Fall is the best season for gardening in New Orleans. Not only is it a more pleasant time to be out in the sun, but there's also a wider variety of plants that excel in our fall to winter season than at any other time of year. Now it's time to plant the fall and winter vegetables that will take the place of my scraggly leftover eggplants and okra from the summer garden.
In the fall, I usually plant a lot of greens and brassicas: mustards, lettuce, kale, chard, and broccoli and cabbage. They're the primary plants that provide my everyday nutritious winter comfort food, now that the weather is cooling off and I actually want to get back in front of the stove and into the kitchen. I love all fall and winter greens, but to really set them off, I plant the vegetables in the allium, or onion family. Alliums (onions, shallots, scallions, leeks, chives and garlic) vary in growing period, but they're all pretty easy to grow and require little care for great rewards in flavor.
I love leeks, and would plant more of them if they didn't take so long to grow. I usually plant a square foot block of them, pretty close together. After prepping the soil by turning it over with a shovel and raking until smooth, then adding compost, I sow seeds half an inch deep and about an inch apart. Once the leeks emerge, I eat them in various stages of development, thinning the patch as I go to make room for the rest of the leeks to get a little bigger.
I like to purchase "sets" or starts from Jefferson Feed for planting green onions. Sets are a small bulb that will produce green stalks, which you can eat like a scallion in a few weeks, or wait until the energy goes back into the root to produce a bigger bulb. For sets, plant each bulb pointy side up, deep enough so that the pointy end is just barely covered with soil. For starts, gingerly separate each start (growing in the plastic nursery containers, their roots will inevitably intertwine) and then plant them about an inch deep and water well.
Green onions, whether grown from starts or sets, are so tiny initially that they can be tucked around other plants. I let them mingle with my cabbage and kale because they supposedly help repel leaf-eating pests. I have yet to see any real results to that effect, but the plants seem to make good garden neighbors and at least it saves some room in my raised bed.
One of the other handy things about green onions is that you can get a second sprouting from them on a windowsill (works well with store bought green onions too).
Simply trim about an inch off the root end off the scallion, still in the white part. Put the root end in a shallow jar with a little water and it will send out a new green shoot in about a week.
Garlic is a staple I plant in my garden every year, but I don't necessarily recommend it for every urban gardener. If you want to be growing as much food as possible, in a small city space, garlic isn't the best crop because it takes six months to grow to fruition, taking valuable space away from the beets, carrots and kale that I love. But, if you're the "laissez farmer" type like me, who just wants to be growing food with minimal input, garlic is a great crop. It needs well-draining soil, like all root crops, with some compost worked in at planting time. Garlic needs to be planted by individual clove, six inches deep, pointy end up. Aside from that, garlic seems to thrive on neglect. It doesn't want to be watered or fertilized - we get plenty of rain, and fertilizer usually stimulates above-ground green growth, not underground root bulb growth.
I always plant a few shallots because they sound fancy and I like their mild fl avor. I'm still working on producing really nice shallot bulbs, because in my garden, they seem to just want to produce lots of greens like scallions, with an inconsequential bulb under the soil.
Luckily, in the garden, even a failed shallot is still edible; the greens can still be used and eaten just like scallions, but with a slightly milder flavor.
10 green onions, green garlic, baby leeks or shallots
1 T Olive Oil
2 T lime juice
Trim the root ends of the green onions and toss with the one tablespoon of olive oil and salt to taste. Place the green onions on the grill and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, (depending on the size of the onions), or until softened and slightly charred. Remove the onions from the grill and toss with 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Alternately, the onions can be roasted in a 400 degree oven for ten minutes, or until softened and ends are crispy.