Garlic, onion harvest times vary by variety


Q: When do I harvest garlic, green onions, sweet onions and shallots?

A: Some sources will tell you to harvest garlic when half of the tops are brown while others will tell you to harvest them when they fall over. In our climate garlic should be harvested when the tops are about one-third brown.

Sweet onions are harvested when the tops fall over. Green onions, scallions or shallots are harvested when they first start bulbing.

There should be a thin covering surrounding the cloves when you harvest garlic correctly. If you wait too long before harvesting, the covering surrounding the cloves starts to rot , leaving the cloves exposed. Without this covering the garlic is difficult to cure and cannot be stored for very long. At this point it is best to harvest, separate the cloves and use or dry them.

Some people like grilling young garlic when the bulb is just barely starting to form, which is about eight weeks before harvest (March). Garlic for grilling can be planted very close together (2 inches); in March lift every other plant. The 4 inches remaining between garlic is enough for their expansive growth in the remaining two months.

Be prepared to harvest garlic at different times. Different varieties of garlic may be harvestable at slightly different times. For instance, early-maturing varieties will be ready for harvest two to four weeks ahead of later varieties. Judge when to harvest by looking at the tops or lifting a few and inspecting them.

Scallions can be nothing more than green or immature onions that have not begun to bulb, just started bulbing or do not bulb at all, such as the so-called Welsh onion. The white Lisbon variety is commonly grown for scallions.

The same can be said of leeks. There are leeks that do not bulb, which are commonly grown in Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia. 

Like garlic, onions are commonly planted in the fall from “seed” (garlic seeds are actually cloves while onion seed is actually seed).

I have not found an onion yet that won’t produce in Southern Nevada. There are, however, differences in the quality of the onions growing here (from very good to fantastic). When harvesting onions, do not step on the necks to get them ready for harvesting unless you plan to eat them fresh .

The onion’s neck drying and the top falling over is a natural sealing process of the bulb. Stepping on the top can allow disease organisms to enter the bulb because the neck did not dried properly. This may prevent any long-term storage of the bulb.

Q: I will be planting a lemon tree soon and wish to know whether a Meyer or Eureka (variety) is the way to go. Which do you prefer? What are your thoughts about planting the tree and aftercare? Where do you suggest purchasing a lemon tree? What should I look for to select the healthiest tree for our backyard, which is located in the northwest part of the valley?

A: Most people in the valley are familiar with Meyer lemon, which produces in the winter months and is probably the most cold tolerant of what we consider to be lemons. There are other lemons, Eureka and Lisbon, but these are true lemons, unlike Meyer, which is a cross between a lemon and a sweet oranges.

Eureka and Lisbon produce during the spring and summer months and are not as sweet as Meyer. The Eureka and Lisbon lemon trees have different architecture than Meyer and for this reason will be pruned differently.

I would say that you will probably like Meyer better than other lemons because of their sweetness and cold tolerance. Pick a smaller tree that appears healthy. Avoid larger trees as they are slower to establish and cost more. Most local nurseries carry Meyer lemon.

Q: After many years of wanting a raised garden I now have one. It’s made of cinderblock and has been filled with a mixture of steer manure, a grow mix for flower and vegetables, and another grow mix for trees and shrubs. Already the plants in my raised beds have flowers and seem to be productive. The folks at Starbucks give away their used coffee grounds (free) for people who use it for their gardens. Do coffee grounds make a difference in the soil at all? 

A: I noticed there was no mention of soil. Soil is very important for a raised bed and should make up a large percentage of your growing medium. Soil, even our native desert soil, can be highly productive if it is properly amended. Sometimes when we manufacture a soil we don’t do a better job than Mother Nature and our manufactured soils can cause us future work and problems.

Soil is a mixture of three types of particles based upon size: sand, silt and clay. Each has its own important characteristics. Clay particles are the smallest in size but are also the best soil particle at holding plant nutrients derived from fertilizers.

Remember, when you take from your garden, you must also give back. The soil is replenished only by what you put back into it. As your garden is producing for you, you must replenish it with what the plants took from it.

Sometimes we think that just the initial preparation is enough for a garden to be productive during the growing season.

The perfect replacement for what is lost from the garden is the decomposition from other plants, called compost. The best compost is made from a variety of sources and plants. So, yes, put coffee grounds in your compost pile. The more variety of things you put back into your garden, the more nutrient voids you fill.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas and professor emeritus for the University of Nevada. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com.