Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gardening Floyd: Garlic & Shallots

Back in mid-April I posted this photo of the allium bed:
That's garlic in the back, shallots in the center, and leeks in the front.

Michael harvested the garlic and shallots over the weekend and they're curing downstairs:
The garlic and shallots are covering two thirds of the floor in that room and it's probably still not enough to see us all the way through until the next harvest but we're getting closer.
Garlic and shallots are very easy to grow and a lot can be planted in a small space giving a significant return for minimal effort.  Once you've made the initial investment for the varieties you prefer you'll eventually be able to grow enough of your own stock to never have to buy in either again.  And if you've bought shallots at the store lately, you know that can be a considerable savings.

Both these alliums can be planted in early spring for summer harvest but for better keeping qualities plant them in the fall.  Similar to spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips, garlic and shallots like to establish a root system before going dormant through the winter.  They'll poke little green tips up and these should be mulched in before killing frosts.  As soon as conditions are right in late winter/early spring they'll take off again and begin growing in earnest.

Prepare a nice soft bed for them.  The looser the soil, the better the cloves will be able to grow and expand.  Break the head of garlic or shallots into individual cloves and plant them 2-3 inches apart.  Push them into the soil, with the end that broke off the head pointing down, about an inch deep.  Cover them up and water them in.  After the pre-killer frost mulching you can pretty much forget them until spring.  When you see new growth in the spring, water them when necessary if you're not getting much rain.  Toward early summer you may see scapes appear on both the shallots and the garlic.  These are flower stalks and a little culinary bonus.  Cut them off so the plant puts its energy into forming bulbs instead of seeds.  Use the scapes for cooking or pickle them.
Around this time of year you'll see the leaves begin to yellow.  The leaves are actually the paper that covers the individual cloves.  When just a few of the leaves have yellowed it's time to lift the garlic and shallots and cure them.  Insert a spading fork carefully next to and under the heads and gently lift, loosening the soil around the heads.  Be careful not to scrape or bruise the heads.  Brush off as much soil as possible.  Lay the heads in a shady spot with good air circulation for 4-6 weeks.  This allows the paper to dry out and protect the individual cloves.

Once the heads are cured, cut off the dried leaves and remove the roots.  With a soft brush, brush off any remaining soil.  Store the garlic in a cool, dry, dark place.  I keep it in baskets in the coolest room in the house.  Sort out the best looking, most solid heads of garlic and shallots and set them aside for planting in the fall.  Each year you'll be able to increase both the number of heads you save for planting and the number of heads you have for use until you are garlic and shallot independent!  Your garlic and shallots will also improve each year as the plants adapt themselves to your soil and conditions!

If you are container gardening you can successfully grow garlic and shallots in pots.  Use large pots and if you have a protected place like a garage where you can winter over your pots and protect them from heaving, go ahead and plant them in the fall.  If not, plant indoors in pots in February and then move them outside as soon as heavy freezes and frosts are over.  Water regularly and follow the harvesting instructions above and you can enjoy your own alliums too.

Many of the nurseries that supply garlic and shallots to home gardeners ship them only in the early fall and sell out early as well.  Now would be the time to peruse catalogs and websites for varieties and place your orders for fall shipping.

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