Edible Alliums and Row Covers

March 25th, 2012

Now, about those alliums I promised 2 posts ago. It seems to me that garlic is a crop that prefers warm winters. If you think about the places around the world where garlic is used in traditional cooking, most of those places don’t have very cold winters. So I had the bright idea to trick the garlic into thinking it was wintering in a warm climate and see if I get a bigger, better, and earlier harvest. And naturally, the year I decide to do this turns out to be the warmest winter in memory. So it hasn’t been much of a test. But, nevertheless…

Garlic and shallots under row cover

Garlic and shallots under row cover

I draped a double layer of Agribon 19 – a non-woven agricultural fabric – over supports made of rebar (concrete reinforcing rods) and plastic pipe. The rebar stakes are about 12″ long and pounded into the ground about 4 to 6″. We cut the plastic pipe into lengths that would give us a hoop about 2 or 2 1/2 feet tall. Insert one end of the pipe over the rebar stake, arch it over the bed, and place the other end over the stake on the opposite side. I sort of gather and pleat the fabric at the ends of the row and secure it with a binder clip or a clothespin. Then weight down the edges of the fabric with rocks or concrete pavers or branches from the woods or whatever else is handy.

On 28 November 2011, in the bed you see above, I planted ‘Thai Red’ garlic, ‘French Red’ garlic, ‘Ajo Rojo’ garlic (I like red) and ‘Nootka Rose’ garlic. I also planted some red Asian shallots from the grocery store, and a new batch of potato onions from an eBay seller from Tennessee. Everything except the potato onions began to grow almost immediately after planting. Well, actually the Asian shallots were sprouting on my kitchen counter before I planted them. There was so much green growth that I was afraid it would all freeze if the weather turned colder, and so I mulched with straw several weeks after planting.

Thai Red Garlic

Thai Red Garlic

Everything appears to be happy and healthy under the row cover. The potato onions have only recently sprouted, but everything else has been green and growing all winter. But, with such a warm winter, and with no control group (dumb, I know), I can’t say whether the row cover made a difference.

In fact, take a look at these White Multiplier onions that have been growing in the open ground all winter.

Hardy White Bunching Onions

White Multiplier Onions, 17 March 2012

They even have flower buds.

Hardy White Bunching Onions

White Multiplier Onions, flower buds

Those White Mulitpliers are excellent scallions (aka green onions or spring onions), but that’s all they do. I mean they never make a big bulb. In a normal year, they sprout early in the spring, give us scallions for several weeks, then the tops begin to die down when the weather gets hot. They’re dormant over the summer, sprouting again in late summer or early fall. The center of each onion divides and divides, making a very large clump if they aren’t dug and replanted.  I have no idea what schedule they’ll follow in this strangely warm winter and now spring – they were green all winter.

But I know another way to get early scallions. For the last few years, I’ve deliberately left some mature seed-grown onions in the ground over the winter. Each onion sprouts and provides us with a clump of scallions early in the spring – much earlier than planting sets or more seedlings. The variety I like best so far for this purpose is ‘White Lisbon’, but any onion seems to work this way. I currently have ‘White Lisbon’, ‘Yellow of Parma’ and ‘Red Long Florence’, all grown from seed last spring.

White Lisbon scallions

'White Lisbon' scallions

Above are some I harvested on March 17. These too sprouted in the fall and never really stopped growing over the warm winter, and without the benefit of any kind of protection from the weather except last year’s straw mulch. The only problem I’ve had is that deer/rabbits/something occasionally chew them to the ground.

I plan to repeat the row cover experiment next winter – with a control group – but so far it appears to be beneficial. If nothing else, it keeps the critters from munching on the onions/shallots. I’ll keep you posted as the season progresses.

2 Responses to “Edible Alliums and Row Covers”

  1. Wendy says:

    it all looks great! yeah, with these mild winters, we’ve got many more possibilities now!

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