My first years of gardening really focused on the divas of the produce world: tomatoes, pepper, eggplant and melons. Those are the plants that want a hot climate (something the mild NW can barely provide) and lots of water. They are the plants we garden nerds coo and crow over with one another, talking about which sexy varieties we’re adding this season.
As the years have gone by, I find myself making more and more room for boring vegetables like onions, garlic, shallots and potatoes. They are tasty – don’t get me wrong – but they are not really the all-stars of most vegetable beds. I have learned though over the seasons that these are some of the vegetables we consume most often in our household – and we just can’t grow enough.
The good news is that there is still plenty of room in my raised beds for the diva plants. Onions, garlic and shallots are excellent companions to anything that grows more “up” than “down” – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lettuces, and so on. Just tuck them into your rows, making use of that leftover space between your plants. The bulbs mature nicely under the soil without compromising the health of your other plants.
Potatoes are broader leafing plants, but they are forgiving. I dig mine into open edges of the garden – along the fence line in front of raspberry bushes or under a semi-shady lilac tree. I try my best to remember to water them and in a good season I mound the soil up nicely around them to encourage more production.
And for an extra bonus, several of these plants will turn out great even if you forget all about them come harvest time. Go ahead and pay more attention to the sexy tomatoes. The potatoes, garlic and shallots will just sit quietly through winter and multiply even more the coming season. The onions, though, should be pulled after one season. They’ll try to flower the second season, which results in smaller onions that don’t store well.
If you’re on the ball, remember to flip the flower bulb over on the shallots and garlic as it forms on the stalks. You don’t want energy going into making a pretty flower. Instead, let the greens die back to brown as the plant sends it’s energy back into the bulbs – making the cloves nice and fat for harvesting. For potatoes, water through the summer and harvest when the greens die back in early fall. The haul from these seemingly boring plants will keep your larder stocked long after the memory of summer tomatoes has faded.