GARLIC (Allium sativum)
When I was young, garlic was considered to something only garlic smelling French people ate, now it is common place, and dare I say it, the majority use it to cook with and enjoy. Many studies have found garlic supplementation reduced accumulation of cholesterol on the vascular walls of animals and in humans. Garlic was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II, and I often use it on cuts. We also use it in some of our homemade insecticide sprays (see section ‘Pests & Diseases’ – Home Made Organic Prevetative Sprays & Homemade Organic Insecticides & Fungicides).
Soil & Feeding:
Like all of the onion family, garlic needs a very good feed, so, apply 2 buckets of well-rotted garden compost + 2 handfuls of Eco or Organic Fertiliser (+ if you have got some, 1 handful of seaweed meal) into every square metre (yard) and mix into the top 6cm (2in) of soil.
You could buy some organically grown local garlic and plant out the separate bulbs, but there are special varieties with particular traits that might be useful. Don’t buy garlic from a supermarket, because they will probably be sprayed to stop them sprouting.
Serpent Early Red: It is suggested that this variety is planted in early spring, and harvested in mid summer, well before other main crop garlics. They have browny/red skin when harvested, with small bulbils on top, if the flower head is not removed. Remove the flowering stems if you want large garlic bulbs.
Rocombole Early White: is a beautifully strong flavoured garlic with good sized pearly white cloves and pearly white skin. Outstanding because it’s ready to harvest in early summer – must be planted in the autumn to be ready this early.
Rocombole Early Red: is the same as Early White except the bulbs have red skins. They are flat and very early maturing. They taste great.
Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum): These are huge and have a milder garlic taste. Although commonly called garlic this is actually a type of leek, so it is no use medically. It tastes great though as a roasted vegetable.
Garlic is very winter hardy, so it was traditional to plants the cloves on the shortest day of the year, but I consider this to be too late. I prefer to plant mine in late autumn, early winter, a month before mid-winter.
Take a healthy bunch and prize off the individual cloves with your fingers. Plant each larger clove, pointy bit up and 3cm (1in) deep 15cm (6in) apart with the tip just below the surface, with 20cm (8in) between the rows, or stagger them 15cm (6in) each way.
Keep weeded, and when the plants are at least 10cm high, mulch with a couple of centimetres of grass clippings. Water regularly in dry periods and feed them at least two times during the growing season with liquid animal manure or worm juice – (see: section ‘How to Build Soil Fertility’ – LIQUID MANURES, + Eco & Biological Fertilisers – liquid Humates & Fulvic Acid as a booster).
Allow the tops to die down – bending the stems over when they start wilting, as well as loosening the roots with a small hand fork will help the garlic to ripen. It is important that the stems have wilted and dried before storing. Lift them carefully and rub the soil off the roots, then dry in the sun or in a glasshouse. Then string them as described in ONIONS, and hang them up somewhere dry, cool and frost free for the winter.
Possible Pests and Diseases:
We have found over 40 years that garlic is generally trouble free, although they can get rust fungus on the leaves especially in a damp summer.
Rust: Cut off the leaves as soon as you see the rust start to appear. Throw the infected leaves in the trash (not the compost bin!), wash your hands and disinfect your shears with methylated spirits to prevent the fungus from spreading. You could also try spraying every two weeks with Trichoderma viride powder in water as a preventative during the growing season.
Garlic cloves skinned and roasted with root vegetables is a winter favourite in our family.
Aioli – Garlic Mayonnaise
• 2 egg yolks
• 2 garlic cloves, skinned & mashed
• A generous pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 1½ tablespoons lemon juice
• ¾ cup grape-seed or sunflower oil + ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
You can use a food processor if you like, but I prefer to make it the old way sitting down with a towel over my knees and a bowl held between my legs, whisking with a balloon whisk, whilst drizzling the oil from a bottle with corked spout.
1. Place egg yolks, mashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper, mustard and lemon juice in a mixing bowl, or food processor and whisk well – about 30 seconds
2. Slowly drizzle in the oil, using the attachment that allows you to add liquids drop by drop if using a food processor, while whisking all the time. Be sure to do it drop by drop to stop it curdling – take your time, no rush
3. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if necessary
LEEK (Allium ampeloprasum)
For many gardeners, leeks are an indispensable winter vegetable as they are very hardy. Leeks are members of the onion family, which like rich soil and heavy feeding. Be careful not to start them too early and plant them too far apart, otherwise they will grow too big and tough. As my UK organic gardening guru, Lawrence D. Hills, said about growing leeks
“Leeks as big as bolsters and nearly as tasteless have graced flower shows for the past century, but I prefer mine the size of a candle”.
Soil & Feeding:
As I just said, leeks are heavy feeders, so if you are starting from scratch, add two buckets of garden compost + two handfuls of Eco or Organic Fertiliser, per square metre (yard). If, like me, you plant your seedling leeks out after the early potato crop that was fed heavily with garden compost, you can just add two handfuls or Eco or Organic Fertiliser per square metre.
Della Riviera: If you want slender, tasty and tender leeks, rather than big bulky ones, this is the one for you.
Lyon Leek: This is another slender, tasty variety, with a mild flavour. It is an old heirloom variety that originates from the Lyon area of Staffordshire in England.
Mussleburgh: Developed in the 1400’s in Scotland as a commercial variety. It is a productive stocky hardy leek that has stood the test of time.
Winter Giant: As the name implies it can grow large if that is what you want, but you can grow them closer together at 15cm (6in) apart for smaller ones.
Carentan Giant: Another old European variety. I have grown these and found them a bit large for myself, but if that’s what you want, go ahead, or grow them closer together for smaller tenderer plants.
Sow outside in shallow drills in a seedbed at the beginning of December (southern hemisphere) or the beginning of June (northern hemisphere) to plant out the following month.
I always plant them the traditional way. When the seedling leeks are around 15-20cm high, make holes with a dibber 15-20cm (6-8in) deep and 20cm (8in) apart, or 15cm (6in) apart for larger varieties, in rows 30cm (1ft) apart. Then drop your young leek plant (around 15cm (6in) long) down the hole and fill the hole with water from a sprouted can, to wash down some soil to settle and cover the roots. The plant will then grow to fill the hole and be partly blanched by the surrounding soil. If your leeks have grown too tall, then cut back the leaves before planting.
If you haven’t got a dibber, you can make one – (see: the section ‘Tools’ for how to make one). This is a very useful tool to add to your garden shed.
Keep weed free, especially in the early phase when the plants are still small. Feed at least three times during the growing season with a liquid feed of any of these: animal manure, worm juice, liquid fish manure, liquid Blood and Bone or dried blood watered in – (see: the section ‘How to Build Soil Fertility’ – Liquid Manures).
If you want longer white stems, you can earth the leeks up around the stems up to the bottom leaves, but no higher, unless you want lots of soil inside the leaves, which is a pain in the kitchen.
You will need a garden fork to loosen the roots so you can lift the plants as and when you need them through the winter as they have tenacious roots and you can break the leeks if you just try to pull them. Cut the roots off and the green leaves back for the compost before taking them to the kitchen, or use the tops of the leaves for soup or vegetable stock.
Possible Pests and Diseases:
Rust Fungus: In my experience leeks are trouble free, but they can get rust fungus – pull off the worst effected leaves and spray with Trichoderma viride liquid, or powder, mixed thoroughly in water, or use it as a preventative spray through the latter part of the growing season.
I am not a great fan of soups, but warming yourself up with a bowl of Vichyssoise on a cold winter’s evening is wonderful.
• 2 fat leeks
• 1 small onion chopped
• 60g (2oz) butter
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 potatoes [about 250-375 grams (9-13oz)]
• ½ Lt (1 pint) water
• 250ml (8½floz) milk
• 500ml (17floz) cream
• Chopped chives
1. Use the white part of the leek only – about 250–370g (9-13oz). Chop and put with the chopped onion and butter into a heavy pan
2. Cover then stew very gently for about 5 minutes, but do not let the vegetables brown
3. Add water and cleaned, peeled and diced potatoes, and sat
4. Simmer until potatoes are well cooked
5. Liquidise the whole contents
6. Heat the milk and half the cream in a separate pan and add to soup, then bring back to the boil, stirring to prevent it catching.
7. Strain the soup or liquidise again
8. Stir in the rest of the cream, correct the seasoning, and chill thoroughly 9. To serve, sprinkle each bowl of soup with the chopped chives
Butter Bean & Leek Pie
• 125g (4½oz) butter beans (or the white butter bean type seeds of Scots White runner beans that you have saved).
• 50g (1¾oz) butter
• 225g (8oz) carrots, scraped and diced small
• 450g (16oz) leeks, cleaned and cut into 1cm slices
• 125g (4½oz) mushrooms, wiped and sliced
• 1 tablespoon flour
• 225g (8oz) fresh tomatoes skinned, or canned
• 118ml (4floz) stock
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For pie crust:
• 225g (8oz) puff pastry, or wholemeal shortcrust pastry
• A little beaten egg to glaze
1. Soak butter beans over night, then drain, rinse them and cook them until they are tender, then drain well
2. Preheat the oven to 220oC (428oF)
3. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, then put in the carrots, cover and cook very gently without browning for 10 minutes
4. Add the leeks and mushrooms and cook for a further 10 minutes
5. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, then stir so it get mixed with the butter
6. Mix in the tomatoes and stock and cook gently, stirring for 2-3 minutes until thickened
7. Add the cooked butter beans and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8. Turn the mixture into a 1 litre (2 pint) pie dish to cool
9. Roll out the pastry on a floured board and cover the top of the pie, and crimp the edges
10. Brush the pastry with beaten egg
11. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 190oC (374oF) for a further 15 minutes
ONION (Allium cepa)
Onions are one of the garden staples for any lover of food and because they store well, you can eat them all the year round.
Soil & Feeding:
Of all vegetables, the onion family is one of the heaviest feeders, and therefore needs to be treated well and fed well to get a successful crop. We usually have a good crop of onions, but for some reason in 2012-13 we neglected to give them the care they needed and we had a poor crop. This was the spur to make sure the 2013-14 crop was going to be a success, and it was, with 7-11cm (2¾-4in) diameter healthy onions!
So, here’s my recipe for success:
1. Onions prefer firm ground, so don’t dig and loosen the soil.
2. Clear weeds from the last crop.
3. Incorporate 1 or 2 buckets of well-rotted garden compost per square metre (yard) into the top 5cm (2in).
4. If your soil pH is less than 6.4 then add garden lime at the recommended rate. If the pH is already 6.4, then add 2 handfuls of gypsum per square metre for both Calcium and Sulphur, both of which onions like, but without increasing the pH.
5. Incorporate 2 handfuls Eco or Organic Fertiliser per square metre (square yard) into the top 2cm (¾in).
6. When you plant out the onion seedlings, water them with liquid Blood and Bone or Blood Bone and Fish, or a homemade liquid fertiliser, plus liquid Humate and Fulvic acid (see the section: ‘How to Build Soil Fertility’ - Eco, Biological & Organic Fertilisers).
7. Regular watering, until drying off.
8. Water two or three times in the growing season with a liquid fertiliser of horse, or cow or sheep manure, or worm juice, or liquid fish manure (see: the section ‘How to Build Soil Fertility’ – Liquid Manures).
Pukekohe: is a NZ Heritage variety and the best brown skinned white fleshed, sweet onion we have come across in 40 years of growing them. The area of Pukekohe in the North Island of New Zealand is the main onion growing area of the country, and sure enough the main traditional variety from that area was named Pukekohe. These large spherical onions are huge if grown well and are the best keepers we have come across along with Stuttgarter storing to the following spring.
Stuttgarter Long Keeper: is a tasty old favourite that has medium-large, slightly flattish yellow onions with a good, pungent flavour. This variety is among the best keepers and produces well. It will store well into the spring and is the variety we grew as our main crop in the UK.
Californian Red: is our other main crop variety, because we like both white and red onions. These flatter onions usually outgrow most white ones. Like most red onions they do not last as long in store as most white onions, starting to sprout in late winter or early spring, so we try to eat then before then and enjoy the white onions left to finish the season.
White Welsh: is an onion that has been grown around the world, especially in Asian countries, like China and Japan forever, and is the ‘spring’ type onion used in Chinese and Japanese cooking. Hard working Welsh people found this an easy and time saving way of growing onions on their small garden plots or allotments, hence the name. This is a perennial onion that you can grow in your herb bed and use like ‘spring’ onions, because they don’t bulb up. They gradually grow outwards producing more stems over time. Having 2 or 3 plants in your herb garden should supply your family with all the green salad onions you need.
For those that prefer traditional annual Salad Onions (also known as spring onions or scallions), here are two good varieties:
White Lisbon: is a standard variety, which bulks up fairly quickly. It is relatively low maintenance, not only suited to overwintering producing early crops, but good for successional spring/summer cropping too. Sow at 3 weekly intervals.
Ishikura: is a Tokyo long white type that doesn’t bulb up but has long 45cm white stems and is very mild.
For main crops, sow in seed compost inside in trays in late winter, planting out in spring into your prepared beds. Plant out or sow in shallow drills 20cm (8in) apart, thinning the seedling to 15cm (6in) apart if you want decent sized ones or 10cm (4in) apart if you want smaller ones.
Alternatively in areas with winters that are not harsh, many sow an early crop outside in a seedbed in the autumn, in shallow drills, then plant out into their permanent growing positions in spring, spacing as above.
For Salad onions you can sow in shallow drills 15cm (6in) apart, thinning seedlings to 4-5cm (1½-2in), otherwise scatter seeds in spare patches throughout your garden.
Regular watering, until drying off. Water two or three times in the growing season with a liquid fertiliser of horse, cow or sheep manure, or worm juice, or liquid fish manure. It is very important to keep as weed free as possible as the weeds enjoy the well-fed soil as much as the onions. This is especially important when the plants are young, because they can easily get swamped with weeds.
When the tops start to wither, bend over the stems and if they have finished bulking up, you can loosen the roots a little with a hand fork; this will encourage the onions to dry off, especially the stems, so they will store better. Some onions will have thick necks or have started to run up to flower and the stems may brake when you bend them over. These will not keep, so use them early and don’t try to store them for long.
When the stems have shrivelled and gone brown, lift the crop in dry weather, rubbing the soil off the roots and leave in the sun to dry off, or lay out in a glass, or tunnel house, or a conservatory for a few days.
If you don’t have a big crop, you can trim most of the withered stems and roots off and stack them in old laddered tights and hang them in a dry frost proof shed as long as you are female, or you have a female partner who is happy to keep her old laddered tights until the onion harvest. The ladders are useful for ventilation, because onions need to keep dry in store.
You can leave the stems on, but trim the roots for stringing the onions. You can plat them, but this is difficult, so what we have always done is this:
Start with a metre of fine strong string, tie the ends together and loop it over a nail or hook. Secure one large onion at the bottom by making a loop with the bottom of the double string and feeding the stem through and tightening (follow the illustration). Then feed the stem of the second onion through the two strings and twist the dried stem round the double string and back through again, pressing it down. Feed the next onion through the opposite way and loop it round the opposite way and through again. Keep doing this, alternating the direction each time, until the string is finished. 4½ kg is enough for one string. Hang them up from the rafters in the roof, if it is easy to get in there. Otherwise, hang them from a hook in a beam, or off a pipe, or as we do from our slatted wooden shelving in our storeroom.
Possible Pests and Diseases:
First see the section ‘Pests & Diseases’ on how to create a healthy vibrant soil and healthy resistant plants.
White Rot: To be quite honest, we have had little disease and pests when growing onions. Occasionally we have had white fungal rot at the base of the roots on a few onions, but never to any great extent. As long as you have a friable open well-drained soil they should do well. If you have heavy clay, you need to work over the whole bed plunging a garden fork into the soil and loosening the soil without inverting it. Also add at least two bucket of well-rotted garden compost per square metre. If you have problems, water the soil with Trichoderma virid bio-fungicide powder mixed with water before sowing or planting out, so the Trichoderma predatory fungus is already there to fight the white rot fungus.
Cut off the leaves as soon as you see the rust start to appear. Throw the infected leaves in the trash (not the compost bin!), wash your hands and disinfect your shears with methylated spirits to prevent the fungus from spreading. You could also try spraying every two weeks with Trichoderma powder in water, as soon as you see the first signs of rust.
Onions are so versatile that the list of possible recipes would be endless, so I have only included recipes where the onions are the stars.
French Onion Soup
(This has been adapted from Sally Fallon’s book ‘Nourishing Traditions’ – highly recommended)
• 4-5 red onions
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 2 litres beef stock
• ½ cup cognac
• ½ cup red wine
• 2 tablespoons arrowroot mixed with 2 tablespoons water
• Sea salt or fish sauce and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Slice the onions very thinly
2. Melt butter in a large stainless steel pot
3. Add the onions and cook on the lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally, for about 2 hours, or until the onions are very soft and slightly caramelized
4. Raise the heat a bit and cook a few minutes longer, stirring constantly. The onions should turn brown but not burn
5. Add wine, cognac and stock
6. Bring to a rapid boil and skim off any foam that may have risen to the top
7. Add the arrow root mixture and season to taste
8. Serve with croutons and a plate of raw cheeses, or place a slice of French bread on the top of each serving bowl grated with Gruyere cheese melted under the grill
• 2 medium onions
• 2 tablespoons olive oil (or oil from the tomatoes) plus extra for drizzling • 200g (7oz) block of feta cheese, crumbled
• 50g (1¾oz) white or brown breadcrumbs
• 1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
• 6 pieces of sundried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped
• A large pinch of chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus extra sprigs
• 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
• 50g (2oz) walnut pieces, chopped
• 1 medium egg, beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 1900C (3740F), or fan 1700C (3380F). Peel the onions leaving them whole, removing the first layer of onion as you peel. Cut them in half across the middle and remove several layers from the centre of each using a teaspoon. Fill any holes with a small slice of onion taken from the centre layers. Arrange onion halves, cut side up in a small ovenproof dish. Pour a splash of water into the dish and brush the onions with some of the oil. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 45-50 minutes until they are tender.
2. Meanwhile, finely chop the inner layers. Heat the remaining oil in a medium sized saucepan and fry the chopped onion, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until soft and beginning to brown, leave to cool.
3. Mix the cooled chopped onions in a bowl with half the feta, the breadcrumbs, chilli, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped thyme and parsley, walnuts, beaten egg and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir well until everything's combined.
4. Increase the oven to 2000C (3920F), or fan 1800C (3560F). Divide the feta stuffing between the onions, then scatter over the remaining cheese and sprinkle over a few thyme sprigs. Drizzle over a little oil from the tomato jar and cook for 25 minutes until the stuffing is bubbling and the feta is golden brown.
SHALLOTS (Allium cepa var. aggregatum)
Shallots are a relative of the onion and like garlic they increase by multiplying, so one grows them by planting the offsets. It is possible however to get seeds and then save some of the shallot bulbs to grow the following year, but most people buy the offsets, which you can buy in winter at garden departments. For lovers of good food it is definitely worth planting a crop of shallots to compliment your garlic and onion crops. They have a unique flavour, which is neither garlic, nor onion. When cooked they have a sweeter, milder flavour than onions, but raw they are stronger.
Soil & Feeding:
Same as onions and garlic, they need a rich soil full of available nutrients in full sun. So dig in 2 buckets of well-rotted manure or compost + 2 handfuls of Eco or Organic Fertiliser, per square metre (yard).
Shallot bulbs for planting are available from garden centres as well as mail order companies.
Red Sun: this is a French-type with golden-red skin and reddish interior rings.
Holland Red: has short, plump, flat bulbs with reddish skin and white flesh tinged with purple. Stores well.
French Red: has single bulbs that multiply into 10 to 15 reddish-purple shallots in just one season. They are easy to peal.
Mirage: are large, French, half-long style shallots with reddish-copper skin and white flesh. Very firm and can keep through to spring.
Traditionally the bulbs were planted on the shortest day along with garlic, but I have found both do well planted in one month earlier, in other words mid May here in the southern hemisphere and mid November in the northern hemisphere. If you have very cold winters plant in early spring. Draw a hoe along the rows to make a 3-4cm (1-1½in) deep grove. Remove any dead foliage when planting out 15cm (6in) apart in rows 25cm (10in) apart, making sure the tips of the bulbs are just below the surface. If you push them in, it will compact the soil and they will push themselves out as the roots grow.
Weed and water as required. In early summer it is a good idea to draw the soil away from the bulbs to assist ripening. Harvesting: When the foliage has died down in summer, lift them, clean the bulbs and store in nets in a frost-free shed or store.
Possible Pests & Diseases:
Shallots are generally trouble free, but see ONIONS.