Alliums, Level Zero

This is growing alliums, the onion family, at Level Zero for absolute beginner gardeners. Learn to grow these, and the rest of the Allium family will be yours to explore. The two most easy alliums to grow, and those we prefer here in our patch, are GARLIC and WALKING ONIONS.

STEP ONE: In Level Zero gardening,
we stick to the most basic methods and simple routines that can prepare the garden for anything we want to grow. Check them out here first.

Garlic stories

Garlic is about the easiest allium to grow. You don’t need special conditions or seeds, just a store bought garlic head. Just be sure it is AUSTRALIAN garlic, as those from overseas have been mostly bleached, roots gouged off, and sprayed with growth inhibitor. Ew. In the cooler regions, APRIL 25 (Anzac day in AU and NZ) is a traditional ideal day to plant garlic, but seriously folks any time is fine. You’ll harvest in summer when the plant leaves start to yellow off. See below for the easiest planting ever.

Walking onions are curiously named by their growth habit. They are bunching onions that multiply at the base, but also grow stems with bulblets that grow on top in place of flowers. These ‘sets’ become heavy and eventually bend the stem over to touch the ground, where they form roots and start to grow on their own. In the garden, if left, they seem to ‘walk’ away from the original location – GENIUS! We use these ridiculously versatile and useful onions all year, from root to set – the quintessential no-waste veg.

curious 'sets' atop walking onions
Funky sprouting ‘sets’ atop walking onions
freezing - such a great way to store onions
Ready-to-freeze walking onions

FUN FACT ~ The mini bulblet ‘sets’ on bunching onions are what are used to make the little cocktail pickled onions we trot out at parties. Small, round and perfect 🧅🧡

Why not try pickling some for yourself?

So, where can you get walking onions, you ask?
– You may find some at a heritage nursery.
– Next Summer we will be making ours available for sale by mail order within Australia. 😎
– (sneaky tip) some supermarkets sell ‘Shallots’ that are actually just bunching onions. Though perhaps not walking onions, they are worth giving a go. Why not pop one in the ground and wait. If it multiplies at the base, then BINGO!

>> LET’S TRY THAT RIGHT NOW <<

Went to the super and bought a garlic and some shallots to show you. Excuse the grainy picture. The Garlic will seperate into good size cloves to plant. The shallots you can see are even dividing (I took off the outer skin to show it), so will likely multiply nicely. Its a grocer’s trick to sell bunching onions as shallots, but it’s good for us. Happy days. I will plant them and see what happens.

>> GETTING THEM INTO THE GROUND <<

  • CHOOSE A WELL-RAISED BED that has been trenched, so that it has plenty of organics to feed the bulbs.
  • SEPARATE THE CLOVES AND ‘SHALLOTS’ so you can plant one in each hole, about a fist or so apart
  • PUNCH a hole with your dibber or super handy Japanese Hori garden knife if you have one, deep enough to fit the bulb with a few cms spare.
  • POP THEM IN and cover with soil (or not, if it’ll rain soon) and mark them so you know where they are.

Seriously, that’s it. Don’t fuss. As Autumn and Winter rains come, you will see new shoots, and they are away. We will check in again when they have popped up.

Look wide, grow well, folks. 🌿

Dividing Asparagus

Nearly winter – Time to Divide Asparagus

This may seem back to front if you are not already growing asparagus, so if you are just starting out, then jump over to Planting Asparagus and start there. This is a cycle, so you’ll be back here in about 5 years when you are ready to divide your asparagus plants… after a shiptonne of delicious green spears. 😉

>> Winter Golden fronds mean nap time <<

Asparagus fronds turn golden in Autumn
Asparagus fronds turning golden during Autumn

Asparagus is herbaceous, meaning it becomes dormant over winter. In Autumn, the asparagus fronds that are left have turned from green to golden lace. They are just about to sleep for the winter. Usually, we would now cut off the fronds so they don’t rot and attract pests, do some top dressing or trenching between or beside the rows to give them something to snack on when they wake, then tuck up the asparagus crowns with a blanket of straw mulch to keep them toasty, and say goodnight til early Spring.

>> This winter is different <<

The crowns have been in the ground for five years, with each year a great harvest except this last one slowing down. Though you may read that they last 20 years plus, they won’t stay productive if crowded. They’ve been multiplying under the ground, filling out the bed and are now competing for space and food. Time to lift and divide.

Digging up Asparagus to divide
Digging massive asparagus clumps can be hard going, no way round it. A volunteer stevia plant also has to come out.

>> Let’s get dividing <<

We cut the remaining fronds down to sticks, mainly so we can still see where the crowns are. There are five massive clumps in this bed. A fork is the best tool, with a spade to remove excess soil from the bed (more on that in the Planting Asparagus story..)

This clump of 13 crowns came from one small plant in five years. Wowsers.

This one clump is 2 foot wide and very heavy. Use a jet hose to get soil off clumps and see how many crowns there are and where to cut between them. 13 crowns – woohoo.

crowns are separated.
Left: crowded crowns in a clump, Right: separated crowns to replant

We say ‘divide’ but really, we are separating these fresh budding ‘crowns’ which are connected underneath by the darker mature part of the rhizome (underground branching stem). Cut down between the crowns. The roots have fleshy coatings that are very forgiving and resilient, so don’t be precious. I use my Fiskars knife, which is years old, or a Japanese Hori knife would be perfect if you have one. Shove it down between the crowns, like cutting a pumpkin open. Really get in there. From 5 clumps, we got 70 crowns. You little ripper.

NOTE: Rookie error (ask me how I know 🤪) – Feel free to remove any dead roots that are clearly mushy or hollow, but don’t take off root or rhizome just because it is dark in colour. It is the more mature part of the root structure and is still feeding the plant.

Leave any stems that were still a bit green as they will a)mark where you planted the crowns, and b) still have energy returning to the crown. With crowns now apart and tidied up, we are ready to replant. That is another story, and my method differs from most, but it works very well for us. 😉👍

Read all about planting Asparagus, here.

>> Next is planting them out. Let’s go <<

Look wide; grow well, folks🌿
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attract pollinators with flowers

Sow easy flowers in Autumn for Pollinators

For many garden veggies, we need pollinators. We want them to feel welcome in our veggie patch and firmly on their regular travel schedule – come for the flowers, stay for the veggies. Right now is a great time to sow cheap and easy Level Zero flower seeds (the ‘just-chuck-em-in’ kind) right there in your garden bed or pot, next to veggies. No seedlings, no fussing, no prep. Here are our top picks for Autumn.

sow Sweetpeas in March

MARCH – SWEET PEAS

March, and in particular, St Patrick’s Day, is a traditionally popular time in Australia to sow Sweetpeas. Easy seeds to poke in the ground with your finger and perfect for little folks at your place to plant and watch grow over winter. Some kinds are tall and need a few sticks poked in to climb onto, but there are also dwarf varieties that bush up lower down. Both are beautiful and great pollinator show-offs.

April is time to sow poppies

APRIL – POPPIES

Think Anzac, think poppies. Loved by bees and hoverflies, these will self-seed (this means to drop their seed in-situ and regrow without you replanting year after year) if you let them. In the northern hemisphere, they flower at this time, but here run Australia, it is the month to plant and remember; lest we forget.

MAY – CORNFLOWER

Cornflowers will pop up despite the frost, and grow slowly but happily through the winter months. They are tall and proud in the garden, and favourites for all sorts of beneficial insects. Cornflowers blooms and leaves are edible, but somewhat bitter. The petals are sweeter, and look amazing sprinkled on cupcakes, salads and cucumber sandwiches.

Growing Method for easy flower seeds:

Frankly couldn’t be easier – buy a few seeds (or swap with a friend), rip open the packet, scratch up the soil with your dibber or the totally indispensable garden knife (or even an old fork), sprinkle seeds on the soil, scratch in again to cover, and walk away. So long as the area will be rained on later, no need to even water them in; it’ll happen naturally. This time of year it’s easier to count on incidental rain rather than standing there watering things.

We will show a few planting demos on our instagram stories during Autumn and Winter so you can see just how easy it is, but here is a quick pic of some poppies going in – a packet I was given by a lovely neighbour. It is a space between the walking onions I just replanted – nothing fancy, just about as big as a drinks tray and using my garden knife. I can always move half to another spot later if I want to (but rarely can be bothered).

Seriously the quickest way to plant your pollinator food flowers each month
  1. I made rough scratched rows with my garden knife to put the teeny tiny seed
  2. sowed the seed (nothing too precious, just guessed) and then scratched the other way to cover them but still leave mini furrows to keep them from floating away in any rain
  3. used some scrap twigs from the morning pruning of a bush to poke in around them to remember where I planted them, keep the birdies off and provide a mini wind break. Also if I want to cover with a tea towel on heavy frost nights, it grabs onto the twigs and won’t blow away.
  4. Ta-daa, all in and ready for rain. Seriously, I have never watered in autumn seeds as rain generally comes within the week. If not at your place, then a light sprinkle every other day til they pop up is enough.