Weeding onion and garlic patches

Weeding onions and garlic patches is something I tend to put off during the winter months.

When I grow onions or garlic over the winter months, I usually plant the bulbs around October/November and I usually forget about them until the weather starts to pick up in the spring. I then complain about how small my onions and garlic are when it comes to harvesting them. I know the reason why I complain – it’s because I couldn’t be bothered to weed my patches early on in their growth.

I’ve read that onions generally don’t like too much competition from other plants, so keeping the patches relatively weed free should help the bulbs access water, space and nutrients a lot easier. It also helps give the onions and garlic a head start when other weeds do start to grow.

So, a couple of weekends ago now – I said to myself that this year of growing winter onions and garlic is going to be different and that I’m going to make the effort to try and keep everything as weed free as possible.

The temperature was low but the sun was shining, and it wasn’t raining so for the first time in 2018 I got on my hands and knees and meticulously weeded through my onion garlic patches, which hadn’t had any TLC since I planted them. They’re gone through torrential downpours, frosts and dried out by prevailed winds – so I was glad that I could actually get there and carry out the first weed of 2018.

It’s really important to keep your patches weed free, but it’s a job that you either love or hate. I would say that I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to weeding. I haven’t made up my mind on whether it’s something I enjoy doing or not. Weeding is a job that is really quite boring but needs to be done – but on the other hand you really do get a great sense of gratification and hard work when it’s been done.

It took me around two sessions at the allotment to do both patches, which felt like quite a long time. That said, I’ve paved the way now for the rest of their growing life in the fact that I can probably get away with hoeing in between the plants every so often to minimise future weed growth.

I’m also doubly happy that I weeded the onion and garlic when I did because the Beast from the East is currently covering the UK and other parts of Europe in a blanket of snow. I’m not too worried about snow covering my onion and garlic sets. Snow can act as insulator to hardy plants for hardy onions and garlic. I’d be more worried of thick frosts wiping out the green tops!

Let’s hope I get a decent crop of troy and red winter onions as well as germindour , cristo and thermidrome garlic 🙂 wish me luck.

Do you enjoy weeding at this time of year? Please do let me know! 

Planting Garlic: Germindour, Cristo and Thermidrome

Planting garlic is one of the easiest of foods to grow, and one that gives a great return.

Garlic is one of those food stuffs that I’m constantly buying from the shops – we use so much of it at home, practically with any dish that uses a diced onion. Garlic, for me is one of those ingredients (much like the bay leaf) that you don’t notice when it’s there, but you notice when it’s not there – it really can take a meal from A to B in terms of flavour.

I hadn’t grown garlic for over a year, and when I did I grew Casablanca – which is the variety you’re more likely to see in garden centre post Christmas.

Richard, author of Sharpen Your Spades has outlined a brief history of the humble bulb that’s been transforming meal times since the ancient Egyptians – definitely worth a read!

I’ve chosen to grow three types of garlic this autumn, each with their own promises and characteristics – with a view to harvest between June and August.

Germidour

Garlic Germidour is a soft neck variety that originates from France and is said to be well adapted to British conditions. The most striking thing about this particular bulb are the streaks of purple that smear the outer shells. They really do look like the type of garlic that will keep the vampires at bay! The purple stripes are typical of garlic that comes out of the Midi-Pyrénées region of France.

Cristo 

Cristo or, ‘Wight Cristo’ as it’s sometimes referred to is often recommended because of the reliable, bright white uniform crop that you’re rewarded with. The ‘Wight’/’white’ is a play on words and indicates that this garlic originates from the Isle of Wight. The origins of this garlic variety are illusive and even Wyevale Garden Centres claim that this variety is of French origin. ‘Cristo’ translates to Christ – so I’ll be interested the hear the back story if anyone out there knows more than I do. Cristo certainly had the strongest smell of the three I grew. Cristo is a soft-neck variety.

Thermidrome

And we’re back to France with Thermidrome garlic! Again, the origins of this soft neck garlic variety is sketchy at best. The only thing I can find online is that they come from Drôme in Southeastern France. That accounts for one half of the word – and ‘therm’ is the Latin root for temperature or heat, a little odd seeing as the climate is in Drôme doesn’t get that hot. Drome is the Latin root for running… I’m not sure where that comes in either… So, much like the Cristo, if you know the origin of this variety, please do leave a comment.

Planting Garlic

When you purchase your garlic, you’ll find they’re in bulbs of three or four, so you need to break them up into individual cloves. I chose to plant the cloves in a diamond formation so that you make the most of the bed that you’re growing garlic in. Ideally you need to allow around twelve inches between cloves so that each plant has a fair access to water and airflow and about three inches into the ground.

Tip: As a guide, twelve inches is about a trowels length. 

Finally, it’s common for birds to peck out the cloves, so a neat trick I learnt to help combat this was to make an X across the border with some string – the birds don’t like walking over beds with the string in place. I also do this for onions as well.

And that’s all there is to planting garlic, it’s very simple really! If you’re growing a different variety I’d love to know what type and your experience with them.

Drying out Garlic, Shallots and Onions

You may remember that about seven our eight months ago now I planted some red sun and golden gourmet shallots, Casablanca garlic and Sturon onions into the ground.

Soon after planting the red sun, gourmet garlic into the ground I had a terrible problem with birds and squirrels pulling out the bulbs.  As a result the bulbs were very difficult to establish, but once they had taken root they soon started to grow.

By the time I planted the onions, I came across a neat trick to deter the birds from picking out the bulbs, however I’m little bit disappointed with this years result, they’re not very big and they’ve failed to swell.  I suspect that I may have planted them at the wrong time of year and this has caused a stunt in growth. Lesson learned.

But now the time has come to pull them out of the ground. You can harvest your garlic bulbs, shallots and onions once the tops of the bulb have fallen over and started to brown.  If you can, pick your onions in the morning when the temperature is lower.

If you plan on storing your onions for long period of time, then drying them out is essential. It’s really easy to dry out onions, you just lay them out on a dry surface and place that has good ventilation, like a shed, or in a porch or windowsill.

It’s great going into the shed after the onions have dried out, the place is filled with that sweet onion aroma only drying onions can produce.

Onions can take a few weeks to dry out and the outer layer will become brown and crisp. After that you would want to store the bulbs in a wire cage, nylon bag or hessian sack to reduce the risk of condensation forming.

If where you plan to store your onions is too damp, then you’ll find that some of your bulbs will begin to rot.

Planting Garlic: Casablanca

Garlic Casablanca is probably the variety you’re going to see on the shelves at your local garden centre. Garlic is a great staple to keep in the fridge.  Whether you buy garlic in the shops or grow it yourself, garlic seems to last forever.

Much like the shallots, I’ve chosen a spot that has not been used to plant onions or leeks before and hasn’t been manured for at least two years. I thought this was a great opportunity to demonstrate inter-cropping by planting the garlic Casablanca bulbs in between the two shallot varieties I planted earlier.

Inter-cropping is a great thing to do if you can do it. It makes use of the ground more efficiently and you keep down the mite and pest population among you garlic Casablanca plot.

Garlic Casablanca origins

The word Casablanca drums up images of warm sandy beaches and glorious Moroccan sunshine – but garlic Casablanca is a hardneck variety that originates from Eastern Europe and is meant to be quite resilient in cold conditions – making it perfect for the UK. I’ve done a search online to see if I could find more information on garlic Casablanca – with little avail!

Garlic Casablanca

Following the instructions on the packet I buried the garlic 2cm into the ground but unlike the shallots, I was sure to bury the tops of the garlic Casablanca with soil. The rows of three bulbs were placed 25cm apart.

This variety is said to give off a lovely strong flavour and is able to store well for long periods.  We tend to use garlic in everything these days and a lot of people I know say that they can’t stand the stuff – the truth is, fresh garlic when used properly doesn’t taste of garlic that much, its the fake powdered garlic that can inflict a strong taste and subsequent bad breath.