Growing Onions and Garlic
As one of the most widely used cooking ingredients, the onion is a staple of the kitchen garden. Whether fried, stewed, baked or roasted it provides a warm, tasty base for soups, casseroles and stir-fries. Once regarded as the hallmark of French food, garlic now equals the onion in popularity. It is eaten on bread, baked in the oven, and blended with other ingredients to make salad dressings and curry pastes.
Both garlic and onion are members of the allium family which also includes leeks and shallots, all of which possess medicinal properties. The ancient Egyptians prized garlic as a general strengthener, which they gave to their soldiers and slave-builders in order to increase stamina. Today its success is attributed to high levels of allicin present in the bulb, a powerful antibiotic. Fortunately, both garlic and onions are easy to grow, our guide will show you how to get the most from these versatile bulbs.
Where to Grow
Garlic enjoys deep, moderately fertile soil which is well-drained, this prevents the bulb from rotting. To ensure a good crop, use cloves specially grown for sowing. Supermarket garlic is much less reliable, as it does not have resistance to common diseases. After the first year, you can save some of your own cloves to re-plant. Over a few seasons of re-sowing your own stock, the plant will actually begin to adapt to the conditions in your garden, ensuring an increased harvest over time. However, planting on the same site every year is inadvisable, the soil will become depleted of vital nutrients and soil-borne pests will gain a foothold. The largest yields are achieved by planting in full sun, although garlic will tolerate light shade.
Sowing Onions and Garlic
Your site should be prepared with well-rotted organic matter. If the soil is heavy, add small amounts of sand to improve drainage. In early autumn, sow individual cloves at a depth of 5cm with the pointed end facing upwards. To germinate, a temperature of 55ºF (13ºC) is required, mulch with a layer of straw, shredded bark, or leaves to retain heat.
During the spring, the bright green shoots will become visible and the mulch can be removed to allow the plants to grow freely. Unless the soil is extremely dry, the garlic is unlikely to need watering, simply weed around the plants at regular intervals. When the weather gets warmer, try interspersing beetroot and lettuce amongst the plants, these useful companions will help to cool the soil during the summer. The scent of garlic will also deter slugs and snails from the soft salad leaves. Peas and beans do not make good bedfellows for garlic, so avoid planting them in close proximity.
It is easy to tell when the crop is ready for harvest, as the bottom leaves of the plant will turn yellow - usually in late summer. To avoid damaging the garlic, loosen the soil with a fork before pulling up the bulbs. As garlic is potent, you will inevitably have more than you can readily use, so ensure that stored bulbs stay fresh by curing them correctly. Sit the bulbs on a screen in full sun and allow them to dry for at least a fortnight. If rain threatens, move them to a cool, open shed to continue the process. Curing is complete when the necks are tight and the skin on the bulb is thoroughly dried, after which the bulbs can be kept and used as needed for up to eight months.
Know Your Onions
This popular vegetable enjoys similar conditions to its near relative, garlic. Fertile, loose soil is essential for a bumper crop. Like garlic, onions require excellent drainage to prevent the bulbs from becoming waterlogged. Add sand, compost and well rotted manure to your soil to achieve the optimum conditions. To grow this kitchen staple quickly and easily, plant onion sets. At garden4less, we stock a wide range for both the beginner and the expert grower. Plant 3cm deep and 10cm apart to give the plants adequate space to develop. Your onions will require gentle watering on a regular basis, once a week should be sufficient. However, once growing is under way, they generally don't require fertilizer. In fact, over-feeding will create lush foliage at the expense of quality bulbs..
Braiding and Storing
Onions are harvested in late summer, when the tops have begun to collapse. After pulling, they can be cured in the same way as garlic. It is, however, important to note that some varieties keep more successfully than others. For a charming country-kitchen display, braid onion and garlic tops before they dry out. As well as looking decorative, hanging them in this way allows air circulation, thus prolonging their storage life.