Saturday, September 26, 2015

Allium Harvest 2015

It was a mixed year in my garden for onions and garlic. One thing new this year was I ordered some of the onion plants from Dixondale Farms, rather than starting them myself from seed. Good thing, given my success starting the shallots from seed last spring. The lack of successful plants led to the small shallot count this year. The other factor was the weather. It was a hot (but not damn hot) and very dry summer. We have gone for 6 week stretches with hardly measurable rain. This is New England, not southern California or the high dessert. But the humidity was sky high, which caused problems with fungus in  the garden and when it came time to dry the harvest. Given the conditions I had a good harvest and am mostly satisfied with the results.


Storage Onions


Total Wt.

No. Bulbs

Avg. Wt.


Ambition Shallots

37 oz.


1.85 oz.

3.2 oz.


200 oz.


3.7 oz.

6 oz.

Red Zeppelin

76 oz.


3.125 oz.

4.7 oz.





This year I grew Ambition seed shallots because my favorite, Saffron, has apparently been discontinued. In looking for an alternative, I chose Ambition because I did not want a huge shallot, but one with long storage potential. I still have a few small Saffron shallots I found cleaning out the storage bin and they are still hard. Ambition did OK. The plants were slow in getting established and growing but towards the end of the growing season they put on a lot of foliage and sized up nicely. Too bad I only got twenty but I will enjoy them this winter.


Last year the Saffron shallots produced 37 bulbs weighing 45 ounces, averaging 1.2 ounces per bulb with largest being 2.5 ounces.




The Copra onions grown from Dixondale starts were quite successful, over 12 pounds from 10 square feet. The plants were healthy (almost no thrip or fungus damage) and most bulbs are perfect. I am very happy with them. Last year I grew Patterson from seed and harvested a little over 4 pounds from 6 squares, so big improvement this year.




The Red Zeppelin onions were less successful. The bundle of plants from Dixondale contained half very large plants and the rest tiny, spindly plants. That was OK because I allocated less space to the red onions (I use fewer). Unfortunately, a lot of the large starts failed to break dormancy and just rotted, reducing the yield. These onions later were somewhat afflicted by onion thrips and I failed to spray. At least no purple blotch appeared this year. Last year I grew Red Wing and 5 squares yielded only 20 onions weighing 58 ounces.




Unfortunately, a lot of the Zeps looked like this. I had some of this last year with the Red Wing onions, but not nearly as bad so I did not worry about it.



You can see some lesions and the outer layers of the onion have split. I have no idea what causes this.  I find nothing similar in any of the onion pest and disease guides. Any ideas?


Other Onions

 The trouble with ordering from Dixondale is the more you buy, the cheaper (per bundle) it gets. So I wound up with 4 bundles of onions containing 6 different varieties of onions.




The past couple of years I have started some Rossa Lunga di Tropea onions from seed. I usually tuck them here and there in odd corners and just pull them when I want a fresh onion. I was surprised that Dixondale offered them, so I added a bundle to the order. Of course I wound up with far more plants than I usually use, so I allocated 6 square feet to them and wound up with this nice pile. They are not great keepers, so this pile is where I am going right now for onions.




The other bundle I purchased was a mixed bundle of three different intermediate day onions: Candy, Red Candy, and Super Star. I pulled a number of them as they formed bulbs, so this pile does not represent the total harvest. The Red Candy were the best performers, forming nice attractive bulbs with no disease issues. The bundle contained few of the yellow-skinned Candy onions and they did not grow well at all. The third onion was Super Star (actually half of them were leek plants) and they seemed to do well. Unfortunately, they did not dry well and I tossed most of them because they had stem rot. The two white onions above are the only survivors from the harvest. I did not bother to weigh these onions. The only onion I would consider growing again is the Red Candy.




  Total Wt. No. Bulbs Avg. Wt. Largest Bulb
Duganski 26 ox. 16 1.6 oz. 2 oz.
Chesnok Red 15 oz. 15 1 oz. 1.3 oz.
Spanish Roja 29 oz. 21 1.4 oz. 2.6 oz.
German X Hardy 20 oz. 17 1.2 oz. 1.8 oz.
German Red 35 oz. 16 2.8 oz. 4 oz.




German Extra Hardy is one of the first garlics I grew and is a reliable producer every year, although yield seems to be dropping. The first year I got 32 ounces from 4 squares, last year was 18 ounces, and this year I got 20 ounces. I selected some nice sized heads for seed garlic so hopefully next year is better.


This photo shows a trick I picked up from someone. While weighing the garlic I select the heads I am going to save for seed garlic for the fall. Those heads are labeled with a fine Sharpie to identify them and make sure they don’t get selected for dinner.




This is an example of what not to do with your garlic. The Spanish Roja, normally one of my best garlics, was in a separate bed from the rest and was not quite ready when I dug the other bed. Unfortunately, I forgot about them and harvested them too late. The result was a lot of the bulbs were opening up. In addition, they dried very poorly and as you can see, have a lot of mold I could not get off. I am going to break out a recipe like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic to use these up since they will not keep. In fact. some of the heads are already bad and had to be tossed.


Last year I harvested 33 bulbs from 6 squares weighing 48 ounces, largest one was 2 ounces. This year I got 21 bulbs weighing 29 ounces, with largest bulb at 2.6 ounces. Last year some of the bulbs also did not clean up well and looked a lot like the picture above, so it has a bit to do with the variety.




I like Chesnok Red but it is not performing well in my garden.. This year I got 15 bulbs weighing a grand total of 15 ounces from 4 squares planted 4 per square. Last year I harvested 27 ounces from 4 squares planted  4 per square, which was also down from the year before. I am thinking of replacing this garlic with a different variety next year. However, reading descriptions on some garlic farm websites, it seems Chesnok Red typically produces smaller heads, and they point out the smaller garlics keep better than the larger. Not sure what I will do.




Duganski is new this year, with seed garlic purchased from Territorial. I was not happy with the bulbs I got from Territorial because they were harvested late, just like my Spanish Roja above, and were coming apart. The cloves germinated just fine and I got a nice harvest, with bulbs being dug at the appropriate time. This was my second largest garlic, coming in behind German Red.


German Red garlic


The German Red garlic did really well. It had the tallest foliage with the thickest stems, which promised big bulbs. That is exactly what it produced, very large bulbs with 4, sometimes 5 cloves. The largest bulb weighed 4 ounces (1 ounce per clove) and the average weight was 2.4 ounces. This garlic was new to me this year. I purchased bulbs at the MDI Garlic Festival last September from Goosefoote Farm of Vermont. They had the same garlic this year and it seemed (eyeball test only) their heads were smaller than last year and smaller than my harvest this year.


I visited the Mount Desert Island Garlic Festival again this year and intended to look for a garlic to replace Chesnok Red. There are so many great varieties, so it is a tough decision. I decided to look for some Phillips (also spelled Philips) garlic and purchased some nice heads from Salty Dog Farm of Milbridge, Maine. Phillips is a Rocambole hard neck variety acquired from a farm in Phillips, Maine by the Scatterseed Project. The farm owner, Raymond Rowe, got his original seed stock from a man in Rome, New York whose parents brought it from Italy when they immigrated to work on the Erie Canal. Besides the local origins and nifty history, this garlic is also supposed to be hardy and a relatively long keeper among Rocamboles. We will see.


While looking for Maine-based sources of the Phillips garlic, I ran across the useful web site of True North Farms in Montville, Maine. They are a large organic garlic grower and can sell seed garlic in large quantities to other garlic growers. Their web site has a lot of useful information for both commercial growers and home gardeners. On the Background tab of their site they show their cultivation practices, which involves a 3-year crop rotation with an elaborate sequence of ground cover crops. The Planting tab has detailed instructions for home gardens (including raised beds) and their recommended process for commercial growers.


Their commercial process was interesting and I learned a few things. Besides their extensive sequence of cover crops, they use certain amendments when planting and during the growing season. These include fish emulsion, humic acid and some of the Quantum Growth products. These are initially applied as a drench and then are sprayed on bi-weekly. The Quantum Growth products supply microorganisms (Rhodopsuedomonas palustris) that are capable of photosyntheis as well as other bacteria (Bacillus amyloliquefacien, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus licheniformis, and Bacillus megaterium) that protect the plants from disease. In addition, they spray bi-weekly with Procidic, an organic bactericide and fungicide, something I need to start doing. At harvest, they spray an OMRI-approved sodium bicarbonate solution the day before they harvest to tamp down any mildew spores. Overall, an interesting process that might have some application to home gardens.


  1. I've been pretty boring with my garlic. I've grown German Extra Harder for years and now I have nothing else. It always does well, so I can't complain and I love the big cloves in the kitchen.

    1. Yes, it is a great garlic, but it is fun to try new varieties. If you want big cloves, try German Red.

  2. Your onions and garlic harvest looks great. That's so strange about the lesions on your Red Zeppelin onions; are the affected onions soft?

    I noticed Lexa from 4 Hills of Squash grows her garlic under tunnels covered in floating row covers. I'm going to have to grow my garlic in containers this year, but that would make it easier to cover them with agribon.

    1. The affected onions are not soft. You can cut or peel away the damage and the onion is fine. I'm not sure row cover would help this particular problem, but it might help with thrips.

  3. You have done so well with your onions and garlic this year! That's too bad about the Spanish Roja - I had the opposite issue last year when I harvested my garlic a bit too early and the skins were loose because the garlic was not completely filled out yet.

    My garlic is still curing in the garage - I usually just leave it hanging there until I have more time to deal with it in October. I'm actually still using last years garlic harvest so I don't have to dig into any of the current batch yet. I am looking forward to comparing this years performance with last, especially as I have several new varieties in the mix including Duganski.

    1. That's great you still have garlic from last year. Mine went soft long ago. Hope you like the Duganski.


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