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A Fool’s April Allium Assessment

April 1, 2011

I’ve read that the Allium family includes a lot of pretty flowering bulbs. I’d post something insightful about some of these if I only knew anything about them, but I don’t.

So today’s post is going to cover the edible part of this family that wintered over in the yard here… garlic, shallots, & elephant garlic. I also have a hundred or so yellow onions in this year, but they have only been in for a few weeks and can’t compete photogenically just yet….

In a post last fall I mentioned that I liked the idea of something growing all winter with no maintenance that takes up relatively little space. Cloves of garlic sure look small going in but I can testify that once they have developed into two foot tall plants, the quarter square foot allocated to each doesn’t seem like much . Most of my garlic and shallots are spaced on a 6″ grid vs planted in rows; this is what Mel Bartholomew suggests in all his Square Foot Gardening books. I’ve read that spreading the spacing out a bit might increase the average size of each head of garlic but with less plants in the ground the overall yield in the season tends to be less.

First, just for perspective, picture below shows a head of garlic, a clove of elephant garrlic, and a single shallot bulb or “clove”.

The assesment begins…..

After reviewing things I have decided that I am going to have about the right amount of shallots, too much garlic (if that is really possible) and too little elephant garlic.

The two beds NOT behind cohutt’s fence (two earlier triangular beds along the alley adjacent to my house) seem to be doing well, especially now that I’ve freed them of competing chick weed and the like.

Bed #1 is a center grid of shallots surrounded with a border of softneck garlic. ( Last spring I stuffed this bed full of either Black Seeded Simpson or Simpson Elite lettuce. Obviously, I let some linger into the summer long enough to drop a seed or two. )

A few yards away at the back corner of the house is the second alley bed; this bed was catnip for the last 2 years and I’m sure I’ll be weeding catnip seedlings out soon enough. This bed is sheltered vs the cold due to the western orientation and the fence/brick nearby that hold/reflect the sun’s heat. Additionally, the furnace and dryer vents aren’t far off.

The left side is a hardneck garlic in its second generation in my garden; these plants’ “parents” grew from cloves I received in the fall of 2009 in a trade for a few 44 home cast bullets and were the subject of one of my first posts “Bullet Garlic“. The right side is another cluster of shallots.

The largest planting is mostly softneck garlic with a dozen or more shallots along one side. This bed was very fertile last year; it is on the site where I composted leaves for 20 years and it received the largest cloves out of my seed garlic. Judging by the diameter of most of the garlic stalks I’m hoping these turn out to be the huge heads I’ve seen harvested from other (internet) gardens.

Inside curve of the bed

Outside curve of the bed (shallots in the middle of this side- the big clump of green).

A single cove of garlic planted in the ground produces one stalk; the energy harvested from the sun by this stalk fuels the formation of the head of garlic all wrapped together below. A cluster of shallots likewise can be divided into what resemble cloves as well; once replanted, this single “clove” sends up multiple shoots vs the single garlic stalk. At the base of each shoot is a new large shallot “clove”. I read about this a year ago but it didn’t sink in really until I looked down from above the shallot bed. As the shallots grow underneath the bases of the shoots spread slowly apart:

There are 6 or 7 Elephant garlic plants among the beds; these stout plants are an attractive addition to any landscape imho. Most articles about elephant garlic include something along the lines of “it is actually actually a leek and is not a true garlic”. (So please consider this my elephant garlic disclaimer and don’t point out it is a leek. 😉 )

Another elephant garlic plant, adjacent to the carrot patch (behind in the double-decker bed) more shallots, some onions and the ever hardy oregano plant:

There are a dozen or so more “squares of garlic scattered about in the other beds; no bed is without at lease a little. I’ve read that garlic is a good companion planting for a lot of other plants I grow. If it repels pests of any sort I’ll be surprised but what do I have to lose trying?

I’m sure you’ll all agree that this was as exciting a garden blog post as exists anywhere on this morning.

No? You don’t agree? OK then, you won’t be getting a garlic braid from me this year. I think I’ll have enough for everyone else in north Georgia though…..;)

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