How to plant, harvest, and cook fragrant bundles of alliums.
Mary Beth and David Shaddix
March 10, 2014
1 of 10Photo: Cedric Angeles
Fragrant Bundles of Alliums
There is more to the onion family than round roots. Peel back the layers to discover the delicate flavors of leeks, chives, and young green onions.
You can start these alliums from seed, but get a head start with young seedlings or onion sets. Planting your own can save you green at the grocery store and up your garden game.
Let a few plants send up blooms. The globes of white or lavender star-shaped flowers are just one more reason why alliums are so stinking beautiful.
2 of 10Photo: Randy Mayor
American Flag Leeks
A long-loved heirloom, these produce stocky, pearl-white shanks. They are especially cold-tolerant.
Garden Tip: For leeks, simply press the handle of a garden rake or a dibble into the soil to make uniform, 6-inch-deep holes; then drop in seedlings for soldier-straight rows. For fat, milky-white stalks, let rain fill in holes over time. A gentle tug releases the leek.
3 of 10Photo: Randy Mayor
Texas Sweet White Onions
Onions are the workhorses of the kitchen, each with its own flavor profile—from sweet to pungent—to suit your culinary needs. You’ll usually find onions in the spring and summer, identified by their thin layer of papery skin. Their high moisture content gives them a milder flavor.
Garden Tip: Leave a 6-inch space between plants so bulbs can form. Or space closely and harvest alternating plants as a midseason treat: tender green onions. Store in a cool, dry, dark place with lots of air circulating. Never suffocate them in plastic bags—they’ll rot. Sweet onions such as Texas sweets, are best for eating fresh.
4 of 10Photo: Randy Mayor
A perennial plant in zones 3 to 10, chives belong in every kitchen garden. The thin leaves have a mild onion flavor, as do the flowers. Chives are almost carefree; they will live happily season to season with regular harvesting.
Garden Tip: Chives make an excellent border for a garden bed, or they can be grown in a 4- to 6-inch pot if only a few are needed. Start with either seeds or transplants, and select a site with full sun and rich soil. When cutting chives, select a few leaves on the edge of a clump. Snip them off near the soil, even if you do not need the entire leaf.
5 of 10Photo: Cedric Angeles
The best thing you can do for your garden is to closely observe its progress and take steps to correct little problems before they become big ones.
Tip #1 Soil Test: A soil test is the smart way to assess your soil’s pH and any nutrient deficiencies. The results will help you determine what type of amendments or fertilizers are needed. You can have your soil tested from the Cooperative Extension office.
6 of 10Photo: Oxmoor House
Tip # 2: Seeds vs. Transplants
For beginning gardeners, it’s best to start with more transplants and mix in seeds as you learn. If the season is appropriate, seeds are always a good idea. You’ll want to plant seeds directly in the garden soil or grow your own transplants by sowing seeds indoors in containers prior to planting outside.
7 of 10Photo: Oxmoor House
Tip # 3: When to Water
A good rule of thumb is that gardens need about an inch of water each week. Apply water before the soil dries out. Wet the soil thoroughly to encourage deep rooting, and then avoid watering again until it’s needed. Overwatering can be just as detrimental as underwatering.
8 of 10Photo: Stephen Devries
Cooking with Alliums
Starting with fresh ingredients makes even the most simple meal stunning. You get a taste of satisfaction, better nutrition, and a little bit of sunshine, all in one amazing bite.
Bitter meets sweet in this warm salad. Leeks gain caramelized sweetness when given a subtle char, and citrus spiked with a touch of honey counters the radicchio's bite. It's important to let the vegetables sit for a bit after they're grilled to allow them to steam and become supple.
9 of 10Photo: Stephen Devries
Braised Chicken with Honey-Lemon Leeks
Lemon is a bright partner for the caramelized leeks, which cook twice: They are sautéed, then roasted to meld with the honey and lemon.
10 of 10Photo: Stephen Devries
Refrigerator Scallion Pickles
These delicious pickles make great stirrers for Bloody Marys, add bright flavor to a crudité platter, or become a tangy garnish for fish or grilled meats.