Garlic and onion growing and harvesting advice
June 12, 2008 6:39 AM   Subscribe

I’m growing garlic and onions for the first time in my new home. Can I harvest the greens from these plants while they’re growing without harming the bulbs? I’m in a colder climate that is very hot in the summer – Winnipeg.

I planted the garlic bulbs this spring. I know that ideally one plants them in the fall, but I didn’t own the land then. My understanding is that I won’t get a lot of garlic out of it this year, but that if I leave it in the ground I will get tons next year. Of course, I’m reading conflicting information on this and am confused. I want to cook with the garlic greens as well – how can I go about this without stunting the growth of the garlic bulbs? I’ve got two types – one crappier type with many small cloves that I got from a garden center, and a couple of cloves of a fabulous garlic that I kept from the Farmer’s Market last year. This great garlic forms about 4 cloves per bulb, and they’re huge and flavourful.

Similarly, I’d like to cook with the greens from my onions – Spanish onions and red onions. Can I do this without hurting the bulbs?
posted by Jupiter Jones to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'm also growing cavalo nero (black tuscan kale), carrots, spinach, beets, peas, tomatoes, hot peppers, potatoes, and zucchini if anyone has any hints about any of those and harvesting too... do leaves grow back on spinach, kale or beets when they are harvested for a salad?
posted by Jupiter Jones at 6:44 AM on June 12, 2008

Best answer: I also put some garlic in the ground recently, and my research has lead me to believe you can trim the tops for eating as long as you leave most of it intact (75% was the number I saw). Also, I would not just leave the garlic in the ground through until next year - If it forms a head at all this year, you'll have a whole mess of small heads clustered together. If it never differentiates into cloves, however, you should have one big head out of it next year. But you can pull it out of the ground and plant it again in the fall either way. If you can resist eating it.
posted by mzurer at 6:49 AM on June 12, 2008

Just to answer the garlic/onion question: The more you cut the greens, the smaller the bulbs will be. So pick all your greens from just a few plants and let the rest mature unmolested.
posted by bricoleur at 6:50 AM on June 12, 2008

When I grow garlic and onions, I plant them too densely. Then, mid-season I thin the crop and get garlic sprouts and scallions.

Oh, and with both, if you trim the tops as they get older (which isn't the best for eating, but certainly edible, the bulb will continue grow larger, finally, towards the end of the season you let them flower and die back and harvest your big juicy bulbs.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:00 AM on June 12, 2008

Make sure you harvest your garlic scapes! This will actually improve head size, I believe.
posted by pullayup at 7:01 AM on June 12, 2008

Shoot, I missed your question about the kale! Kale (and other brassicas which are grown for their leaves, like collards) grow new leaves from the center, so just pick the older, larger outer leaves off. Some people allow the plant to reach a certain size and whack it off at the ground--don't do this! Kale will happily grow all summer, hang out in your garden looking like a stump over the winter, and then produce more leaves for you next spring before going to seed (it's a biennial), so eating it leaf-by-leaf is fine--those leaves just fall off after they get old anyway, so lop 'em off first. you may even get secondary sprouts from the leaf-scars: think of the brussels sprout growth pattern. Some people even encourage their cabbages to do this, producing something called a cabbage sprout, which kind of looks like a torpedo-shaped brussels sprout.

Beets and spinach are different--spinach will bolt (go to seed) at the first whiff of really hot weather, so eat the whole thing. Since your beet objective is a tasty root, don't mess with the greens too much until you harvest the beet, but certainly eat them then. If you like beet greens, consider chard, which can be harvested piecemeal, like kale.
posted by pullayup at 7:15 AM on June 12, 2008

I agree with everything pullayup said, except about harvesting beet greens while the roots are growing. I've been doing it all season -- doesn't affect the roots at all. Just leave enough leaves on the plant so that it can continue to photosynthesize.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:14 AM on June 12, 2008

I agree with mudpuppie, really--you should eat your beet leaves, I've just found that you don't want to strip the plants with the same enthusiasm that, say, you might approach your kale with. Also, bear in mind that HUGE beets are not your objective; they can get woody (depending on the variety) above three or four inches, so don't be shy about eating them as soon as they start to round up--that is, don't wait until they're all enormous adults and harvest them in one day, spread out the harvest. Baby beets are awesome!
posted by pullayup at 6:32 PM on June 12, 2008

Also, cripes, I keep thinking of stuff! Ok, remember how weird those beet seeds looked? There are really a bunch of seeds in each of those things, so you'll often get several beet plants growing all up in each others' shit. Thin these out (that is, eat them!) mercilessly! Crowded beets are runty beets.
posted by pullayup at 6:38 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you like cooking with garlic greens, go looking for wild garlic, if it grows in your part of the world - the leaves are delicious. We are lucky and have wild garlic growing in our garden, but it's everywhere right now (in Scotland) and very easy to find (follow your nose).
posted by primer_dimer at 4:07 AM on June 13, 2008

Definitely consider growing chard. When I lived where it actually got cold, I never picked it until after the first frost. It is sweeter that way. You can get the pretty multicoloured stem variety, and plant it as a combination ornamental and veg.
posted by QIbHom at 7:58 PM on June 13, 2008

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