Grow Your Own Onions, Garlic, Leeks

Alliums are generally an easy crop to grow. If grown in conjunction with carrots and parsnips, they can help confuse pests, such as carrot and parsnip root flies. They can also protect leafy crops from slugs. Alliums enjoy a long growing season in a well-cultivated soil incorporated with plenty of rich, organic matter such as homemade compost or well-rotted manure.

Growing Garlic

For the best results, grow garlic in any sunny spot and plant from October onwards. Garlic cloves need a cold spell to grow properly.

Separate the bulbs into individual cloves and plant them just below the soil surface roughly 15cm apart and in rows 30cm apart. Remove weeds regularly and keep the developing bulbs well watered. Remove any flowers that form to concentrate the plant’ energy on forming the bulbs.

The bulbs are ready to harvest from July, when the leaves have turned yellow. Harvest them on a sunny day, gently pull them from the ground and lay them out to dry on racks in the sunshine. Tie whole plants in plaits or remove the leaves and place the bulbs in netting and store them in a dry place.

Growing Onions and Shallots

Onions and shallots are best grown from sets (immature bulbs) although they can be grown from seed. Plant sets 10cm apart in rows 10cm apart from March to April. Gently push the sets into the soil so the tip is just showing.

Shallots are also best grown from sets. Shallots grow differently from onions: onion sets develop into one large bulb; shallot sets develop several new shallots from the central one. Plant shallots 15cm apart in rows 23cm apart from February to March.

Sow seed 13mm deep in rows 20cm apart from late February. Thin seedlings to 5cm initially and then again to 10cm (use the discarded seedlings in salads a spring onions).

Water in Dry Conditions

Mulch the soil to conserve moisture and hoe around the bulbs to keep weeds down. Remove any flower heads that develop. Once the bulbs have swollen to maturity, remove any mulch to expose them to the sun and stop watering them so they try out.

Harvest your onions when the foliage turns yellow and starts to shrivel. Only store firm, dry bulbs; plait whole plants or remove the bulbs and store them in netting in a cool, dry place.

Growing Spring Onions

Sow seeds thinly 13mm deep from March in rows 10cm apart. Thin seedlings to 2.5cm stations. Keep the area free from weeds and mulch around the bulbs to conserve moisture. Harvest the bulbs when they are around 13mm-2.5cm in diameter.

Growing Leeks

Sow seed from late in either a seed bed for transplanting later on, or in their final growing positions. Sow seeds thinly in pre-watered drills 0.5 cm deep, and cover them with a fine layer of soil. Thin seedlings to 10 cm stations. When the plants are pencil thick transplant them to their final position. Use a dibber or trowel to make the holes 15 cm deep and 15-23 cm apart, and puddle them in by filling the planting hole with water until the soil is snug around the leek.

Water regularly in dry conditions and keep the area free from weeds.

Blanch the leeks in August (to increase the size of the edible part of the plant), by pushing the soil up around the plants to increase the soil depth by about 5 cm each time. You can also use collars or old toilet roll holders to get the same effect.

Harvest them from mid autumn through to late spring. Gently lever them out of the ground with a spade or a fork, taking the larger ones first and leaving the smaller ones to continue growing.