Gardening Tips: Incredible, edible alliums — onions and garlic, by Fran Corcoran, Judy Jean

When my children were small, we read a book together called “A Tale of Tulips, A Tale of Onions” written by David Francis Birchman. The story is based on the tulipomania craze (1634-1637) in Holland, when the Mosaic virus infected tulip bulbs.
Flowers grown from the infected bulbs had “bizarre” stripes or flames. Tulip bulbs became more and more valuable, then plummeted sharply. In the end, a tulip bulb was no more valuable than a common onion.
More recently I ran across an article on re-growing vegetables from kitchen scraps that piqued my interest. Anyone that cooks with garlic has probably experienced cloves that sprout before they can be used. Although not recommended with cloves from the grocery (they may be treated and unlikely to grow well) cloves are used to propagate and grow new garlic bulbs or garlic sprouts.
Likewise, onion bulbs are used to grow new onions or onion greens. If a whole spring onion is not used, and the lighter bottom part is placed in water (photo below) or potting soil the dark green leaves will re-grow. This will also work with a common onion (photo below). All you need is a sunny windowsill.
Onions and garlic have been cultivated for centuries. There are indications in Egyptian cemeteries that date back to as early as 3750 BC, and references that date back to the time of the Pharaohs (starting around 2500 BC). Garlic and onions make appearances in many places including poems, stories, books, recipes, quotes, medical texts and journals.
Most, but certainly not all historical or current references are positive. These “smelly” vegetables definitely arouse strong opinions. Podcast searches using “onion” or “garlic” pulled more results than I expected. Of course, most are not actually about the edible allium vegetables, but the search results reflect just how deeply ingrained these “smelly vegetables” are in popular culture.
There are podcasts titled “The Friendship Onion,” “Needs Garlic!,” “Peel Back the Onion,” “The Garlic Girls” and “The ONION Peel.” Embedded in the description for the latter podcast is “…how much life is like an onion; it stinks and makes us cry, but the flavor it brings is priceless.”
The exceptional flavor these two aromatic vegetables deliver is acknowledged around the world, as reflected in the Flavor Bases of many different world cuisines such as Cajun, Indian, French, Middle Eastern, and Latin to name just a few. Onions and garlic are indispensable in the kitchen.
There are many types of onions and garlic. Grocery stores will generally offer the longest storing variety, called silverskins. For home gardeners it is best to purchase seeds (onions), sets, or seedlings for planting from a reputable seller. Once they are growing in the garden, some can also be propagated by division.
Onions and garlic are fairly easy to grow, as long as cultural practices are observed. Choose only healthy bulbs/cloves or plants, plant in light soils enriched with well-rotted manure and with good drainage, provide a sunny location and consistent irrigation, and keep the bed weeded. Crop rotation is also important to maintain a disease-free site. Onions and garlic are low-calorie flavor-boosters. They provide vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium & folate. Garlic also has thiamine, calcium, phosphorous, copper and manganese.
And, the great flavors, either strong or delicate, that garlic and onions add to so many dishes is a powerful motivation to keep growing them.