30 September 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
The Other Bulbs
Ancient Egyptians revered the onions encircling layers of life; in 1160 B.C. the eye sockets of entombed King Ramses IV were filled with these precious bulbs. For my part, a day without onions is like a day without sunshine. Onions brighten the flavor firmament, warming the garden bedgarlic and shallots too. Growing them all is a must, especially the pricier shallot.
Location This year shallots and garlic grew at the front of my west-facing, perennial bed with purple alliums and Lincoln leeks in the background. Of course you could give them their own raised bedlike the side of an herb plot, where theyll be in my garden next year. Theyll fare well, adding to the fragrant air as I brush by.
Soil prep Alliums (onions, garlic, shallots) like well-drained loam; shallots favor loam with coarse sand, and garlic prefer loam deepened with compost. Fortunately onions have shallow root systems, so youll not need to penetrate the clay or the flaking, layered rock too deeply.
What is well-drained loam? Take a handful of sticky, gooey red or grey clay, three handfuls of compost, then mix. Add three handfuls of coarse sand and you have a robust medium for onions, shallots and garlic. Size this up to your planting bed to a depth of 6 inches.
Light Twelve hours of direct sunlight is the bare minimum during the growing season. Theyd appreciate 15 hours and reward you with greener scapes (the flowerless stalks rising directly from the ground) and fatter bulbs, as well.
Culture Rot of all sorts will be kept at bay with meticulous sanitation and compost, which inoculates against decay. Hand-pull weeds and mulch lightly to the scapes edge.
Harvest After the scapes yellow and dry, onions and their kin are ready for pulling and further curing atop a screen or slatted wooden container in a well-ventilated, cool dry dark area. If youre growing Egyptian (Perennial Tree) bulblets, wait until most of the tops have fallen over, then pull the base bulbs. Leave the healthiest bulblets to propagate next years crop; save as many as you wish for a lively saut.
Garlic Separate each clove from the bulb as you plant an inch deep, pointy side up, 3 to 5 inches apart in 12-inch wide rows. Both early (white or Mexican) cultivars and late (pink or Italian) cultivars can be started in the fall when mulched at 3 to 4-inch depths.
Shallots Plant 1-2 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches apart in 12 to 18-inch wide rows for winter and spring harvest.
Onions Plant perennial onion sets like the Egyptian (Perennial Tree), from October to November 15, 1 inch deep, 4 inches apart, in rows 1 to 2 feet apart. The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) publication 426-411 says to set the Yellow Multiplier (Potato Onion) 1 to 6 inches by 12 to 24 inches for standard spacing; 4 inches by 4 inches for wide row in rows up to 2 feet apart.
Tip of the Week
Cathy Cripps, PhD, professor at Montana State University, successfully cultivates pine seedlings using mycorrhizal fungi found in native leaf mold and forest litter. Tree health, insect and disease resistance, and drought tolerance improves significantly with these beneficial white filaments. The same is true when you incorporate leaf mold into your garden soil.