Bavarian Purple, Spanish Roja & More: Selecting & Planting Gourmet Garlic …

October 24th, 2011 § 2

Gorgeous, Gourmet Garlic! Bulbs, Clockwise from Top of Ceramic Bowl: German White, Russian Red, Bavarian Purple & Spanish Roja. On Table: Two Heads of Doc’s German & One Each of German Red & Music. In Basket: A Combination of All Garlic Varieties, Plus Continental.

Creatures of the night, beware: I grow garlic! Garlic and onion braids hang from the wooden beams of my kitchen, and they inhabit colorful ceramic keepers on my shelves. I have garlic galore planted in my garden, squirreled away for winter use upon shelves in paper bags and hanging from floor joists in my cellar. Vampires dare not kiss me, for I cook with this delightfully stinky herb most every night.

Every autumn, I plant many varieties of cold hardy, hardneck garlic in my potager (hardneck garlic is the best choice for climates with long, cold winters). It’s a good idea to purchase garlic grown close to your own home (this insures the hardiest selections for your climate and local growing conditions), and traditionally, each October, I visit the annual Garlic & Arts Festival in nearby North Orange, Massachusetts, to select a few more gourmet bulbs for my garden. One of my all-time favorite garlic varieties, which I finally found at the festival a few years ago, is Spanish Roja (a rocambole hardneck garlic). This beautifully colored, hot and spicy selection possesses a true garlic flavor and easy-to-peel cloves, making it one of the most popular —and sometimes hard to find— bulbs at market. This zesty variety and others —including German Red, Bavarian Purple and Russian Red—-  tend  to be my favorite types for roasting and cooking. But I also love the milder varieties of garlic —including smokey, medium heat Continental— for salad dressing, salsa, cold pasta and other recipes calling for raw cloves, and for use in subtler dishes.

Garlic Bulbs are Harvested in Late Summer, When the Tops Yellow, Wither and Flop (Also True for Onions). Once Lifted from the Earth with a Garden Fork, Excess Soil is Shaken from the Bulbs as They ‘Cure’ for Two Weeks in a Warm, Dry Place.

Many hard neck garlic varieties (including rocambole, porcelain and striped) store beautifully in cool, dark, dry conditions. Porcelain garlic bulbs, such as German White and Music, are exceptionally good selections for long-term (up to 9 months under optimal conditions) storage. Russian Red, another good-sized porcelain hardneck variety, is also a top-notch keeper. I hang garlic braids in my kitchen and always have a few bulbs on hand in ceramic keepers, but most of my garlic is stored on shelves in a cool (approximately 55 degrees) part of my dark, dry cellar. After harvest and curing (for more detail, see previous post by clicking here) I like to store my garlic bulbs in braids (click here for my popular onion/garlic braiding tutorial with step-by-step photos) and in loosely folded, brown paper bags (this provides ample air circulation). I mark the name of the variety on the outside for quick reference. Some bulbs return to the garden every autumn, and the rest remain in stock on my shelves for winter and springtime use.

Preparing to Plant Garlic: Breaking a Basket of Large, Firm, Hard Neck Bulbs into Cloves

Mid-autumn is the best time to plant hardneck garlic in my climate. Each year I rotate my crop; preparing a new garlic bed with fresh compost in late September. Selecting large, firm bulbs from my crop, I carefully separate the cloves and prepare tags for each variety. On a cool, dry October day, I plant each clove approximately 2″ deep and 4-6″ apart (space wider for big, porcelain bulbs like Music). Mulching is very important in cold climates like Vermont. I use throughly rotted compost and clean straw or ground oak leaves for a nice thick mulch. Read more about garlic planting, and find a link back to removing and using garlic scapes, in my previous post “A Thousand Mothers Set Into Earth” by clicking here.

Of Course the Best Part of Growing Garlic is Eating It! Click Here for a Delicious Garlic and Potato Soup Recipe

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Joyful New Beginnings: Bright-Green Herb Seedlings Emerging from the Soil…

February 3rd, 2011 § 1

Seedlings in the Morning Sun:  Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

Lately, the weather in here in Vermont has been a bit challenging (to say the least). Even we native New Englanders start to groan when back-to-back blizzards deliver multiple feet of snow and there’s nowhere left to pile it! Three feet, four feet? With all of the blowing and drifting and snowbanks everywhere, I’ve lost track of the total accumulation here on my hilltop. Let’s just say that you now enter the house through white tunnels. Enough said…

Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings Emerge from Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

If you live in a northern climate like I do, then you are probably beginning to tire of the big storms and the endless shoveling, and you may be wondering if spring will ever come again. Yes, yes she will. I promise. And while we gardeners are waiting, there are a few things we can start to do. If you live in zone 4 or 5, you will want to start gathering your seeds and checking on start dates. Over the next couple of weeks, you can begin setting up grow lights (full spectrum), and sow onions, leeks, celery and hardy herbs indoors (for tips on starting onions & leeks visit this post here)…

Pots brushed with Primary Colors Add Life to the Kitchen Countertop

Of course, round ’bout February, most kids will be starting to get stir crazy indoors. Plus, those mid-winter vacations are coming up soon… Aren’t they? This simple project is the perfect way to introduce seed-starting to little gardeners and to help keep those tiny hands occupied. Even if you don’t have children, these seed disks make starting herbs indoors simple and quick. I love fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in my guacamole and I use lots of fresh basil, and other herbs in my kitchen. So last year, I decided to give Johnny’s Seeds pre-prepared herb disks a try, to see how they would work in clay pots. And the results: totally fun and easy project!

Seed starting disks from Johnny’s Seeds fit perfectly inside these brightly painted, 6″ tall clay pots

All you need to do is purchase seed-starting soil (a well-drained medium with super-fine soil particles) and fill appropriately sized pots near-full with the mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly and lay a seed disk atop the soil (pots with a 4.5″ diameter at the top work perfectly for Johnny’s Seed disks). Cover the disk with soil to the recommended depth (varies depending upon the plant – check instructions of the back of each packet) and moisten again. Line your herbs up in a brightly lit window, water regularly with a fine mister and wait.

Depending upon the kind of herbs you grow, within a few day to a couple of weeks, you should begin to see bright green seedlings emerge. Be patient, though! Some herbs take quite a bit of time to germinate. Parsley seedlings, for example, can take a month to emerge. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, keep the herbs moist, but not soggy. Be sure the pots are located in a warm spot with good light and air circulation. One the first set of true leaves appear (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves) you will want to mix up a weak solution of organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion), and feed your herbs every-other-week. Rotate the pots once a week to keep seedlings growing straight, as opposed to leaning toward the light. For best results, you want to start your seeds beneath full-spectrum grow lights (keep the light source very close to the plants and raise it as the seedlings grow). The nice part of using prepared disks is that the seeds come pre-spaced. Of course you can always start seed without disks; planting them in trays filled with starter soil mixture. If you do this, you can thin the seedlings of herbs and vegetables later on (see photo below).

I will be writing much more about starting seeds indoors and out over the coming months, so stay tuned and think spring!

Is there anything more hopeful or uplifting than fresh green seedlings emerging from damp soil?

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Simple Storage Solutions with Style: Beautiful Braided Onions…

August 15th, 2010 § 8

A Sweet Onion Braid – Drying on a Late Summer Day

Warm, dry air and sparkling blue skies; here in Vermont, these are the first golden days of late summer bliss. As I swing in my big, old hammock —surrounded by the meadow-song of crickets and chattering finches— my mind drifts to nothing more important than the thought of spicy gazpacho and homemade crackers for lunch. Mmm… Gazpacho – one of my summertime favorites. I love the flavor of fresh, pungent onions, herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes. And speaking of onions, with the nights growing cooler —filled with showers of shooting stars— and the days growing shorter, it’s time to think about digging up those tasty bulbs and putting some up for winter…

Wondering when to pull? You can begin to harvest when most of the tops have flopped…

I’ve been harvesting baskets of onions from my potager this week; taking advantage of the long, dry spell to cure them on the sunny terrace. (Click here to read more about growing and harvesting onions, and find my favorite French Onion Soup recipe in a post from last year)  Cippolini, Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig —sweet members of the Allium cepa species— are my favorite garden onions. Because these mild onions are poor candidates for long-term, winter storage, I braid them and hang them in my kitchen and basement for immediate and continued use throughout late summer and fall (pungent, globe-type onions in red, white and yellow are the best long-term, winter-keepers in my root cellar). Shallots, garlic and onions are all easy to braid, and I find this short-term method of storage to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing in my kitchen…

Sweet Onion Style…

Many readers of this blog are long-time gardeners and cooks, with years of experience growing and storing produce. But for those of you who are new to putting food by —or with curious, young gardeners-in-training— onion braids are a great, creative way to begin preparing a pantry of stored produce. I start the process by gently pulling onions from the garden during a clear-weather stretch (carefully loosening them from the soil by rocking the earth with a fork positioned at least 6-8″ from the bulbs), dry-curing them on my terrace (or, if rain is in the forecast, spread out on newspaper in a protected porch or shed) for a week. As the onions dry, I gently turn, brush and shake them to remove dirt (be careful not to bruise the tender flesh). While the tops of the onions are still green and pliant, I gather bunches in groups of 6-12 for braiding. The smaller onions (especially the coin-like Cippolini) look particularly attractive in long braids with 12 or more bulbs per chain. The larger onions —such as the Walla Walla— need a bit more room, so I braid these bulbs in groups of 6-8…

Start with three onions…

Are you familiar with the classic French braid? My hair is quite long, and I often wear it pulled back in this manner when I am working. Braiding onions is quite like French braiding hair. The chain starts out like a normal braid, (see photo above) with three onions layered one on top of the other. A slight tapered angle looks nice, varying the start lengths, but this is a subtle detail and it isn’t necessary for beginners. Begin by making one braid chain from the onion greens as you would with hair, yarn or rope. Simply pull greens from the outside edge, holding them at the center to make an ‘x’, alternating sides as you go. If your onions are very large, you may want to make two or three links before you begin to add more onions…

Add onions as you go – alternating sides, just as you would with a French braid…

Now here is where the process begins to resemble the French braids that girls use to tie back their hair. Do you remember how you pull sections of hair from alternate side of the head, adding them to the main braid as you go? The same method applies when you are braiding onions or any other bulb. When you bring the onion greens toward the center to make an ‘x’, add another onion (as shown in the photo below. Hold this in place with the fingers of one hand as you bring greens from the other side, making the usual cross at the center. Once you have one link (or more or larger onions), repeat the process on the other side. To make your braid attractive, keep your link pattern even as you go…

Spacing can be one onion per link, or skip a link or two if onions are very large…

You can make your onion braids as long as you want, that part is up to you. Once you have reached your desired length, it will be easier to tie the onions with twine if you make a few links with greens only and hold the end together tightly. Once you have the hang of it, you can simply tie the onions at the base if you like, without adding extra links. That is a creative decision. You can also make your braids from different varieties of onions, or add bits of dried herbs. It’s all up to you…

Stop the braid when you have reached the desired hanging length. I usually aim for 8-12 onions per braid, depending on variety and size…

I tie the ends of my braids with garden twine. You can also use recycled rubber bands…

Tie the end of the chain tightly with twine, ribbon, string or looped rubber bands. Hold the chain by the greens and give it a good shake to be sure it’s solid and to remove any loose dirt. Hang the onions in a dry, sunny spot for another week or so to continue curing. Then bring them indoors to store in your kitchen for immediate use, or in a cool, dry spot (floor joists in cellars work well). Onions can also be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in baskets or woven bins (for airflow) once they are dry cured and their greens are removed…

The Braided Onions – Tied and Ready for Storage…

Cippolini Onion Braid – This storage method works for all kinds of onions, and for garlic as well…

Cippolini Onion Harvest and Braiding…

I think braided onions, garlic and shallots look beautiful hanging from the beams in my timber-frame home. As the harvest season continues, herbs and dried flowers will join the onion braids hanging in my kitchen, bringing wonderful, warm and pungent smells, earthy colors and attractive textures to the room. Even if you don’t grow your own onions, you can make braids for your kitchen by asking a local farmer to sell you uncured bulbs with greens attached. And, some markets sell cured onions in braids or bunches at the early part of the season. Be aware that because kitchens tend to get hot and steamy, unless you plan to use your onions and garlic immediately —and regularly— it’s best to store them out of the kitchen, in a cool, dark place.

Cippolini Onions Hanging from a Beam in the Kitchen… Ready for Roasting!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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