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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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