A Great Harvest of Seasoning Vegetables

Every fall I begin to plan my garden for next spring and summer. I know by now what performed well, the changes I want to make and most importantly, what I need to plant more of next year. I never grow enough seasoning vegetables. I need more onions, shallots and garlic because I'm cooking more, and seasoning vegetables are in nearly every recipe I use. I really under-planted peppers this year, both sweet and hot. I have some in the freezer, but nowhere near enough to last me through next June. Nearly every southwestern recipe I use calls for sweet peppers. I'll be admiring the beautiful peppers in the store this winter, reminding myself that mine last summer were just as nice.

The problem I'm having with growing garlic is that I have a terrible tendency to give it away to friends, neighbors and my co-workers and not keep enough for myself. Garlic seems to have this mystique; friends are surprised it can be grown in a garden. One friend even commented, "I've only seen it in a little box in the produce department." This past year, I had 3 crops of garlic. I planted in the fall of 2009, and with the amount of snow coverage we had, I had a 100% stand. Nearly every clove produced. I then planted 2 crops in spring, one early (April 1) and then again May 15. I harvested the fall 2009 planting in June 2010, just in time. My summer 2009 crop that I had hanging in my garage had just run out, and now, in early summer I had fresh garlic for seasoning all my vegetables. Also, by growing 3 crops, I can extend the storage time. My Early Italian Garlic stored the best, nearly 10 months just by hanging it in a mesh bag from the ceiling of my garage. Cool temperatures, minimal light and air circulation are the keys for storing garlic. Every time I get garlic from the mesh bag I shake the bulbs up in the bag so that those on the inside get to the outside at some point in time.

Without question, I cannot kill a shallot in my garden. They are so easy to grow, and I'm always shocked at the quantity I harvest. When I start digging, I shake my head in disbelief as to how many shallots I have, and ask myself what I'm going to do with all of them. But then the fun begins, because I use a fresh shallot in nearly every recipe, even if it's not called for. A shallot added to any recipe adds tremendous flavor. The shallot helps release all the flavors that are stored in other vegetables, seafood or meats. I make a lot of vegetable stews and soups, and shallots are my seasoning vegetable of choice. It's very easy to cook with shallots. Just drop the whole shallot into the pot, and it cooks down to a soft, nearly sweet, small nugget.

Lastly, let's talk about onions, the most widely planted seasoning vegetable in American gardens. Whether you plant bulbs (sets) in early spring, or onion plants, the result is nearly the same: fantastic harvests of both small and large onions that store for months and have the best flavors. You know the age and freshness, and that freshness is incorporated into each and every recipe. Red Candy Apple is my favorite. I begin to pull Red Candy when the onions are only the size of a golf ball, and continue until they mature to the size of a tennis ball or larger. Although Red Candy onions are stronger when they're young, by the time they are fully mature the natural sweetness has taken over, and they become the best all-around onions in my garden. Sometimes in recipes you need an onion that does not have color, and that's why I love Superstar, a pure white slicing onion that stores for months.

Because my garden is limited to its current size, I have to be very careful with adding too much. But in 2011, I'm definitely planting more garlic, shallots and onions, and I'll just garden smarter. I know I can plant 3 crops of beets, so I'll cut my beet space by 2/3 but plant beets 3 times; then I'll plant more seasoning veggies and still get my full production of beets.

Can't wait!