Friday, June 17, 2011

Plants with great flowers (and bulbils) that we don't think about.

Recently, a friend of mine asked for some current photos of the garden. I sent her a few and she commented on how beautiful the onion flowers were. Hmmm. I hadn't really thought about it, but it made me look again. Onions don't typically flower the first year they are planted, but I have some onions I didn't harvest last year so it is mostly those plants that are flowering. After my second glance, they ARE really pretty and too boot they are good pollinator attractants too! And moreover, they have a fascinating aroma- barely a hint of something oniony, but spicy and exotic. Guess who had to cut one and bring it inside? Why yes that is an onion bouquet you see.
Look how gorgeous this is!

There are hundreds of Allium (the Genus name for onion) varieties that one can plant for the flowers alone, but honestly, why waste your time when you can have your cake and eat it too (onion bulbs AND flowers)? Generally though you really don't want your onions to flower because making seed (babies) is a huge SUCK of energy on the plant so all of the stored food that was once is the yummy bulb has now left, shriveled and gone into baby making. If you are a mother you know about kids sucking energy and things shriveling up.
Once seed making has progressed there will be no bulb to harvest, however....you'll have seed to start new plants! This got me moving down the garden path and on to other things that flower that you may not want to flower if you are wanting to harvest food.....Carrots.

I grew a bunch of varieties of carrots this year. I have raised beds loaded with 100% compost so it is nice and friable. I don't have to worry about growing malformed carrots because of this. Anyway, I sewed some seed last fall and come spring there were just certain varieties I didn't care for so I let them go to seed. My intentions weren't to collect the seed, but to let them flower because plants of the family that make flowers in the shape of umbrellas (umbels) are also great attractants to hundreds of beneficial insects, not to mention carrot flowers are also really bodacious and lovely. Other garden plants in this family include: cilantro, dill, parsley, fennel and parsnips. So, if you missed the harvest let them flower and you will be rewarded with other bennies. Here's a delicious looking carrot flower.
Since I have flowers on my mind I moseyed on over to the garlic. It has these awesome scapes (sheath covered tiny bulbs called bulbils, not flowers) on top of the plants, again...because I didn't harvest some (ok, none, but that's another story). You can cut off these tops, hang them to dry and use these tiny bulbs to make more garlic plants. Directions will tell you to store these for up to 6 months, but I have firsthand knowledge that they can live longer. "Hardneck" varieties make these bulbils instead of flowers and seeds. Really cool, but still a suck on energy and thus no clove harvest from below ground. Oh, and you know what else? You can EAT these bulbil bunches! Steam them, butter them and they are suppose to have a delicate garlic flavor. I haven't done it yet, but wow that sounds good. Apparently, the bennies of growing garlic from these bulbils are that they lack soil-borne disease (since they are held high above it) and that these progeny outperform the original parent plant. The only disadvantage is that being smaller than a clove of garlic they take longer to mature. Here is what a hardneck garlic scapes looks like still sheathed.

So, if you find you have forgotten to harvest something at its peak don't despair. Reconsider that you may have just allowed for the making or more plants (hey, that saves $$) or attracted beneficial insects to your garden instead. They say gardeners are the ultimate optimists or maybe some of us are just good spin doctors.

2 comments:

Tony said...

So now I know what those funny looking things in my back yard are... I must have some garlic growing back there, or something like it.

Laura said...

Hey Tony- We have a wild garlic that grows around here. It could also be that.