These hardy bulbs grow wild in many parts of the world. Many of the varieties are commonly known vegetables such as the Chives, Garlic, Leek, Onion, Ramp and Shallot. Many kinds are grown for their pretty clusters of flowers, which come in an array of colors during the spring and summer. Some of the smaller kinds are great for the rock garden and some in the flower border. A. Rosenbachianum is one of the prettiest grown for its flowers. It produces rose-purple flowers on 2½- to 3-foot stems in July. A. albo-pilosum grows 2 feet high and bears silvery lilac flowers in June. The following are descriptions of the varieties used as vegetables:
Chives & Garlic Chives (A. Schoenoprasum & A. tuberosum, respectively) -
Chives are found wild in Europe and Asia and the variety, sibiricum, in North America. They grow in close tufts consisting of slender, hollow, blue-green leaves. The flower stems are just taller than the foliage and they are topped with round heads of pale purple flowers in the summer. The young, tender leaves are used as a mild substitute for the Onion, chopped for seasoning in salads and soups. Garlic Chive, also called Chinese Chive or Oriental Chive, grows up to 12 inches high and wide. It has flat leaves and greenish-white flowerheads on stalks up to 30 inches high. It makes a pretty border plant and its tender green leaves add a mild garlic flavor to foods.
Garlic (A. sativum) -
This plant has narrow foliage, 6-12 inches high, and is a native of southern Europe. All parts of this vegetable have a very strong taste and it is widely used for culinary purposes. The bulb is composed of 10 to 12 cloves encased by a thin, papery, white or pink skin. The most popular kind is the Common White Garlic; the skin is silvery white. The pink variety is earlier than the white and the red Garlic has larger and flatter cloves.
Leek (A. ampeloprasum) -
This vegetable is valuable in the fall and winter. It is very hardy and is recommended to those whose gardens are in cold climates or in exposed, cold locales. The Leek resembles large Scallions with flattened leaves. They are milder than Onions and are grown mainly for their long, thick, tender white stems.
Onion (A. cepa) -
The Onion is a hardy, biennial native of western Asia. There are many varieties, which vary considerably in shape, coloring and size. They are commonly raised every year from seeds, either sown outdoors or inside, but they are often grown from small bulbs called Onion sets. These are raised from seeds sown in the summer of the previous year and if cultivated properly, will form good-sized bulbs by the end of the season. Onions grown this way, however, aren't as good as those from first-year seedling plants and they don't keep as well. Onion sets are great for producing an early crop of Scallions. (These are young Onions that haven't developed a bulb yet, though the base may be swollen. Scallions are pulled and eaten in salads and as greens. The term is also given to young Shallots and Leeks.) There are other types of Onion that are sometimes grown in gardens. One is the Potato Onion, which forms single bulbs or a cluster of bulbs beneath the soil. The Top, Tree or Egyptian Onion is interesting in that it produces small bulbs at the tops of stems above the ground. The bulbs of these are usually used for pickling. Another kind is the Welsh or Perennial Onion; it doesn't produce true bulbs, but instead is cultivated for the use of its stems and leaves, which are mainly used for flavoring.
Ramp (A. tricoccum)
- This plant is also called Wild Leek. This hardy, woodland perennial is found wild in eastern North America. Ramp is distinguished from other wild onions by its offensively strong smell, like that of leeks but much more potent. It was once used to flavor the strong, gamy meats eaten on the frontier. Mature plants are 12 inches high and ordinarily have 2 long, wide, smooth leaves on petioles. After the leaves wither, the plants send up stems bearing round bunches of greenish-yellow flowers, which are followed by black seeds. Ramp spreads by underground rhizomes or seeds.
Shallot (A. ascalonicum) -
The Shallot is a useful winter vegetable that is easily grown. The bulbs are mainly used for pickling. Each Shallot bulb produces a cluster of 6 or more bulbs. When the Shallots are lifted, the bulbs are separated before being stored. A sufficient number should be saved for replanting the next year. The ordinary Shallot is suitable for general purposes. Those who desire to grow large Shallots should choose the Giant or Russian variety.
The flowering varieties will grow easily in regular garden soil and are great for planting in the wild garden. The bulbs can be set out in the fall or early spring in a sunny area. Cover them with about 3 inches of soil, though the smaller ones shouldn't be set any deeper than 2 inches. They may be left undisturbed for several years until they become too crowded. They may then be lifted, separated and replanted as soon as the leaves wither.
They will grow in any garden soil. In March, they should be planted, 6 to 9 inches apart. The clumps should be cut with a sharp knife often, even if they aren't wanted for use, in order to maintain a regular supply of fresh, young leaves. Plants can be dug up in the fall and potted in a greenhouse or window garden to supply leaves during the winter. Every 3 or 4 years the clumps should be lifted in the spring and pulled apart. The divided parts may be replanted as separate plants. Begin harvesting Chives in the spring when the first flower buds appear. Shearing at this time will prevent blooming and the subsequent drain of energy on the plant. Make additional cuttings during the summer, but stop harvesting in the winter. Chives lose their flavor when dried, so they are usually frozen and reconstituted for use in cooking. Their flavor is milder than that of green onions. The flower clusters are edible when young, before seeds grow. Cut the young flowering stems and hang them upside down to dry. For dried arrangements, hang flowers in a dark, airy room so they will keep their color. To harvest Garlic Chive, cut off clumps of young leaves at ground level. Chop and freeze the tender shoots for winter use. Stop harvesting in early fall to avoid weakening the plants. Use dried stalks in winter arrangements.
Cloves should be planted in drills, 2 to 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart, in well drained soil in full sun. Mid-spring is the best time for planting, except in the South and warm West, where late summer is better. Most bulbs will survive over winter except in very cold climates. The following summer, stop watering when the leaves turn yellow and break tops over at the base to speed up drying. After 2 to 3 weeks, when broken tops are brown and dry, carefully lift the bulbs and sun-dry them for a few days. The plants can then be plaited into garlic chains or the tops cut off and the bulbs stored in a dark area. Small cloves grow into unsegmented "rounds"; these can be replanted to grow into larger bulbs with the usual count of 7 to 10 cloves.
A supply of Leeks for ordinary kitchen use can be grown with little trouble. They need deeply dug soil improved with manure or rich compost. They're usually planted in holes about 6 inches deep made with a dibbler. The Leek plant is set with its roots at the bottom of the hole and water is then poured in. This will wash in enough soil to anchor the roots; it's unnecessary to fill the hole with soil. When Leeks are grown to produce blanched stems of moderate length, they should be set 6 inches apart; further, will be necessary if blanched stems greater than 6 or 8 inches are needed. As they grow, push soil up around the stems; this will blanch them white. Since the Leek is hardy, it may be left in the ground to be dug up as desired for use, but in late winter, it is wise to lift the Leeks that remain and heel them in a shady east- or north-facing border to delay their going to seed. They may also be planted closely together in a root cellar. Another good reason for cultivating the Leek is that it resists pests and diseases. It is less trouble than most vegetables if care is taken to prepare the ground correctly and to plant the seedlings in their final positions early in the summer as possible. Failure at producing good Leeks is usually because they were sown too late and planted on poor land. If temperatures threaten to fall below 10 degrees, mulch with pine needles or straw.
Onion - Started outside -
When the seedlings that have been growing outdoors have been thinned to eight plants per foot, applications of nitrate of soda or commercial fertilizer at ½ oz. per yard of row during the growing season, once in a while, is advantageous. Onions need little attention throughout the summer, except to keep the rows free of weeds. Dilute liquid fertilizer should be given weekly when the bulbs are developing. Take care to guard against thrips and other pests. In August, when they are almost finished growing, it is smart to draw the soil away to expose them to air and sun as much as possible to aid in their ripening. When the leaves begin to yellow, they should be pushed over with the back of a rake to hasten drying. When the leaves have died, the bulbs are loosened with a spading fork and left to dry a few days in the field. They are then braided and hung in a chain, or the tops are cut off and the bulbs are stored in a mesh bag in a dry, dark place. Medium-sized, firm Onions with many layers of dry scales, but no thick neck, store best. The large, sweet slicing varieties aren't good for storing long. Started inside -
When Onions that have been started inside are ready to be planted outdoors, take care not to plant them too deeply or else thick-necked Onions will result. The plants should be set so that the small bulbs are on the surface or are only partially covered; just deep enough to hold them upright. Onions need light and air to ensure proper development and to provide bulbs that keep well when stored. If the soil is loosened around the bulbs (from hoeing too closely), they may get covered up.
- They should be planted in rich, humus soil and light shade. Saturate the soil once in a while during dry periods. In a good location, Ramp will spread, but not aggressively. Ramp forms thin underground stems resembling scallions. Pull these loose from the rhizomes and throw out the leaves and outer skin sheathing the stem. You won't be left with much, but a little goes a long way. Use sparingly to flavor meats or greens.
This vegetable grows best on deeply cultivated, moderately rich soil. After the ground has been prepared, the bulbs are pressed into the soil until they're covered about half way. They should be 6 inches apart in rows 10 to 12 inches apart. They should be planted as early in the spring as possible. Hoe them often throughout the summer to get rid of weeds and keep the soil "fine"; this prevents moisture from evaporating. When the leaves turn brown and have almost died down, they are lifted and set out to dry for a few days. The dead leaves and soil are removed and they're stored until needed. They will stay good in a cool shed or room. They are not stored in sand, soil or any other material.
Divide the clumps.
Separate the bulbs and plant individually.
In climates with harsh winters, start seeds early indoors in late winter and transplant the pencil-sized Leeks to the garden when it is safe. Where winters are mild, sow seeds directly outdoors on a small bed raked finely. They should be set in drills, ½-inch deep and 8 inches apart. When the seedlings have sprouted, the ground should be hoed often to keep down the weeds. The plants should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart when they're large enough to handle.
Onion - Starting outside -
Large Onions can only be grown on deeply dug and manured soil in a sunny position. Dig or plow the soil and add liberal amounts of compost or animal manure. This preparation should be done in the fall and the surface left rough to allow full exposure to frost, wind and snow; this is beneficial to the garden ground. In early spring, wood ash and 3 oz. of good fertilizer per square yard should be scattered on the surface. These should be forked in, 9 inches deep. Firm the seedbed by treading it when sufficiently dry. All lumps and stones must be raked out to provide a fine surface to sow on. If the soil is light, it would be beneficial to roll the bed. Onions can be grown from seeds sown outdoors in drills ½-inch or so deep and a foot apart. Sprinkle them thinly, cover them and firm the soil. Finish off with a light raking. The best time to plant the seeds is in early spring as soon as the soil is dry enough to work with. It is very important to have fine soil and a firm surface. As soon as the seedlings have sprouted, the weeds must be kept down in between the rows by hoeing. Don't go so close to the seedlings that you loosen the soil around them. Weeds that come up among the plants should be pulled by hand very carefully. When they're a few inches high, they need to be thinned. Those being pulled out must be pulled out carefully, so those that remain are not disturbed. At the following thinnings, the seedlings that are pulled up will be large enough to be used as Scallions. Thinning should be continued until the Onions average about eight per foot of each row. Starting inside -
When Onions are grown for exhibition, seeds are sown in late January or early February in a sunny greenhouse. A 60-degree temperature should be maintained. When the seedlings are an inch or so high, they need a temperature of 50 degrees. They should be repotted individually in 3-inch pots for best results. Usually, they're transplanted to flats 4 to 5 inches deep, filled with loamy soil that has had a bit of leaf mold, decayed manure and sand mixed in. They are set 2 inches apart, but don't cover up the tiny bulb. Only moisten the soil when it is fairly dry. When danger from frost has passed and they've formed a good supply of roots, they may be planted outdoors, 6 inches apart. Onions raised this way will most likely develop great for exhibition, but they usually don't keep well in storage. Starting outdoors in August -
This is another way to raise Onions in areas with mild winters. The seedlings aren't disturbed except to thin out slightly if they're overcrowded. The following March or April they are set out in a bed of rich soil prepared as advised previously. Those not needed for planting may be used as Scallions. Pickling onions -
These may be sown thickly on poor soil in April or May. The soil needs little cultivation, but it should be dug over and firmly treaded or rolled. The seeds may be sown broadcast or in drills about 8 inches apart. Sowing in drills is the best way, because it enables hoeing to be done conveniently and weeds to be kept down. Onion sets -
The sets should be spaced about 4 inches apart in rows10 inches apart. Simply press them into the soil; don't cover them. The only attention needed during the summer is to hoe the rows often, but not close to the bulbs. The Top, Tree or Egyptian Onion -
These are planted 5 to 6 inches apart in rows 10 inches apart. During the summer, keep the rows free of weeds. They need open, sunny spots; they won't thrive in shady places. Full-sized bulbs must be planted to produce clusters of bulbs at their tops. Small bulbs won't yield a crop the first season. Welsh or perennial Onions -
This is increased by division; the clumps are split into small clusters and planted, 6 inches apart, in early spring.
- Order seeds or plants from wildflower specialists. In early spring, plant seedlings or rhizome pieces.
The bulbs are separated and replanted.
Grown for their flowers
|Chives - A. Schoenoprasum
A. senescens glaucum;
A. sativum (White, Pink or Red varieties).
A. Cepa. Some varieties are: Ebenezer, Early Yellow Globe, Southport Red Globe, Southport White Globe, Southport Yellow Globe, Sweet Spanish, White Portugal or Silverskin, White Sweet Spanish and Yellow Globe Danvers. The Potato Onion or Underground Onion, the Top, Tree or Egyptian Onion and the Welsh or Perennial Onion.
A. ascalonicum. There is the Giant or Russian variety.
German White Stiffneck Garlic