Allium


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Freshly picked ramsons, Allium ursinum

Almost every year I pick ramsons in the wood and pickle them in salt, as I learned Siberia. They use a different species, alpine leek (Allium victorialis), but I know that in the European part of Russia they like to use ramsons, and the result is hard to tell apart.

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Chopped ramsons

When picking ramsons, take only the leaves, so the bulb can survive. In Siberia, where people forage in the deep forest, they are most particular about only taking the leaves, leaving the onion, and only some of the leaves, to let the plants grow on, and tolerate another picking the following year.

First I chop the leaves, then I weigh them, and add 2-4 grams of salt per 100 grams of ramsons.

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I use a tool or my hands

The chopped and salted ramsons will now be squeezed, so that the cell walls are broken apart and the juice becomes visible. I started out using a wooden pounder, but it came to my mind that I always end up using my hands. It’s faster, easier and more comfortable by hand, but I could not take a photo at the same time. After this process, the leaves have become quite dark and covered with its juice.

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Salted ramsons packed airtight

As with sauerkraut, the ramsons must be packed airtight. I used a zipper-lock plastic bag and apparently it worked great. There was less residual air left than when I pack in glass. But the very next day I had to recognize that plastic bags are not aroma proof. The whole fridge smelled intensely of ramsons, even on entering the house you could notice the smell of ramsons.

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Cheremsha – salted ramsons in small glasses

The solution was to pack the salted ramsons in small roe glasses. Now they can be stored in the refrigerator without any leak of aroma.

I call the result for Cheremsha (Черемша in Russian), as they name it in Siberia. The aroma is even stronger than in the fresh ramsons, so a little goes a long way. The intense chemical sense on opening a glass should not upset you, as it is how it should be. Once it gets mixed with sour cream or other ingredients, the wonderful flavour comes out, a true delicacy. Cheremsha is also used in meatballs and other recipes with minced meat.
I think the salt pickling process enhance the umami component in the taste of ramsons.

Where I pick my ramsons?
It’s a secret, but I can reveal, that they are very common in woods around Copenhagen – just keep off my little spot of ramsons 😉

Here’s a YouTube from Khabarovsk in Siberia (jump 2½ minutes ahead):


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Shallot “Læsøstammen” and chickpea “Assyriska bruna kikärter från Besvirino byn” (right)

Today I sowed the first seeds outdoor, and set the shallots. They are both impatient to go into the soil. If waiting much longer, the shallots will grow smaller, end the chickpeas will mould in their pods. But the soil get depressed (compressed) by me trotting on it. Soil is winter wet, behaving like pot-makers clay if I work it. Then become too hard for roots or worms to penetrate. Thus I’m very cautious when working in the garden in march. I dare not dig, just scratch a little, barely enough to get down the shallot sets and chickpea seeds.

On Læsøstammen shallot I know it was grown on the little isolated island Læsø in 1946. At that time the shallot producers started to gather all shallots from grower, and mix them, before selling or replanting. Only Læsø was not part of that, because of the transport expenses. It has been grown by three generations of farmers on the island since then.

Kroghs skalotteløg” is another shallot I set today. All was set, no left for the photo.

Chickpeas are easy to grow in Denmark, BUT it’s difficult to harvest good seeds 😦
Most seeds moulds just before ripening in autumn. For several years I could harvest no more than I needed for next years sowing. Since I started sowing in late march problems with mould are less pronounced. But I still don’t get a bumper harvest.
Assyriska bruna kikärter från Besvirino byn” I got from a refugee living in Sweden. He lived in a south-eastern mountain village in Turkey. Inhabitants were an Assyrian Christian minority, suffering from the conflict between Turks and Kurds.

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Frøsamlerne (Danish Seed Savers) garlic competition (Coffebreak) (Copyright Lars Jacobsen 2009)

This year Frøsamlerne, The Danish Seed Savers had a garlic competition. It inspired the ecological website Havenyt to make a similar webbased contest. It’s in danish, but photos, and Estonian Red (Estisk rød) rules the show!
You could consider a google translation.

Frøsamlerne held our competiton in the allotments of Kirsten and Anne. They served coffee, teas and cake, had chairs for everyone to sit comfortably. We started with a presentation of our selves and our garlics. Many interesting point on soil and growing technique surfaced. One point that seems to persist is that garlic love a soil rich in organic matter, and seems to prefer sandy soils to heavy clay.

Several reported of leek moth in some of their garlics. I personally had to leave my biggest garlic, a ‘Gazebo Grande’ at home, as it had aquired a petty brownish color, looking weird. We had a laugh, as I was not the only one claiming to have lost the biggest garlic to a leek moth caterpillar!
As I opened my Gazebo Grande, I did indeed fint the caterpillar inside.

Appearently nobody had been really troubled by garlic rust this year, as it mostly came just few days ahead of harvest, thus had no influence on the garlic quality.

Four classes in the Garlic Competition

Biggest garlic won by an ‘Estonian Red’, grown by Lila Towle

Whitest garlic won by a “Grethes Supermarked” grown by Kirsten Hedegaard

Darkest purple garlic won by a ‘Chinese Purple’ grown by Kirsten Hedegaard

Most beautiful garlic braid won by an ‘Inchelium Red’ braid grown and braided by Søren Holt

Out of competition there was also a prize for the great eyecatching Allium ampeloprasums grown by Lars Jacobsen.

Biggest garlic was judged by weighing. The other classes was a bit more difficult.
The whitest garlic was clearly “Grethes Supermarked”, but there was two presenting this variety. Everybody agreed the had the same color. It was then decided, that the one with the largest area would be the whitest!
The darkest purple was difficult to judge, and we never agreed on it. It’s a class, where many clones have a chance to win, depending on a careful harvest and curing technique.
Most beautiful garlic braid, what is beautiful? There was a traditional braid, not very well braided, and an unusual bunch tied together in a creative and free spirited manner.

The Allium ampeloprasum Lars had brought was of three types. Babingtons leek many of us readily recognized, with its two cloves and large bulbils. He also brought Elephant Garlic, with more cloves and no bulbils. The last type he had from Nysted, having two huge cloves.

Thanks to Kirsten and Anne.

Merete from “Vild med have” also blogged about our garlic competition (In danish)

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Sandleek (Allium scorodoprasum) on top of Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

On a trip to Jutland I had a chance to visit the garden of Inge Lise and Brian. Brian have two garden websites, Gourmethaven (in danish) and Potager.dk – Ornamental Kitchen Garden.
The beautiful bed with sandleek on top of chives touched my heart – I’m rather easily touched by any Allium. The garden is a heaven for both parents and three children, with lawn, flowerbeds, kitchengarden and two greenhouses.

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Kitchengarden in raised beds

The garden is full of small practical details. I noticed the solar lamp in the kitchengarden. Very convenient when looking for greens for the kitchen in the dark autumn afternoons. The compost pile is located in the middle of the garden, easily accessible from all over the garden. No hiding away. A statement of the value of garden compost. More of us ought to use the compost pile as a garden centerpiece, a fine signal to the community around.

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Inge Lise and Brian next to their Caucasian Spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides)

The specialty most admirably in the garden right now is the Caucasian Spinach. It is a perennial very hardy climber from Caucasus. The leaves taste more gentle and fulfilling than ordinary spinach. The plant is very difficult to find, but the danish seedsavers Frøsamlerne offered it on their members exchangelist this year. It grows very well in Inge Lise and Brians garden, it is not allways growing this well in danish gardens. It was grown as a vegetable hundred years ago, but was forgotten. The garden culture was continued in Estonia, from where it has spread to Finland and Scandinavia, including Denmark.

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Caucasian Spinach with a flowerspike

Caucasian Spinach is related to mercury / Good King Henry, as one can see in flowers and leaves. The seedlings could be taken for mercury seedlings. It originates in mountains of Caucasus, where it climbs up in trees, having the root in shadow.

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Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus)

The yellow flag are in a dry spot. This bogplant reacts by growing shorter leaves, thus giving a much better show-off of the flowers. Inge Lise and Brian have used their knowledge on the nature of the boggy yellow flag in an opposite way of what most of us would have done. A copy could be considered 🙂

Thanks for a great garden visit!

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Victory onion (Allium victorialis)

As many other people, I´m very fond of ramsons (Allium ursinum), I even had them in the garden (and maybe still have). Ramsons are invasive where they thrive. They went under the raspberries, to keep them down, but I’ve had second thoughts and given the plants I could detect away. The good thing about ramsons is that you in short time have a lot of them to eat, and no matter how much you pick (or weed) them they just continue growing.

Some years ago I had victory onion from several sources. It is much larger than ramsons, and where ramsons defoliate in the summer, victory onion keeps the leaves into the autumn. The very best is that it spreads very slowly, like a peony, and selfseeding is no problem. Only some of the seeds will sprout, and in the years they need to grow mature, they are very sensitive to animals activities. In other words – I have plenty of time to weed any volunteers if any should come.
It is actually quite difficult to grow from seed in open ground, due the the many mishappenings that are likely to hit small seedling in an ordinary garden in a span of five years. I haven’t succeded yet.

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In wintertime the nettet stubs remind me where victory onion grows

My first encounter with victory onion was in Siberia 1993. At most of the meals in private homes was served a sidedish черемша (cheremsha or tjeremsha), salted victory onion in smetana. I immediately became a fan of cheremsha! I love caviar, but this is even better. For years I tried to convince somebody in Siberia to send me seeds or plants, they only laughed at me and tried to make me understand that their victory onion can’t grow in gardens, they grow in the taiga and only there!

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For years I only saw leaves

Stubborn or persistent? I started a search on the internet. Found Stephen Barstow in Norway, who send me some seeds of victory onion. I couldn’t get them to grow, but then I made contact with a friendly japanese woman in Sapporo in Japan. I had seen her photos of Allium victorialis in her garden. She send me seeds, and some of them sprouted after 6 months. Unfortunately they were all destroyed by animals passing my gardens in the next three years, although I did try to protect them with chickenwire. Time is a serious factor in the culture of victory onion.
Stephen Barstow has written about victory onion (seiersløk).

Seiersloek, victory onion from Norway
Victory onion in flower – after years waiting

The seedy failures didn’t change me being stubborn/persistant. A dutch bulbcompany N.C. Nijssen offered two clones – ofcourse I had to buy both. Now I had a clone from Kemerovo in western Siberia and one from Cantabria in Spain. The one from Kemerovo is almost half size of the cantabrian one. A year after this “victory”, I saw some norwegians writing in a webboard about a local variety, grown in gardens on some of the Islands in Lofoten. I made contact with a norwegian woman on the island Vestvågøy, who send me a victory onion from her garden. Interestingly it seems, that her plant is the one that grows best in my garden. Investigations in the genetics of this victory onion shows, that it is likely to have come from Caucasus, where it once was in garden culture, and brought to Vestvågøy by vikings 1000 years ago.

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Seedhead, victory onion clone from Kemerovo in Siberia

Victory onion clone from Kemerovo has been very willing to flower and produce seeds. I’ve collected the seeds and shared them with other seedsavers, telling them about the challenge.

Stephen Barstow visited danish gardens in the summer 2008, I was lucky – he passed by my garden. He even brought me gifts: Allium victorialis spp. platyphyllum and Allium ochotense. The first is the same kind as the one I tried to grow from seeds from Japan, the other one is a synonym for Allium victorialis spp. platyphyllum. I wonder if they will look just alike. There could be differences, as it is not the same clone. And if I should decide to collect seeds, it’s a benefit to have parent plants that are not the same clone. They are both from far east asia, although I formerly wrote in this post that the latter was from Estonia. Well it passed through Estonia on its way to my garden. It probably passed a lot more countries, since departure from it’s original habitat.

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Heritage Sweet White Multiplier Allium cepa var. ? in february frost

Spring onions are well known, but this one could be called winter onions. It’s a multipurpuse little onion, both producing topsets and sweet white shallots. Like other white onions it only stores some months. Taste is very mild and sweet, usefull in salads, wonderfull with tomatoes.

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Heritage Sweet White Multiplier harvested as shallots in late june

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Heritage Sweet White Multiplier topsets in late may

When topsets comes in the ground in autumn, they can be harvested as spring onions in spring. Harvesting later, as the tops bend over, produce good sets for next season.
Next year the beautifull white shallots can be harvested.
Setting these, next year they produce a lot of very small onions. I hope these again produce the good shallots.

Thanks to Martin Longseth in Wisconsin, USA, for this usefull little multipurpose onion.

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A garlic scape with dead flowers, no seeds this time

On july 12, 2008 I wrote the post “Can you harvest true seeds from garlic?”

Now it’s about time I write a little on my experience.

It has been very interesting to take some close looks at the scape and flowers of garlic. But I had only short time to inspect the open flowers, as they withered after short time, and for this reason couldn’t set seeds. New flowers opened and withered again over time. I many of the scapes I had removed the topsets. Varieties with large topsets was easy to clean for topsets, whereas those with small topsets set to set new topsets again and again, I didn’t have the persistance to keep them clear of topsets.

Siberian is one of the clones I tested. Known to be able to set true seeds, yet not capable to do it in my garden last season. Could it simply have been a terrible year for garlic seed setting?
Garlic are daylength sensitive, as known from ordinary onion also. Do they get too long days in my garden? Garlic originates in Tien Shan in central Asia, much further south and with much shorter days in late spring and summer. All succesful true garlic seed attempts I remember was performed much south of Denmark.

Should I try again next year? I’m not sure. Those who have grown garlic from true seed for a few generations find, that the younger generations set seed much more easy than the older generations. Maybe I could just lurch around, waiting for somebody to offer sharing true garlic seeds?

I hope my writing will inspire rather than deter you from experimenting with garlic 🙂

A great thank to all of you, who have come forward and shared your adwise and experiments, I’m gratefull.

Last autumn I found a new book on garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith, Timber Press 2008: The complete book of garlic. It has a good description on garlic and seedproduction.

How will I experiment with garlic this year? Well – I have garlic cloves in the freezer, put some of them in the ground this autumn. Now I wait to see if they will grow. If they do, I will in coming years set more, to get an idea of how long the store in a freezer and retain the ability to grow. This knowledge I could use to grow fewer varieties each year, and still mantain a collection.

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