What I Learned – Garlic and Onions – 2017 Recap

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When most people think of gardening, the typical garden crops come to mind: tomatoes, peppers, beans, maybe a fruit or some herbs. But more and more gardeners are beginning to see the benefits and rewards making space for garlic and onions.

Growing garlic has become one of my favorite crops in the garden. It is one of the easiest crops I grow, and because it starts its growth in late winter, I’m able to enjoy seeing hints of my garden when the grass is still brown.

Plus, because I relay plant peppers with my garlic, I can get these two staple crops in one garden space.

With onions, I’ve had good seasons and challenging ones, and I learn something new each year. This year I learned a hard lesson: taking a risk doesn’t always pan out.

In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I review my 2017 season of garlic and onions — both my hits and misses. Now that the bulbs of both sit curing in my garage, I can reflect on what worked and what didn’t — and what I can do better next year. Whether you grow these crops regularly, have tried and failed, or are considering adding these staples to your garden space, this episode will offer tips to help you have great harvest of these root crops in the future. Click to listen or read on for the highlights.

Garlic and Onion Harvest - What Worked and What Didn't

Garlic

My third season to grow garlic, this was hands-down my best and most rewarding harvest ever. I can attribute this success to several factors.

The Right Garlic Type for the Climate

First, I planted the correct type of garlic for my area. Northern gardeners typically plant hardneck garlic because those are more cold-hardy, but those of us in the South do not get enough cold weather for most hardneck garlic varieties to bulb well. So, I grow softneck garlic. They do best in warmer climates, and my favorite variety is the Inchelium Red.

Intensively-Planted Raised Beds

I tried something new, and it ended up paying off. I planted four rows of garlic in a 4×8 raised bed. Technically, this might be called “intensive” planting because the bulbs were only inches apart. I planted two double rows, which means that the two sets of two rows were about 6″ apart, and I had about one foot between the double rows.

Interplanting / Relay Planting / Succession Planting

The space between the rows was strategic because I knew I wanted to interplant peppers and tomatillos in this same garden area. In early May, I transplanted bell pepper and jalepeno plants between the narrow sections of the rows. This was a risk because for several weeks, the tall garlic plants dwarfed the smaller peppers, and I worried that the peppers may not get enough sunlight. But they never showed signs of stress and as the garlic started dying back, the peppers emerged strong and proud.

VIDEO: How to Get 2 Harvests from 1 Garden Space Using Companion Planting

Properly-Timed Harvest

Another thing I did this year is harvest at the right time. The best time to harvest garlic is when the bottom three or four leaves have turned brown. You don’t need to wait until the entire plant dies back or the bulbs won’t store well.

VIDEO: When to harvest garlic + a unique tip for curing and storage

How to Cure Garlic

After the garlic harvest, it’s important to prepare the garlic for storage. The bulbs and cloves can be used immediately for cooking, but if you’re like me and you want to use them for as long as possible, curing is a step you can’t forget.

Softneck garlic stores well, and I am able to use them the whole year by hanging them from an extra chain-length fence section in our garage.

Cure garlic on chain-link fence

The tops will dry out in a few weeks. Then you can trim the roots and the stem and place in a cool, dark pantry. Don’t forget to save your BEST bulbs to replant in the fall!

VIDEO: How to Cure Garlic & Onions Using a Chain Link Fence

Related: 2 Reasons to Grow Garlic and 1 Reason Not To:

Onions

Sadly, my onion harvest fell flat this season.

Timing of Onion Plantings

I took a big risk and planted my onion transplants two months before I have in the past. I hoped that by starting them early, they would begin growing faster and would not bolt so quickly in my inconsistent Arkansas spring.

But, it didn’t work out. Last year bulbs about the size of baseballs, but this year they only grew to about the size of golf balls.

I decided after this year’s trial, I’ll go back to planting my onions four weeks before my average last frost date.

FACEBOOK LIVE VIDEO of harvesting onions this year (and what I did wrong)

Onions from Seed

I did try my hand at growing onions from seed, and those I started indoors and then transplanted them in March. But, they never really took off. I’m not sure why except I planted Roma tomatoes next to them and I think the huge, bushy tomato plants overtook them.

After the disappointing onion harvest this season, I researched onions and compared my experience this year with last year when I harvested a bumper crop. I compiled what I learned in this blog post and podcast: How to Grow Onions Successfully

Get more information on growing onions for your climate in my free download: How to Grow a Salsa Garden from planning to canning here:

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3 Comments

  1. Hey Jill! I was trying to find an email for you but was having trouble finding one on your site. It’s Misti from The Garden Path Podcast—I wanted to chat with you to see if you might be interested in being a guest on my podcast for the upcoming season. Drop me an email at thegardenpathpodcast at gmail dot com if you are interested!

  2. Hi Jill,
    I visited our local Tractor Supply store (Arkadelphia) this morning (19 Jan 2019…a snowy day for you!) and saw they had onion starts. Before I bought any, I came home and did some looking on your site and learned a bunch about onions.
    If you have a few minutes, I have a couple of questions, based on what I learned:
    1. How would I know if these onions are short-day onions? Do you think the workers would know the difference and what these might be? There was no information, just a bunch of onions with their tops cut and held together with a rubber band. Or should I find a nursery, maybe in Little Rock or Hot Springs to source the onions? Or should I order them online?
    2. If I take a chance and buy them, would they last until mid-March before planting? I checked the sunrise/sunset chart for Arkadelphia and it’ll be March 17th before we see 12 hours of daylight. Our last frost date (best I can determine) is April 17th.
    I promise not to plant them in January or even February!

    As always, thank you for your expertise, your information, and your help. This ol’ city girl has a lot to learn to about growing fruits and vegetables.

    1. Hi Trish! I’m still working on perfecting onion growing here. With our unpredictable late winters and springs, I’ve yet to find the magic date to plant. But hopefully I can lend some further insight. As far as the onions at your Tractor Supply, I would almost guarantee that they are short-day onions. I’ve never found long-day onions here in my hometown and I bet you won’t either. BUT to be safe, I have done a quick Internet search on my phone, just to verify. The ones I have seen have the names listed on a small tag, but if you say they didn’t have that, obviously you can’t double check. Still, I’d feel comfortable buying them. As far as the “shelf-life” of the transplants, keep them in a cool location, maybe a garage, and they should keep. I plan on planting my onions in February or early March this year, really depending on how the season change is shaping up. Last year I waited til March (as I stated in the article) but the cold spring didn’t help and they didn’t form huge bulbs last season either. You might check your average last frost date again. Mine is March 31, and I’m a few hours north of you, so I think you could reasonably get them in the ground in February. Please keep me posted on how it goes! Onions are tricky, but when they grow well, they’re completely worth it!!

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