April is for alliums.
Alliums, whether planted in the fall or in late March and early April, are the best promise in the vegetable garden that spring will get itself established one of these days, that frost cannot defeat vegetables, that things are good in the garden.
Here is a rundown of this year’s alliums.
At left in the photo above, 2 large beds of hardneck garlic (Allium sativum) with some volunteer onion plants in-between. The garlic is mulched with salt hay. As I’ve written every time I have a chance, I love my garlic. I bought the original bulbs, or heads, at an organic fair over 20 years ago. I save out heads from each year’s harvest to plant for the next year’s crop. I’ve done this every year but one, when the cloves were saved for 2 years and still sprouted just fine. Some years I needed to borrow garden space from family and friends, and paid rent with part of the garlic.
Garlic is planted on Columbus Day in October. It develops a root structure in the fall and is ready to grow in early spring when what it needs most is water. Last fall, 72 garlic cloves were planted, which I’m quite confident will produce 72 heads of garlic, each with around 8 cloves, producing a new crop in July of approximately 576 cloves. Wow. Some will be used for next year’s crop, some given away, and all the rest eaten by us. Some made into marinaro sauce or salsa and frozen. The rest stored away in brown paper bags in the basement for use throughout the winter and spring.
Moving on. Storage onions and leeks are planted in the long, narrow row of beds in the middle of the vegetable garden. In the 3 nearest beds in the photo above are onion sets from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. Yellow Stuttgarter, Red Wethersfield, and White Ebenezer. They were planted first, in mid-March, and so have had the most time to green up and grow. As can be seen, the several frosts during that time have not deterred them.
In the next 3 beds seen above are onion plants from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Redwing red, Patterson yellow, and Red Marble red cipollini. I have planted these varieties before and like them very much. They were planted in early April and have not had time to show signs of growth, but with the warm weather predicted in the week ahead, I’m sure they will.
Farther back, in the 7th bed if you are counting, are King Richard leek plants from Johnny’s, which I have also planted previously. They are not winter hardy and are usually ready for harvest in late summer. I chop up the extras and freeze them. Great for winter stews.
In the farthest back 2 beds are Patterson white and Redwing red onions from Johnny’s that I started from seed indoors in January. I could save money growing all the onions from seed, but will have to be convinced that I can do this successfully before that leap is taken. An onion experiment.
Over to the side, in the perennial area of the vegetable, are Egyptian walking onions that were planted last fall. They can be seen in the photos above, mulched in salt hay. I’m hoping that they will help bridge the gap between the time when all the storage onions are used up until the new onions are of edible size. My goal is to never have to buy an onion again, just as I never have to buy garlic.
May 5. Above is a photo update of the onion and leek beds. Irrigation hoses have been put down, and the beds have been mulched with salt hay. We received over an inch of rain in the last few days, and everything is growing like crazy. Now it’s important that all alliums, including the garlic, get at least an inch of water per week, whether rain or irrigation, until perhaps the first of July, or whenever the leaves start drying out naturally.
I did not do well with curing the onions last summer. A good half of them got wet and rotted before I brought them in. This year, the onions I pull or dig are coming straight into the house to be dried in the grow light trays, which will not be needed for growing at that time. Not with the grow lights on. Just using the trays as a place to spread the onions to dry out of the rain and humidity. That’s my plan. My goal is to be using the last of the storage onions at about this time next spring. I’ll let you know how that works out.