A few more beans to plant and then in a week or two tomatoes and peppers (and a tomatillo, if I can find one!) will go in.

The 2014 Garden Has Begun!

The temperature got up to a toasty 4°F/-21°C this morning so I went for a walk up to the garden and I’m glad to report it’s well on its way for 2014.

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What? You don’t believe me? Here, I’ll make it easier to see.

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See? A few crops are already in place and nicely protected by this deep blanket of snow and the straw beneath it. When it warms up again this spring the plants will begin to grow again and I’ll have a jump on the season. While it’s normal for me to plant garlic in the fall, I tried a couple of new things this year.

Last spring when I was planting other things, I kept coming across spinach plants that had survived the winter and were growing new leaves. The same was true for some onions and shallots that I missed harvesting. This fall, instead of ripping out all the spinach to work in organic matter like I usually do, I just harvested the leaves that were left and then mulched them with a thick layer of straw.

The onions are another kind of experiment. When I had harvested all the large onions I left the smaller ones to grow some more. When the time came to sow a cover crop of buckwheat, they really hadn’t put on enough size to make them worth keeping, but I pulled them anyway. I dried and cured them along with the rest and stored them in the basement. Then it occurred to me that I could try planting them again when it got cold, just like the garlic so I did. Some straw mulch was put down as insurance against a dry winter without enough snow cover. I can’t wait to see if they survive and grow again this year.

Garlic at Last!


The co-conspirator has kind of been riding my back forty about when we can dig up the garlic. I understand. There are few things we’re as keen on in this year’s garden as the garlic patch. Since we carried our plot over from last year we were able to plant garlic properly. More specifically, we planted it last fall for harvest this summer. So, barring any unlikely disasters we should have a better crop than last year’s spring-planted bulbs. I looked into some information on how to tell when garlic is ready to harvest on the Internet and there was some variation but it seems to boil down to the old “when it’s ready” voodoo involving some dead leaves at the bottom and some live ones on top. Today I dug down next to one of our Tai Lang plants to see how big it was. It looked big so I went ahead and dug it up.

I’m pretty sure we can let the rest of the plants go for a week or so at least. There are only a couple of dead leaves at the bottom of each and I definitely won’t wait until the whole plant is dry on any of them. We really want some of these to keep this year. There are only forty plants which I think will take us at least into the beginning of winter. Our experience of buying local garlic in the winter has been disappointing. The bulbs must have been mis-handled or stored wrong. Often they’re bruised or containing one or two or more dusty, molded cloves. I don’t want that to happen to ours so we’re treating them with as much care as possible.