Saturday, October 20, 2012

Planting Garlic and Shallots

fresh garlic

I added two 4x6 raised beds to the garden this spring, completing my phased implementation of my square foot garden. The extra beds gave me a lot of extra planting space and I kind of went overboard on some things. I wound up with an abundance of perishable items like lettuce and greens, more than our family could use and more than I could give away. I also had an overabundance of beans and squash.

This season, reading about everyone’s garlic and onion harvest, it occurred to me that maybe I should devote some of the garden space to crops that will store well into the winter without refrigeration and canning, rather than growing an overabundance of things I can’t use that will wind up in compost bins. So I decided to try growing onions, garlic and shallots.

Garlic and shallots are ideal for raised bed gardening since they like a fertile, well drained, loamy soil and Mel’s Mix should be ideal. In addition, they are shallow rooted, so the depth of raised beds should not be an issue. There are also opportunities for inter-planting. So for example, instead of allocating a few squares of my beds to quick growing radishes and turnips, I will instead plant them around the shallots and pull them before they interfere with shallot growth, freeing up those squares for something else.

Onions will be planted from plants next spring, but garlic and shallots have to be planted now. I ordered my garlic from Green Mountain Garlic, a small, organic grower in Waterbury, Vermont. I chose two hardneck varieties because they are very hardy and suited for Northeast conditions. German Extra Hardy is a so-called porcelain type with large bulbs containing an average of 6 cloves per bulb (24 cloves in a half pound). Bulbs have paper-white wrappers but the skin on the cloves has some reddish coloring. It is supposed to store well and has a mildly spicy flavor. The other variety I chose is Chesnok Red, a purple stripe variety from the former Russian Republic of Georgia. The bulbs and cloves were slightly smaller than the German Extra Hardy, yielding 45 cloves from a half pound.

Examples of Chesnok Red and German Extra Hardy garlic cloves

The beds were prepared by weeding them and adding a generous amount of compost, then marking the squares.

Prepared garlic bed

The Chesnok Red was planted 9 per square foot, the normal recommended spacing. Given the size of the German Extra Hardy bulbs, I planted it at 6 per square foot. Holes were made with a dibble and the cloves pushed down a couple of inches. The beds were then mulched lightly with chopped straw and watered. I had to get these in now because we are facing a lot of rainy weather in the next few days.

Garlic being planted 9 per square

As a last minute decision, I also chose to try growing shallots. At 7-9 dollars per pound at the markets, shallots can theoretically yield a valuable crop, not to mention the enjoyment from having a nice stash of shallots to call on as needed. Of course, I was late in making this decision so many suppliers were sold out. I found Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia still has a good supply. I ordered the ones labeled “French Red Shallots” and as a plus, they are certified organic. The bulbs I received were very large, compound bulbs. You have to feel under the skin for seams indicating multiple bulbs and break them apart before planting. A pound yielded 21 good sized bulbs ready for planting.

Again, the beds were prepared with compost. Usual spacing is 4 per square foot. The bulbs are planted to a depth of about two thirds the length of the bulb, with the top third sticking out. Shallots do not like to be completely buried and may rot. I planted 4 per square in 5 squares, and selected the largest bulb I received to have its own square. Since they multiply at about a 4-6 ratio, 20 bulbs should give me 90-100 bulbs at harvest, or about 5 pounds of shallots. That’s the theory, we will have to see what actually happens.

. Shallots being planted 4 per square

Here are some good links for information on growing garlic:
Braiding garlic video ( )
Harvesting and curing video ( )

Links for growing shallots:

Monday, October 15, 2012

My First Meyer Lemon

A ripe Meyer lemon

The Meyer lemon tree I bought on impulse this spring spent its summer on the deck. It flowered profusely in the spring and set a lot of fruit. All but five dropped and the biggest of those is now ripe and the rest are starting to ripen. I will have to come up with a good recipe to use my first lemon. Any suggestions? I found the LA Times has an article on “100 things to do with a Meyer Lemon” which is giving me some ideas.

The garden is mostly done except for kale, chard, parsley and some remaining beets which can take the frost we had last week. My wife and son visited the garden the weekend before the frost and harvested what they could. I photographed it but didn’t post it last week. One remarkable find they made was three more of the Summer Dance cucumbers. I have never had cucumbers up to frost before.

I haven’t done a lot of work in the garden the last couple of weeks because I have been recovering from surgery I had the end of September. One advantage of being an “invalid” was I didn’t cook or clean. My daughter was bothered by the stack of zucchini and patty pan squash piling up on the counter, so she decided to work her way through the Victory Garden Cookbook section on summer squash. One of the best was a squash pie made by layering slices of zucchini, tomatoes and cheese in a pastry crust and baking it.

As soon as I can bend comfortably in the middle, I have to clean up the beds and get ready to plant my garlic and shallots. Unfortunately I didn’t plant my spinach and sprouting broccoli seeds, but I may try a few just to see if they germinate and take. You never know what the weather will be. I also hope to pot up a rosemary plant for the winter. Last winter was so mild my rosemary survived into January or February when the really cold weather finally killed it.
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