Plunge In Pungent Alliums

To paraphrase an old saying: Give a person garlic and they can ward off vampires once; teach a person how to grow garlic, and they will be free of vampires for a lifetime.

Have you planted your garlic yet? I try to get mine in by Halloween, but given our unseasonably warm fall, I think Maritime Northwest gardeners could still get a crop in the ground, unless your garden is in a cold microclimate.

Spanish Roja garlic

Spanish Roja garlic. I save the biggest heads for replanting.

In my Edible Garden column for Edible Seattle’s Sept/Oct issue, I outlined many of the considerations for planting alliums, the genus that includes garlic, onions and shallots. You may still be able to find some of these alliums in nurseries, and all of them would be well worth a try.

Garlic is my favorite, because it comes in so many types and flavors, far more interesting than the typical white supermarket variety. Look for unique varieties that are spicy or sweet, with cloves striped in red or purple. Learn all about types and varieties from Filaree Garlic Farm.

See my earlier article Cloves in Bed, All is Well on the steps to planting garlic.

The onions you’d find now in the nurseries would be seedlings, small groups of grass-like starts growing in soil. Try Walla Walla Sweet, if you can get it, as they do well in our climate.

Seedlings are different from onion sets or bunches, traditionally sold in the spring. Sets are baby onion bulbs that are sold dry, and will come to life and grow after planting. Bunches are small plants that had been started the previous fall and dug from their bed before being banded together and sold by the dozen in the spring.

As we near the end of the gardening year, consider where in your garden these spicy spikes might go, see if you can find any in the nurseries or buy some from a farmers market stand, and get them in the soil as soon as possible.

Cover the soil with a loose mulch like straw to soften the winter rains, and watch for the little allium spikes to break ground early next year, signifying the start of another gardening season. I guarantee that you’ll be vampire-free.

Favas & Garlic: Savory Spring Recipe

The garlic has just begun its sun salutations. Bouquets of fava bean leaves are catching the Garlic and favasspring rains as they emerge on sturdy stems. The promise of these two early summer delicacies is just coming into leaf, but already it’s blooming in my mind. What awaits is a rich, savory saute of succulent beans and fiery garlic in butter and oil.

So it’s a little early yet, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes:

Fava Beans in Spring Garlic

Ingredients:

4 handfuls of fava bean pods (pick when the pods begin to droop on the plant; use immediately, as the bean’s sugars will turn to starch in 1-2 days)

2 heads spring garlic (pull while tops are fully green and perhaps 12 inches high; choose plants that have ended up overly close to their neighbors, thus enabling the adjacent plant to fully develop its bulb)

3 T olive oil

3 T butter

Directions:

Shell the beans, and drop the bean seeds all at once into a pan of boiling water (enough to cover). Swirl and cook for a very short time, perhaps 30 seconds, until the beans begin to turn brighter green. Use a sieve to quickly remove the beans and drop them into a bowl of icy water to stop the cooking.

As the beans cool, pluck them from the water and pinch off their rubbery outer skin. It will be loose and easily removed, the bean slippery within. Use a knife to cut a slot in the skin if necessary to pop the bean out. Discard the skins and reserve the beans to dry.

Rinse and trim the garlic. Discard the outer green leaves. The young garlic bulb will not have differentiated cloves, and you will use the entire thing, plus some of the greens. Roughly chop the garlic into half-inch chunks.

Warm the olive oil in a saute pan to medium heat and add the garlic to the sizzling oil. Cook the garlic for a minute or so, tossing regularly, until limp and giving off a pungent odor.

Add the fava beans. Add the butter. As the butter melts, stir to coat the favas. Reduce heat if sizzling and cook for up to five minutes, testing the beans for doneness. When the beans have softened and can easily be speared with a fork, remove from heat.

Sprinkle with sea salt and eat immediately. Serves 2 people.

 

Worth waiting for

I love this recipe for its simplicity, and its fresh taste of spring. In fact, watching these plants develop is one of the joys of the spring season.

Young garlic, pulled before the bulb has had a chance to differentiate into cloves, has an onionlike texture and a flavor that is equal parts spiciness and grassiness.

Fresh fava beans, freed from their tough, grey seed coats, seem to be equal parts sugar and substance. Once cooked, they retain a meaty toothsomeness like the interior of a firm baked potato, but with only a light starchiness.

It’s too soon to be whipping up this recipe, but I mentioned it in my column in the current issue of Edible Seattle. (If you’ve come to this site because of the column, thank you for supporting that fine magazine!) You might not have these two crops growing in your garden right now. Plan to grow them next year, and this spring, look for fresh favas and young garlic at your local farmers market. The dish is worth the wait.

November Tasks: Slow Gardening

Grab that sliver of sunlight between showers and get out into the garden. Fleece up and tidy the shed on a rainy day. Scratch out some thoughts on next year, with notes on this year’s successes and duds.Garlic and favas

There are some November tasks for us Maritime Northwest gardeners. But this season is also a time to take it easy and practice “slow gardening.” Moving at slug speed on these chilly wet days seems most appropriate.

Granted a glorious Sunday afternoon last weekend, I rallied to rake out the last open space in my vegetable beds and plant garlic. Three varieties, six rows, 48 cloves. That should keep us in spicy sautés for most of next year.

The rest of the open space got filled up with favas. I had a box full of the thumbnail-sized beans saved from last spring’s harvest. They sat for six months waiting for this occasion, so I could no longer deny them their special purpose: Get under the soil and send up next year’s crop!

Favas are one of the few vegetables whose seed will sprout in our chilly November soil. Garlic, of course, needs a little chilling to trigger its emergence. I’ll see the fava shoots in a few weeks, but the garlic won’t poke through the straw mulch until January. It always warms my heart to see it during that coldest month, just as I am starting to notice the days lengthening beyond the solstice. Another season beginning.

A few more tasks that are getting some slow action on these short November days:

Sorting the bees. Yes, you read that right. I’ve had a box of Orchard Mason bees wrapped loosely in a mesh bag on my basement shelf since I brought them in in early fall. Now it is time for them to be transferred to the refrigerator for the winter.

Bees in tubes

Orchard Mason bees are in their cocoons. I’ve removed them from their paper sleeves to clean and store the cocoons in the refrigerator for winter.

Bee cocoons

The mites have mostly been cleaned off these Orchard Mason bee cocoons.

The task is simple and rewarding. First, I open the stacked grid that holds the bee nesting tubes, paper sleeves in which they laid their eggs and mudded up the holes. I pull out the paper tubes and carefully peel them open to reveal the bees in their cocoons. (Since the eggs were laid in the spring, the eggs have hatched, the bee larvae have eaten the pollen deposits left with their eggs, and the larvae spun their little cocoons.)

Along with the bees in those tubes are a couple of interlopers that need to be removed. Spiders have laid their eggs in some of the tubes. No big deal, except I don’t really want those hatching on my basement shelves.

More concerning are the mites: hundreds of mites have glommed on to the bee cocoons. If left with the cocoons, they would attack the bees when they emerged, and decimate the population.

Fortunately, right now the mites and the bees are pretty dormant, so as I pull the cocoons away from the paper tubes, I brush off all the mites.

The clean cocoons are then counted and stored in a plastic bottle inside a plastic bag in my refrigerator. The bottle has some vents cut in the lid, and the plastic bag contains a damp paper towel that I’ll refresh from time to time. Refrigerators are low-humidity places, and my bee cocoons need a bit of moisture to survive.

Weeding the beds. Winter weeds grow more slowly, but so do your vegetable plants. And with less nutrition available in the soil, your winter vegetables don’t want the competition from weed roots. I clear a space at least a few inches around the base of each winter veggie. I also run the fork along the edges of the raised beds and pull out any grass that is encroaching. It seems to really spread if left to take hold over the winter.

Some of the less harmful, more beautiful weeds like viola tricolor (Johnny Jump-up) get left in the beds between the plants. They can be good filler to shield the bed from winter rains, and I can use the flowers to brighten up my winter salads.

Mulching the fall and overwintering veggies. After I weed, I try to tuck in some straw or other light mulch around the base of the plants.

This provides a number of benefits:

  • keeps heavy rains from compacting the soil
  • prevents wind from drying out any partially exposed roots
  • prevents the soil from becoming too dry if we don’t get rain
  • prevents weeds from sprouting.

And it looks nice!

Broccoli mulched

Servicing the watering devices. I garden in a mostly mild winter climate, but sometimes we’ll get a hard freeze or a week of snow, so I need to protect against freeze damage.

First, I make sure my drip irrigation system is drained to avoid having the pipes burst. (Water is one of the few things that expands when it freezes.) I also check the downspouts and gutters to make sure there’s nothing clogging up the system that fills my water catchment. I clean and store my ceramic bird bath so it doesn’t crack. Finally, draining the hoses and storing them in the garage each winter will help them last many more years.

I appreciate the slower gardening days of winter. I can review some of these tasks as I peer through a rain-streaked window, looking to the western sky for that actionable opening of blue.

Gently Go Into Autumn

If you’re focused on growing food year round, you might almost forget the idea of putting the garden to bed. But it is still a good concept, for a couple of reasons:

1. You probably won’t have the time or energy or desire to keep your entire garden growing year round.

2. Soil needs to rest periodically, so that nutrient levels do not get entirely depleted.

Mulched lettuces

If you have a fall lettuce crop started, surround the plants with a straw mulch to protect them a bit in cooler fall weather.

As the summer vegetable garden fades, use cover crops and mulch to protect the soil over winter.

Cover crops:

These will help build soil as well as keep the soil well-covered so that winter rains or winds don’t damage it. They also provide a habitat for soil critters.

Mulch:

There are various types (straw, leaves, compost, sheet-mulch layers), and they all will help keep the soil from getting compacted by rain or dried out by wind, and provide a habitat for beneficial soil organisms. As they break down, they add carbon to the soil as well. Caution: You don’t want to provide a habitat for rats or other vermin. If you see signs of that, remove the mulch.

Garlic under leaf mulch

Planting garlic and then covering it with a leaf mulch is an easy fall project. Lay welded wire mesh atop the leaves to hold them in place.

Burlap bags:

These are available from coffee roasting companies and some nurseries or hardware stores. Laying these on the soil helps protect it from pounding rains, and keeps the soil a little warmer for the soil-dwelling critters.

 

Two simple growing steps

If you want to have something growing in the beds that won’t require any work, including harvest, here are two simple things to do:

* Grow some garlic! Plant it in late fall and harvest it mid-summer. Use a light mulch like straw or leaves over the bed after planting.

* Let the flowers be. If wildflowers have grown in around your veggies, don’t remove them when pulling the vegetable plants out. Some will reseed and even sprout this fall, and others will sit dormant until spring. Scatter a light compost mulch over the bed to encourage them.

 

More ideas in class

Want to delve more deeply into ideas about putting some of your garden to bed? Join me this Saturday, Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. at City People’s Garden Store in Seattle’s Madison Valley, for our final class in the Edible Year series, “Preparing Your Edible Garden for Winter” will offer more ideas and techniques to gently ease your garden into another season.

 

Garlic Harvest: Inner Chef Says Thanks!

I knocked my head against a hanging braid of garlic the other day, and instead of the predictable response, I had to smile. That ceiling rack in the garage holds the spice of many meals. And the harvest is the result of nearly effortless planting.

Four garlics

Garlic is harvested in late June to early July, when about a third of the leaves have turned brown.

Please grow garlic. It’s so easy, and it’s so good.

In a post last November, I went through the steps of planting it, which is done at the end of fall, when there’s plenty of open bed space and not much else happening, besides watching the winter vegetables grow.

I planted four varieties of garlic, one head of each. They went into 6-foot-long rows. Here’s

Garlic drying

My garlic hangs in a corner of the garage to cure, from twine attached to a welded-wire grid on the ceiling. Softneck varieties, in the foreground, are braided. Hardnecks are hung upside down.

what is now hanging in my garage, finishing the drying process so it will last me through the winter:

Inchelium Red — This is a softneck garlic with fairly large heads of 12-15 cloves each. I got 10 heads, but 6 are somewhat small and immature.

Spanish Roja — My favorite garlic, this Northwest heirloom (sometimes called Greek Blue) is a hardneck that provided us with a nice meal of “scapes” this spring, the flower heads that you cut when they curl up out of the center of the plant. The yield was 13 heads, with about a third of them smaller than expected.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes are the curly seed-heads that emerge from hardneck garlics in mid-spring. Cut them to send more energy to the bulb, then steam or stir-fry them for a fresh spring garlic dish.

Killarney Red — A new variety for me, this hardneck garlic shows a soft apricot color beneath its papery skin, belying its name. I haven’t peeled any yet, so a brighter red might  be under there. It yielded 8 heads, uniformly on the small side of medium.

Lorz Italian — This reliable softneck garlic braided beautifully. It also produced 10 wonderful heads of a generous size, two of which had irregular bulbils growing along the stem.

Those irregular growths on the Lorz, as well as two or three heads that came out of the ground soft or damaged, went straight to the kitchen to be used immediately. The rest are pretty much dry now, and soon I’ll cut them down and store them in mesh onion bags, hanging in a dry, cool spot in my basement. As I go to grab a new one for cooking, I’ll run my hands through each bag to make sure none have gotten soft in storage.

There are few edibles easier to grow than garlic. Plan now to devote a space in your winter garden to this spicy allium. Next year, the chef in you will thank me.

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