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Have you ever considered the scape? The scape is the flower stalk of members of the allium family, and for culinary purposes this includes onions, leeks, chives and garlic.
I had never considered using the scape of these plants until a visiting gardener recommended that I put my garlic plants on double duty. She suggested a pesto recipe using the garlic scape instead of a leafy herb.
Typically we remove the scape so all the bulb’s energy is spent on bulb development and not bloom. So using the scape in the process makes particular sense.
The best time to harvest your scapes is just as the flower heads begin to form. At this point most of the scape is still tender with a mild garlic flavor (or leek, onion or chive flavor).
By now some of our scapes may be a little past peak, so just zero in on the tenderest top part for harvest. Onions, leeks and chives are likely not at peak yet so you have time here.
You can roast the entire tender scape, top and all, with a little olive oil for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Chop the scape as you would chives and use it in cooking or process it into a pesto (using a food processor) using about a quarter-pound of scapes, half-cup of olive oil, 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, 3 tablespoons of lime juice and a little salt and pepper.
The pesto has the advantage of being frozen for later use. I made some the other day, and it is fabulous…a spoon full in pasta imparted just enough garlic for a garlic lover to be satisfied.
Soon, these plants will reach their full potential above ground, and the foliage will begin to die back. This is our signal to prepare for harvesting the bulb.
Garlic is easy. Just wait for the tops to die back completely and then pull up your crop. Leave them intact and lay them over a screen for about 2 weeks in a shaded, well-ventilated location.
Once the bulbs feel dry, braid them all together or cut the stems, leaving a couple of inches above the bulb and store in a mesh bag. A cool, dark storage space with good ventilation is ideal.
The signal that your onions are ready for harvest is when the tops of the plants flop over and die back. When about half of the tops have turned brown and flopped over, the onions are at their peak for harvesting.
Be sure not to harvest too early because the bulb size will be small. They will cure slowly and be more likely to decay before you use them. Putting off harvest too long also increases the chances of decay.
Once the tops have flopped, dig up the onions. During the curing process, you want to cut the tops back to about 2 inches and lay them out on a screen in that same dry, well-ventilated, shaded place your garlic enjoyed for about 2 weeks.
As they cure, the necks shrink up, and phenolic compounds accumulate there, which helps to stop rot. Those onions with thicker necks have a harder time protecting themselves from rot, so go ahead and sort those out and use them first.
After the 2-week curing period, trim the tops again leaving about an inch to protect the neck from bacteria and fungi.
Onions are most successfully stored at 32 degrees with a low humidity level. Rot and sprouting during the bulb’s dormant period are more prevalent when they are stored at temperatures above 40.
Interestingly, too, the more pungent the onion the better it stores because of higher levels of the phenolic compound, which helps to keep disease down in the bulb.
Other ways to increase your onion harvest and successful storage is to start with the right variety at planting time. Look for intermediate-day length onions (these onions set bulbs when day-length averages 12 to 14 hours) that are considered good storage varieties, including “Super Star,”
“Candy,” “Ebenezer,” or “Storage King.”
Do you have questions about your plants? Our gardening expert, Jeneen Wiche, will take your e-mail questions and respond to some of them in each month's Home & Garden section. Simply type "Sentinel-News question" in the subject field of your e-mail and send it to JWiche@aol.com. Then look for questions and answers in next month's Home & Garden.