Vegetables

Asparagus:

Plant 2-3" deep and 15-18" apart showing care to keep eyes or crown pointing upward. Prefers a light loam soil.

Garlic:

WHEN TO PLANT: Garlic survives bitterly cold winters underground (or grows frost-hardy leaves where winters are mild to moderate), grows rapidly when the weather warms in spring, and bulbs in summer.

SOIL PREPARATION: Garlic needs fertile soil with lots of organic matter so the soil remains uncompacted through the long growing season. Growers with clayey soils should add a lot of compost before planting; those blessed with lighter soils having naturally loose texture need add only small amounts of organic matter, or grow and till in green manures prior to planting.

HOW TO PLANT: Break the bulb into individual cloves. Small cloves usually grow small bulbs, so plant only the larger ones. Use the small cloves in your kitchen. Where winter is mild, plant cloves 1 inch deep, root side down; where winter is severe, put them 2-4 inches deep and mulch lightly, immediately after planting. In spring, the garlic will have no trouble pushing through an inch of mulch. Minimum spacing on raised beds is 4x8 inches. To grow the largest bulbs, try spacing your plants 6x12 inches.

GROWING: After garlic has overwintered it must be kept well weeded. Do not damage the shallow roots when cultivating. Garlic needs to be moderately fertilized as soon as it begins growing in spring. Organic gardeners can side-dress a little chicken manure, seedmeal or strong compost. Garlic also likes high-nitrogen foliar fertilizer, sprayed every ten days to two weeks. Once bulbing begins, fertilizing is useless, maybe even harmful to getting the best quality bulbs. While the plant is rapidly growing, keep the soil moist as you would for any other leafy green like lettuce or spinach.

SEED STALKS: Hard-neck varieties put up a tall, woody flowering stalk that usually grows bulblets at the top. But if the plant is allowed to put its energy into these seeds, the bulb forming below the ground will end up smaller. So we cut seed stalks off as soon as the flower head has reached 8-9 inches tall.

HARVEST: Gauging the right time to harvest is very important. Dug too soon, the skins won’t have formed around each clove. Hard-neck bulbs, if dug too late, may have begun to spread apart in the soil. Each year the timing is a little different so rather than watch the calendar, we observe the plants. As the bulbs mature the leaves brown off. When there are still 5-6 green leaves remaining on the plant, we dig and examine a plant every few days to check the bulb. (Incidentally, immature bulbs that haven’t fully developed skins around their cloves can be chopped up like onions and make delicious additions to cooking.) In very good garlic ground (very fluffy soil) the plants might be pulled by hand, but it is usually better to loosen the soil first with a spading fork. Immediately brush off the soil from around the roots, but do this gently. Drying is the essential part of curing the bulbs so do not wash them in water. Immediately move the newly dug garlic out of direct sunlight.

CURING: Some growers tie the plants by their leaves or stalks in loose bundles of 8-12 plants and hang them under cover. Others spread the plants in single layers on screens, drying racks, or slatted shelves. Garlic stores longer if its is cured with its stalk or leaves attached. Good air circulation is absolutely essential. The plants should cure from 3 weeks to 2 months, depending on the humidity and amount of air circulation. Some growers use a fan in the curing shed. After curing, you may trim the roots. If the garlic is to be kept in sacks, cut the stalks off 1/2-inch above the bulb and gently clean the bulbs with a soft bristle brush, taking care not to strip off the papery skin.

STORING: Hang bulbs in netted sacks, with good air circulation on all sides. Or, hang the dried bunches, or make and hang braids of the soft-neck types. Perfect storage conditions are 45-55°F. at 50% Relative Humidity. Storage below 40°F. actually makes garlic sprout.

Elephant Garlic:

Allium ampeloprasum. Elephant Garlic is not a true garlic at all, but an enormous bulbing leek. But, it is grown like garlic, though with minor differences.

PLANTING: The enormous cloves should be planted deeper, 4-6 inches deep. The huge leafy plants may become 3 feet tall. So we recommend spacing Elephant Garlic 12 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart.

Elephant Garlic is quite cold hardy. Occasion-ally a fall-planted clove (usually a smaller one) fails to divide into segments and instead, forms a single "round," like a small onion. Rounds can be replanted whole and will make a very large regular bulb the next year.

At harvest time you’ll notice corms protruding from the base of the bulb. These are small, nut-like cloves with sharp tips and thick, tough skins. Corms may be planted like regular cloves if first scored and then soaked overnight in water. Plants grown from corms will be much smaller than those started from cloves and will not produce giant, segmented bulbs the first year, but will make only rounds. These rounds are delicious and can be cooked like huge pearl onions. Or rounds may be replanted to grow a second time, and the next year they’ll make a regular head containing 4-6 huge cloves. Elephant Garlic that is planted late in the spring will only produce rounds. Unlike true garlic, Elephant Garlic makes a large, showy flower on a stalk that grows 5 feet high. The seeds within it are rarely fertile. These flower stalks divert some of the plant’s energy and should be clipped off when they are 8-9 inches tall. Two pound plants 7-10 row feet.

Horseradish:

Will grow in a variety of soils. Plant roots with top 3-5 inches below surface and 10-18 inches apart in a row.

Onion Transplants:

How to Grow Bulb Onions from transplants

VARIETY AND ZONE: There are three essential facts to keep in mind about growing bulbing onions. FIRST: the bulb will be no bigger than the top. SECOND: the top completely stops growing when the bulb begins forming. So grow as big a top as you can as fast as you can. THIRD: grow a variety adapted to your zone. Change of day-length is what instructs or triggers the plant to change from growing top to making bulb while the lengths of day and night differ from North to South.

SHORT DAY ONIONS: Bulb formation with these varieties is triggered during the period of increasing day-length, such as we have during spring. Because days are still short at that time of year we call these "short day" onions even though they bulb when days are getting longer. Short Day varieties are grown commercially in the South where winters are mild enough to allow the plants to be directly seeded in fall. By spring when bulbing initiates, these overwintered onions have already produced large enough tops to make substantial. Short Day varieties make the large, sweet onion that appear in our supermarkets from late April through midsummer. Short Day varieties must be grown in the South or they will stop growing tops and begin bulbing before summer.

INTERMEDIATE DAY VARIETIES: Planted very early in spring and are adapted to day-lengths found in the intermediate Zones where the growing season is long and maximum day-lengths don't get as extreme as they do in the North. Also, in most regions of the North, spring is too chilly and comes too late for Intermediate Day varieties to achieve enough size before they bulb. Unless of course you start in the North in spring with big transplants grown in the South - like the ones we sell.

LONG DAY VARIETIES: Bred to grow in the North. These grow tops while the days are very long and begin bulbing only after day-lengths have decreased from their maximum on June 21st to about 14-15 hours. In the North, this happens from late July through early August. This timing works out so that the tops go down and the bulbs dry out well before summer is over. Long Day varieties do very poorly in the South, where the longest day on June 21st may not exceed 14 hours. They bulb way too soon, before they've achieved very much size at all.

SOIL PREPARATION: Onions demand light, loose soil and do their best in sandy loam. Amend heavier ground with compost or manure. This is usually best done the previous autumn. The important thing is to encourage them to grow tops as rapidly as possible. This means lots of fertilizer early on. Onions have coarse, small root systems. So place the fertilizer close to the plants and side-dress and/or foliar feed them. Once bulbing beings there is no point in fertilizing them anymore; the bulb's size is already determined by the size of the top.

PLANTING: Onion seeding are quite hardy and can withstand 20° F frost. They should be set out 4-6 weeks prior to the last expected spring frost. When your plants arrive they should appear to be quite dry. DO NOT WET THEM NOR STICK THEIR ROOTS IN WATER. Unpack them and store them in a cool, dry place until it is time to plant. They should last about 3 weeks kept this way. Do not worry that your plants seem dry. They will "shoot" new roots and new, green tops as soon as they are planted. Be sure to specify on your order when you want your plants to arrive.

WATERING: Onions have small, inefficient root system and need moist soil. Keep them constant ly well watered. But when the plants approach maturity their bulbs stop enlarging and begin to form skins. When this happens, withhold further irrigation and hope it does not rain much. Ideally, the bulbs will mature in very dry soil. This helps the skins to cure and makes your bulbs keep better.

HARVEST AND STORAGE: After most of the tops have "gone down," lift the bulbs. It may help to gently loosen them with a shovel first. Allow them to lie in the sun for a day or so, then cure and store them like garlic bulbs or shallots (see the growing directions for these vegetables).

Potato:

PREPARING THE SEED TO PLANT: Open all bags upon arrival and inspect the tubers. If you are unable to plant them immediately, the seed should be stored loosely in a cool, dark place. Humidity is necessary as the seed should not be allowed to dry out, consider putting the bags into a refrigerator (these dehydrate the potatoes), put bags we sent you into a doubled supermarket paper sack and seal it well. This will sufficiently slow down moisture loss while permitting the seed to breath adequately. We do not use chemicals to prevent our potatoes from sprouting. So the seed potatoes you order may have already begun to sprout when they arrive. This is okay-in fact some consider it desirable. Please handle them carefully. When examining them, chitting, cutting or planting, leave the sprouts on. If you break sprouts off you will delay emergence of the vines; and, you will greatly increase the number of vines that finally do emerge from each potato, greatly reducing the ultimate size of the potatoes you will harvest. All tubers the size of a hen's egg (1-3 ounces), may be planted whole. Ones this size are highly desirable. Professional potato growers call these "single drops." We try to manage our seed potato fields so as to produce as large a proportion of single drops as possible. Larger tubers give the grower a dilemma. As a general rule the larger the seed piece, the larger the crop both in terms of size of individual potatoes and overall yield. On the other hand, the larger the seed pieces used, the more seed it takes to plant a given area. At minimum, however, each piece should weigh at least 2-4 ounces and must contain two or more strong eyes. Most people cut up larger potatoes into pieces immediately before planting, using a clean, sharp knife. Seed may be allowed to "heal over" for a day prior to planting, but must not be allowed to dry out. Spread the cut pieces out on a table in the shade or one layer deep in shallow boxes. Do not put in direct sunlight; avoid shriveling the seed pieces, which will weaken them. Growers dust newly-cut pieces with fungicide to guard against scab or reduce the threat of infection by bacteria or fungus. Organic gardeners may use powdered sulfur, placing a teaspoonful or two in a large paper sack and gently tossing the cut potato pieces to cover them with sulfur dust.

SOIL PREPARATION: The ideal potato soil is deep, light and loose, a well-drained but moisture retentive loam. Most potato varieties are very aggressive rooting plants, and are able to take full advantage of such soil. In ideal soil potatoes can make incredible yields. Fortunately, the potato is also very adaptable and will usually produce quite respectably where soil conditions are less than perfect. Because of this, many people who grow their own food on marginal agricultural ground depend on the potato for their very survival. All soils, be they ideal of too heavy or too light, should be deeply fitted before planting by sub-soiling or double digging and by incorporating organic matter. Humus is important. It lightens and aerates heavy ground while it increases the moisture holding capacity of sandy earth. And humus adds the organic component of fertility that potatoes need to be truly healthy. Potatoes especially thrive one newly plowed pasture land, a circumstance a bit difficult for most vegetables because of the large number of weed seeds. The frequent hoeing used to hill the crop up keeps weeds under control while the high levels of organic matter from the rotting sod keeps the soil light and loose. Potatoes do best in soil with a pH ranging from 5.2-6.8. Alkaline soil will tend to make many varieties get scabby. Potatoes also respond to calcium, but newly-applied agricultural lime can induce scab so if lime is needed, far better if it was added the previous year. On soils already above 6.0 we recommend using a little gypsum to supply calcium while leaving the pH just about unchanged. Gypsum applied at 1 ton/acre (that's 5 pounds per 100 square feet) provides all needed calcium. As far as NPK goes, potatoes need well-balanced nutrition. Properly made compost at 5-10 tons per acre (25-50 pounds per 100 square feet) mainly dug into the rows below the seed is generally sufficient to produce a fine crop, while also supplying all the organic matter most soils need. If the compost is not "strong," we recommend supplementing it with fertilizer, but not too much. Potatoes given too much nitrogen grow lots of leafy vines but make few tubers. Too much potassium and your tubers may contain less protein. Organic gardeners may use any kind of seedmeal cottonseed, soy, linseed, canola, etc.), dug in with compost at a rate of about 1-2 gallons per 100 row feet. Alfalfa meal or chicken manure compost also works fine used at twice that rate.

CHITTING OR PRE-SPROUTING: The practice of greening and pre-sprouting seed potatoes before planting them out encourages early growth and hastens the development of marketable tubers. The method is simple: spread the seed tubers in open-top crates, boxes or flats, one layer deep with the "seed end" uppermost. (If you'll closely observe a seed potato, you'll notice that one end was attached to the plant, the other end has a larger number of eyes from which the sprouts emerge. This end with the eye cluster is called the seed end.) The flats are kept in a warm place (70 degrees F.) where light levels are medium in intensity (bright shade). The warmth stimulates the development of strong sprouts from the bud eye clusters, which in the presence of light, remain stubby and so are not easily broken off. Usually seed potatoes are greened up starting a week or tow before planting. Do not cut the seed before greening it up. It will dry out. Cut it just before planting.

PLANTING: Seed potatoes can rot without sprouting in cold, waterlogged soil, so planting extremely early can be risky. Optimum soil temperature for good growth ranges from 55 deg. F. to 70 deg. F. A small planting of the earliest early potatoes may be attempted by planting 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. If a late frost burns the vines back to ground level the tubers will make more sprouts, but each time this setback happens the final yield gets later and smaller. Your main crop should be sown so that there is virtually no risk of frost blackening the emerging vines. The width between rows and overall plant spacing is determined by the size of your garden, your method of cultivation and the amount of irrigation you have available (or wish to use). Farmers and market gardeners need 36-42 inches between rows to permit efficient cultivation and hilling. Gardeners can get by with as little as 2 feet between rows. Where water is short or irrigation will not be used and soil is open and loose so plants can take advantage of this much rooting space, row spacing can be increased to as much as 5 feet and the individual seed pieces separated as much as 18 inches apart, giving the plants a large area in which to forage for moisture. Of course, with wide spacing like this combined with the effects of moisture stress, yields will be lower. Whatever your row spacing, dig a shallow trench about 6-8 inches deep. Plant the seed pieces 10-14 inches apart in this trench. Using a rake, cover the seed with 3-4 inches of soil-do not fill the trench completely.

HILLING: Hilling is crucial to creating a place for potatoes to develop a large size and abundantly. Sprouts will emerge in about two weeks, depending on the soil temperature. When the stems are about 8 inches high, gently hill the vines up with soil scraped from both sides of the row with a hoe. Doing this simultaneously weeds the row. Leave about half of the vine exposed. Hilling puts the root system deeper where the soil is cooler while the just scraped-up soil creates a light fluffy medium for the tubers to develop into. All tubers will form between the seed piece and the surface of the soil. Another hilling will be needed in another 2-3 weeks and yet another as well, 2 weeks after the second. On subsequent hilling, add only an inch or two of soil to the hill, but make sure there is enough soil atop the forming potatoes that they don't push out of the hill and get exposed to light (or they'll turn green). But if you hill up too much soil, you'll cover too many leaves and reduce your final yield.

HARVESTING: Normally, seven or eight weeks after planting, the earliest varieties are blossoming. This signifies that early potatoes may be ready, so gently poke into a potato hill by hand to see what you can find while making as little disturbance as possible. You may either "rob" a few plants of a potato, or simply harvest an entire plant from the end of the row. "Rob" gently to avoid injuring growing roots and stressing the plant. The main crop. Later varieties are usually grown for winter storage. The ideal time to harvest is when the vines are dead. It is best to wait until heavy frosts kill the tops off or, if your tubers are fully-sized up but no frost is in sight, you can mow the tops or cut them off by hand with a sickle. But if you can wait for the tops to die back naturally, your harvest will be a little bigger and your potatoes just a tad richer. Dryish soil is definitely an advantage when harvesting; the tubers come up a lot cleaner and with much less effort. After the tops are dead, rest the tubers in the ground, undisturbed for two weeks to "cure," while the skins toughen up, protecting the tubers from scuffing and bruising during harvest and storage. Minor injuries in the skin may heal if allowed to dry. It is better to harvest in the cool morning hours. You want to chill your tubers down as fast as reasonably possible and if they start out cool it will be much easier. If hand digging, place your fork outside the hill at first and lift the hill from outside so as to avoid stabbing a potato. If the soil is wet, let them air-dry on the surface for a few hours before gathering them. If the weather is unsettled and you still must harvest, spread the potatoes out under cover and let them air-dry before storing. Then "field-grade" your harvest. Separate out and discard (or set aside to eat immediately) any blemished, scabby, misshapen, or injured tubers. Do not put cut or damaged tubers (those injured during harvest) into a sack of good ones; they will rot and rot other potatoes with them.

WATERING: In most parts of the United States, potatoes can be grown without irrigation if the soil is deep and open, where there is no hardpan that restricts root penetration, and the soil is not composed entirely of coarse sand or too gravelly. In fact, there are some definite nutritional and quality advantages to accepting the significantly lowered yield that happens when potatoes don't receive all the water they could use. Simply stated, un-irrigated potatoes are less watery and taste better. The skins are also tougher so the tubers store better. There is some evidence that potatoes grown this way have a higher protein content as well. However, if irrigation water is scarce or not available the potatoes must be given more "elbow room," so they can forage for their water without having to compete with other potato plants-and very importantly, the weeds must all be eliminated so they also don't compete for soil moisture.

FERTILIZING: After emergence and until blooming ends, we highly recommend foliar spraying every two weeks with fish emulsion and/or a good liquid seaweed extract like Maxi-crop. You can't beat foliar sprays for ease of application, and the plants really respond with a burst of vine growth that will result in a higher yield at the end. Spray in the morning while it's still cool and the dew lingers on the leaves. This way all the fertilizer is absorbed. The best time to make the first application is the day before you hill up the vines for the first time. Once the vines are in full bloom, they stop making much new vegetative growth and begin to form tubers. Additional fertilization at this stage is virtually pointless and may harm the flavor of the potato.

POTATO TROUBLES

AVOIDING PEST AND DISEASES: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Here are some tips to help you avoid the worst potato diseases and pests. Soil is everything! Build and maintain a healthy, well-balanced soil and your plants will naturally resist disease and damage from predatory insects. If you're uncertain as to how to do this, we sell a couple of fine books on the subject. Scab. Avoid un-composted animal manures, alkaline soil, and water-logging on potato ground to avoid scab. Where scab has been a problem, try acidifying your soil pH by incorporating small amounts of elemental sulfur into the rows several weeks before planting. Disease. Don't grow potatoes in the same ground more than once in three years. Many diseases, like early or late blight and verticulum wilt are soil borne. Insect pest populations can also accumulate in a spot. Other members of the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) should not precede nor follow potatoes.

INSECTS: The most basic rule: to avoid insect problems have vigorously growing, healthy vines. Plants putting on lots of leaf rapidly can generally withstand some predation without a significant loss of yield. We avoid planting too early when cold weather check growth. Leaf-eating insects can become a much more serous problem once vine growth has stopped and tubers are forming. The tubers store the food made by the leaves; if too many leaves are lost the tubers can't develop properly. The Colorado Potato Beetle is the most widespread and destructive potato pest. Both adults and larvae feed on leaves and stems, sometimes defoliating entire plants. Handpicking the beetles off the plants is fine control in a small garden, if you catch the problem early. Drop the beetles into a container and then smash them all at once. Check also for small yellow eggs, in clusters, on the undersides of leaves and crush these immediately. Beetle eggs over-winter in the soil, especially at the edges of the garden. Rotation of the farm potato crop is essential, but rotation in a backyard won't do much good for this mobile pest; you have to move the potato patch more than just a few feet. Bacillis thuringienses (Bt.) var. San Diego, is an effective botanical control, but unfortunately, only for the larvae. The adults are not harmed at all. Hours after the "worm" eats a bit of treated leaf, it becomes so sick it can't eat again and dies within a day or two. Then the bacteria multiply within the larvae's decomposing body and are later released into the environmental background to kill still other beetle larvae. Even growers with small gardens should consider Bt. because this bacteria, once established, persists in the area for years and continues to significantly reduce the number of those insects who succumb to it. And if Bt. is sprayed frequently it can virtually eliminate the problem. Start with spraying as soon as there is anything in the garden for the beetles to eat and spray every 10 days to two weeks. That way no larvae get a chance to become adults and your problem may "peter out" before the potato vines are significantly damaged. Bt. is a bacteria not significantly different than the ones that make yogurt. Bt. is entirely nontoxic to humans and other animals and harmless to most insects as well; you can immediately eat food sprayed with it. If adult beetles are causing too much trouble, Bt. will not help until the next cycle has come around. For adults, the organic gardener can use 5% Rotenone dust or a Pyrethrin spray. Flea beetles can also make so many pinholes in leaves that the overall yield suffers greatly. The health of the vines has a great deal to do with how much interest flea beetles have in a plant. So the best prevention is total soil fertility. Sometimes spraying fertilizer like fish emulsion and/or liquid seaweed can lessen the interest flea beetles may have in a potato patch. Rotenone and/or Pyrethrin controls flea beetles, too. If you are having flea beetle problems, you should consider improving your soil's fertility next year.

ALTERNATIVE PLANTING METHODS

MULCHING: If your soil is shallow, rocky or contains so much clay that the forming tubers can't push it aside as they try to swell up, or, if you grow potatoes where the summer's heat is intense, or if you have problems with potato scab in your soil, growing in mulch may be your solution. Prepare your seed bed as deeply as possible and make it fertile, just as you would for growing the potatoes in soil. But instead of making a trench for the seed pieces, plant them on the surface of just below it. Loosely shake mulch over the bed, 6-10 inches deep. The very best mulch to use is loose, seed-free grain straw, Seed-free hay that has been fluffed up, leaves and/or well-dried grass clippings can also be used. As the plants grow, continue to add more loose mulch as though you were hilling up the plants. Be sure to keep the tubers well-covered at all times. The result is excellent weed control, a continuous supply of moisture and reduced stress from heat. At harvest time, pull back the mulch. Your nest of potatoes should be clean, uniform and easy to gather.

THE CAGE METHOD: Grow a few potato plants, each or in their own wooden box, crib, barrel or wire cage. The container should be about 18x18 inches at the base, about 24-30 inches tall, and able to be gradually filled with soft soil or mulch as the vines grow. Set each container atop a well-prepared fertile soil. Plant one strong seed piece and cover lightly with 4 inches of soil. As the vines grow, gradually fill the container with mellow compost, mulch or soil, but always make sure you don't cover more than one-third of the vine's new growth. With some varieties, the underground stolons which produce potato tubers keep on forming new ones for some time. In containers the yield may be increased 200-3000 percent compared with open-field culture. This is a great way to grow a lot of potatoes in a very limited space. We recommend doing this with Yellow Finn, Indian Pit, Red Pontiac, or the fingerling types. Watering requirements will be greater however, so check the cages or containers frequently in warm weather.

STORAGE: Potatoes keep best in the dark at 36 deg. to 40 deg. F., at high enough humidity that they don't dry out, and given enough air circulation that they can respire (don't forget, they're alive). Light and/or warmth promote sprouting and will also turn the potatoes green. But, cold potatoes bruise easily, so handle them gently when moving them around in storage. We recommend burlap sacks, slotted crates or baskets.

SOUTHERN GROWN POTATOES

Early Spring Planting: Spring comes to the Deep South (Zones 8, 9, 10) when it is frequently too stormy in the North to ship your seeds without a high likelihood of them freezing in transit. To get seed potatoes securely you should order in October or November. Store the seed in your refrigerator (there are instructions on the preceding pages) until mid-January. Then bring the seed potatoes into the warmth and light and pre-sprout (chit) them for 2-4 weeks. Plant when conditions are favorable, sometime in February to early March, depending on your location. If you are uncertain when to plant or which varieties grow best at this time of year, ask a neighbor, the Extension Service.

Fall-Planted Potatoes: In zones 8-10, over wintering gets the earliest of the earlies. And if you have an extra old refrigerator, you can fill it up after harvest and hold your harvest through the summer until the fall crop. Here's what to do. Order some seed now for delivery next September. These newly dug seed potatoes don't sprout easily. First, chill them; put the tubers in a paper bag and place it in the refrigerator for 2-4 weeks. Then follow the directions for "greening" or "chitting" them. They will probably sprout in 2-4 weeks. Another way to induce sprouting is by putting apples, bananas, or onions in a paper bag with the tubers and placing the bag in a warm room (70 degrees F.). Ethylene gas given off from the fruits will initiate sprouting. Potatoes that are chilled for a month to six weeks will respond much more rapidly. You can also treat with Gerablic Acid. Plant your just sprouting potatoes from October through November. Choose a site that allows good drainage where winter rains may be heavy. By January, your potatoes could be emerging. By March, the vines may be two feet tall! Of course, weather will greatly effect emergence and growth. Be sure to provide protection from frost when it threatens. Dig new potatoes after blossoming. Harvest the rest when the vines have browned off. Save some seed in your refrigerator for a late-summer planting and fall harvest.

Shallots:

Allium ascalonicum. Shallots, multiplier onions and potato onions are closely related members of the same family. As in any family, the individuals possess different qualities but are grown much the same.

WHEN TO PLANT: It is always best to plant in the fall because fall-plantings yield twice as much. Protected by a good mulch and snow cover, these onions, have survived minus 25°F. However, if your winters are unusually severe, you might test-plant a few in fall the first time you grow them and save the rest to plant in spring. The exact time to plant must be learned by experience. What you want is for the bulbs to establish a strong root system, but not to make much, if any, tender top growth before the ground freezes. Normally, planting 4-6 weeks before hard winter comes is about right. The top growth may appear, make a few inches of growth and die back during winter, but if the bulb hasn’t had its food reserves sucked down too hard by making leaves in fall, it will still retain enough vigor to burst into rapid growth as soon as the soil warms up.

SOIL PREPARATION: All members of the onion family grow best in light loam that is rich in organic matter and plant nutrients. Large bulbing onions are especially fussy in this regard and rarely do well when grown under less than ideal conditions. The smaller onions like shallots, multipliers and potato onions yield reasonably well under many conditions, just so long as the soil is well-fertilized, well-drained and kept moist. However, waterlogged soil will make the bulbs rot or adversely effect their appearance and quality. In infertile soil the bulbs will be very small.

HOW TO PLANT: Space shallots and multiplier onions 4-6 inches apart, the rows 18 inches apart. Potato onions are larger. Space them 8-10 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Plant the bulb root side down, the top of the bulb 1 inch below the surface. Planting too deep grows elongated bulbs that don’t store well.

GROWING: If you want really large bulbs, side dress the plants when growth resumes in spring. Organic gardeners can use chicken manure or any kind of seedmeal (cottonseed meal, canola meal, linseed, soybean, etc.) at a rate of about 1/2 to 1 gallon per 50 row feet. When the bulbing begins, any mulch or soil covering the bulbs should be pulled back so the bulbs form on the surface of the soil and dry down.

HARVEST: The tops of these species often make very tasty scallions, especially potato onions. However, if you snip off too many sprouts, there will be fewer and smaller bulbs. It is important that the bulbs form tough protective skins. To accomplish this the plants must mature in dry soil. So as the bulbs are forming you should stop watering them. The time to harvest is when most of the tops have browned off and fallen over. Loosen the soil first with a spading fork and then gently lift the bulbs. Their skins have not hardened yet so it is important to avoid bruising or tearing the skin. The bulbs, with their tops still attached. should be air-dried for 2-3 weeks until the tops have completely shriveled. Then cut the tops off with sharp scissors or pruning shears about 1 inch above the bulb, spread the bulbs out on wire racks in the shade (in a garage) to cure for 2-3 months. By then it will be time to replant or store them for the winter (those you haven’t eaten yet).

STORAGE: Like all onion bulbs, shallots, multiplier onions and potato onions need cool, dry storage with lots of air circulation. They are best hung in mesh sacks at a temperature of about 40°F., but they will keep quite well at 50°F. if they have been properly cured and are not tightly packed.

Rhubarb:

Plant in heavier soil. Plant roots 40 inches apart with top 3 inches under the soil.


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