Tuesday, November 2, 2010

article from my old St. Pete Times column, 2005, applicable to other very mild climate regions

Garlic leaves: use like chives

Chinese Chives (Allium tuberosum)

The sensuous warm flavor and aroma of garlic, onions, shallots and other savory members of the Allium family make me one of many who can’t cook a meal without them. Plus medical research has proved the old lores that those sulfur-rich tasty herbs can lower cholesterol and combat bad microbes. And the next 6 or 7 months of cooler weather in central Florida make growing them a breeze if we but improve the soil.

All the Alliums love rich, humusy, pH neutral soil in full sun. Before planting, spread a 3 inch thick layer of organic matter like horse stall sweepings, compost, old leaves, bagged humus, or alfalfa pellets from a feed store, plus a generous sprinkling of cheap clay cat litter will trap moisture and provide the clay Alliums love. If your inland soil is very acid as is so often the case, apply a liberal sprinkling of dolomite annually about as heavy as parmesan cheese on spaghetti. Alkaline coastal soils can be acidified with a heavier quarterly sprinkling of cottonseed meal from a feed store….sprinkle it right along with the organic matter. Getting your soil’s pH (acidity vs. alkalinity) tested by your local extension service will confirm which is the best course of action. It sounds wacky, but adding to that organic matter and cat litter a 50 lb. bag of cheap dry dog food nuggets over a 10 foot by 10 foot garden before turning the soil will feed the earthworms wonderfully who will in turn nourish your garden. A 4 inch thick layer of mulch, like coastal hay or tree trimmings mulch will do wonders to keep the soil moist and cool but not inhibit the emergence of the bulbs’ foliage. Let all this "ripen" for two weeks then plant away.

Scallions are simply the tasty results of planting ordinary onion sets "too deeply" and harvesting them "too soon"… let them mature a few months more and you’ll have regular onions.
Want "nouveau" scallions that will delight dinner guests? Just plant deeply (about 6 inches) in that improved soil either red Bermuda onion sets, some shallots from the grocery store, an ordinary bulb of garlic broken up into cloves, or even yellow onion sets for unexpected color and rich flavor. Pull them up when about as thick as your index finger for a break from ordinary store bought white scallions. Use their leaves as you would chives and enjoy the subtle differences of their "bouquets" in salads, simple broths, rich casseroles or that occasional impetuous gravy or omelet. ( Friends visiting my winter garden always marvel at their first taste of raw garlic leaves nibbled right there in the garden.)

Experienced gardeners might try growing Leeks and Chinese Chives from seeds planted in shallow 1 inch deep furrows. A little slow, they are worth the wait. When your alliums’ emerald spiky leaves are 8 inches tall, feed the soil again with a sprinkling of ‘menhaden fish meal’ from a feed store or a good drench of ‘fish emulsion’ solution at 3 tablespoons of it per gallon of water. A deep weekly soak will meet their needs and conserve precious water.

Life’s most reliable and memorable joys are the simplest ones, so indulge yourself this winter with a bumper crop of tongue teasing Alliums.


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