onion and garlic newbie questions

prairie_love(z3/4 ND)January 4, 2007

Hi all,

I am sure my newbie questions have been asked before and I apologize for the repetition. I tried searching but couldn't find my exact questions very easily. So, here goes, some onion and garlic questions I hope you'll help me out with. And I apologize for the length of this post also, I have lots of questions.

First, I am located in North Dakota, zone 3-4, long summer days, cold winters. My vegetable garden is in full sun, good soil. Space is not an issue.

Onions first. Last year I grew onions for the first time. I bought some "sets" from the local nursery, I don't even know what variety they were. The onions I harvested were pretty good, but quite strong. I am assuming that if I grow some different varieties, I can get sweeter onions, is that correct? Is it mostly a matter of variety or is it partly my growing conditions (soil, etc). I saw on this forum that many of you recommend Dixondale Farms, so I looked at their web site. I learned about long day versus short day varieties (obviously I am long day) and about storage onions. So, I will probably order a couple yellows and a couple reds, both sweeter varieties and storage varieties.

The Dixondale web site says they will ship to my zip code April 23. Wow! Our soil will barely be thawed. Is that when I want to put them in the ground? As soon as the ground is thawed? It won't have warmed up yet.

Are the plants that they will send the same as the "sets" that I bought last year? If I wanted to grow onions from seed, how would I do that? How far ahead of time do I need to start seeds? Is there any advantage other than price to starting from seed versus sets?

Next is garlic. I've never grown garlic but would like to. I understand I will plant it in the fall and harvest the next summer, right? Does anyone have web sites or catalogs to recommend or varieties to suggest? I did go to one web site mentioned here (http://www.virtualseeds.com/garlicgrowing.html), and learned about hardneck and softneck, but I really know nothing about how to grow garlic. All I need is a good starting point and some pointers.

Thanks so much for any advice. I'm looking forward to my home-grown onions and garlic!


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Hi Ann I'am in the same zone as you and Ihave my onions from dixondale shipped the last day of april. [you can have them shipped any time you want]and some years thats too early and some years not but they will keep for about 2 weeks if you have to wait to plant.I use to start my own seed and started them in early FEB. It is a lot easer to buy plants&plants are easer to plant as they are bigger than what I would grow from seed. IMO if you want a onion that is bigger...sweeter..and will keep longer use plants if you want green onions use sets.Onions seem to do real good in our zone. I plant candy....wala wala..and ace. I'am no expert on onions but I know what works for me!! Good luck with your onions!!!! YOPPER

    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 3:56PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Ann, I don't want to sound like a wise-a*s, but you really should read some of the back pages. Why? Answering your questions (all of which are good, btw) could take a novel-length book. But all of them have been discussed before, and answered at length.

I would add one comment to Yoppers analysis: If you grow from seed you have a much wider choice of varieites. So, if that's important to you, choose seeds.

Another consideration is that the majority of available plants are hybrids. If you want OPs and heirlooms, seeds can be a better choice. But if you want ease of planting and guaranteed healthy starts, and don't care either way about hybrids, then plants are the way to go.

As you choose your varieties, keep in mind that the sweeter the onion, the poorer it is as a keeper. So you'll want to use up your sweet onions first, then turn to the long keepers.

Sets are the least effective way to go, for reasons that you'll find discussed in the back-pages.

As to garlic, the best primer is Ron Engeland's "Growing Great Garlic." Some of it is outdated, it's true. But it remains the bible of garlic growers. I'd advise getting a copy.

Also keep in mind that alliums are all heavy feeders. So be prepared to amend your soil and fertilize as necessary. And keep the weeds out of the alliums beds; neither garlic nor onions tolerate the competition real well.

Have fun.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2007 at 9:35AM
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prairie_love(z3/4 ND)

gardenlad, I don't want to sound like a wise-a** either, but have you tried doing a search on one of these forums? I did. I tried several combinations and I read many threads - I learned a lot, but not the specifics I was looking for. Perhaps if I had read all 5000 (I'm exaggerating of course) of the "relevant" threads I would have found the answer, but ...

I'm sorry, I am answering your comment a little snippy (and I apologize for that) because I have found that on GardenWeb, the forums that do NOT have a FAQ tend to be the most likely to answer with "read the back threads", whereas if there is a FAQ, I could read the answer and not have to ask the question. And perhaps I am simply not using the right search terms to find relevant threads.

Regardless, I do very much appreciate your answers and comments to my questions, your response was VERY helpful and I thank you.

Yopper, thank you also! I am really happy to know that onions have worked well for you in our zone. And especially good to know that the plants can wait a week or two after shipment - their web site made it sound like they must be planted immediately. I also appreciate the variety recommendations - I will look at those.



    Bookmark   January 5, 2007 at 10:44PM
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Hi Ann,

I used seed, sets, and plants over the years and settled on plants. So long as cost or special varieties are not major factors I think you'll find plants more convenient and productive, and there are many varieties available. You do want to plant them as soon as the soil can be worked as they are quite cold hardy. If you don't think your soil will be workable by the end on April, just ask Dixondale to ship a little later. I would suggest a sweet variety such as Walla Walla, and a longer storage type such as Big Daddy.

Garlic usually goes in the ground in mid October. Plant the cloves pointed end up (no need to peel them) about 2-3" deep and cover with a good 2-4 inches of mulch. You can grow both hardneck and softneck types in your area and I would suggest a mix. As with onions, make sure the soil is well worked (compost recommended), and space them about 5-6" apart in rows 12" apart.

The best place I have found to buy garlic is from local growers, who can often be found at local garlic festivals or gatherings in September or October. They will have varieties well suited for your area and can provide a lot of professional advice - and they are cheaper! Plus I have found larger heads of garlic from them, which does affect the size of the garlic you grow. Plant only the largest cloves from each head and eat the smaller ones.

The Ron Engeland book is very good but is aimed mainly at commercial organic farmers. Another good book is "The Great Garlic Book" by Chester Aaron. Both are available on Amazon.

Hope this helps!


    Bookmark   January 6, 2007 at 6:37PM
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Hubby (from balmy S. Dakota) would recommend "Spanish Roja" as they say it grows well in colder climates. His mom who lives in the Black Hills tried to grow it but seems her horses had a thing for garlic too -- so there you go. Read my reply to the post of 2/1/07 "Garlic Questions !!!". I'm sure you'll do great growing allium!


    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 10:16PM
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here in south dakota I mainly plant Walla Walla and Bermuda or the Spanish Variety. Usually the first weekend in May we put the sets out. Have tried seeds here with not much luck. I use the Miracle gro Garden soil in my garden amendmendments. mostly regular gardening here with some raised beds and container gardening for herbs and pepper plants like jalepeno and habs. hope this helps some....Al

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 12:40AM
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UncleJohn(z4 NH)

In terms of garlic, you should mainly focus on hardneck varieties. I am slightly warmer than you, and have lousy luck with softnecks, and even have problems with Asiatics which also are not figidphilic. Siberian is always my first to come up, and very rarely do I lose even one clove. German Extra Hardy is my workhorse with very large bulbs and also very reliable. A word of warning, garlic is addictive for some folk. I have about two dozen varieties in my garden.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 9:07AM
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dixielib(z6/7 Ga)

I must confess to you guys that I am a very casual onion and garlic gardner. When I need green (spring) onions, I buy a bunch, cut the roots off reserving about 1/2" of the bulb and let them dry for a few days. My raised beds are surrounded by cement blocks. After the onion roots have dried out a bit they go into holes in the blocks. Same with garlic...buy it at the grocery store, when I am down to two or three kinda dried out looking bulblets, they go into the block holes. Holes are filled with mushroom compost. I pretty much keep perpetual onion and garlic coming up...maybe buy new "root stock" once or twice a year.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2007 at 2:29PM
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iacche(z6 Eastern PA)

With garlic, I've read that you'll have the best results if you work at it for several years. Garlic is said to get better once it gets used to your particular soil.

Buy good stock and plant it, and when you harvest it, save the biggest cloves for planting that fall. The next year, do the same.

The first year (or two?), the heads you harvest may be smallish, but soon they'll get bigger once they adapt to your soil.

I'm a newbie at garlic, so I can't say this from experience, but that's what I've read.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2007 at 8:23PM
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Your garlic will grow well, the first year (and every year) as long as you don't have it sitting in constant wet soil or root disease doesn't hit them. Just follow any of the growing instructions that are available on the web and I guarantee
you will have success. Easy as pie, Hmm, even easier than that!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2007 at 5:26PM
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