The tender attributes of garlic chives

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) posses such an above ground showiness they are known more as visual spectacle than food. When used in the kitchen, or included in edible landscapes, it is almost always as an obscure herb rather than a substantial vegetable.

The truth is it can be a side dish of its own if you know its more tender attributes.

I say this, first and foremost, because garlic chives readily propagate themselves. To me, abundance is a prerequisite to utility in perennial cooking; because just about any small delicacy can be made a meal if you have enough of it. Garlic chives not only divide to form handsome, large clumps in short order if conditions are sunny and fertile as they like, they also self seed like crazy.

The leaves themselves are a small delicacy. In early spring these come up thick, each leaf flat, with rounded tips like linguine noodles. As there is almost nothing below ground on this plant, it’s most productive for future harvests to pick only a few of these above ground leaves from each plant, leaving a couple on the base to produce the real harvest of flower and stem.

These stems show up around late August for me, with a trickle of flowers popping their papery covers throughout the month.

The flowers themselves can be tossed over salads. The stems can be snipped as young as you find them. By the time a stem has an open flower on top, it has become far to tough to enjoy.

There is a point, just as the unopened buds still hang their heads down, but the stem has begun to get hard at the bottom, that the top quarter to third of the stem is still tender.

Here I prepared garlic chives at about this stage. I sprinkled the with some oil (ghee, or butter oil in this case) , beef broth, hickory smoked salt, pepper, with mint and oregano flowers on top, and let sit while a pan heated. Once the pan was warm enough I could throw water on it and watch the water skitter around bubbling, I threw this mixture in the pan, stirred, reduced heat, then swished the liquids around in the pan to keep them bubbling between the stems until it was about gone and a thick sauce covered them.

These can be eaten like large asparagus -picking up the stem at the bottom, munching the tender part as far down as you enjoy.

At any point you can harvest whatever portion is tender and throw them into stir-fry or the like. Harvesting with the hard stems makes them more of an event to be savored.

Despite the name, garlic chives actually have a very mild, really sweet flavor. It can be added to salads, raw, or cooked in rich dishes, where it adds light overtones of garlic, luscious sweetness, and, if not overcooked, pleasant crunch. The garlic character really comes out more in the scent than the flavor.

I should mention Allium cernuum, or nodding onion, is almost exactly the same as garlic chives, except for the flavor. Whereas garlic chives are so mild and sweet, with garlic overtones, nodding onion has a robust onion flavor, and scent which can even smart the eyes as you’re harvesting.

Otherwise, the two are exactly the same in spreading themselves, time of harvest, character of the stems as the main crop, and the fact so many gardeners have mistaken for a mere ornamental what are truly delicious gastronomic delicacies.

A family building a food forest

What does it look like to gently form nature into abundance and beauty in our eyes? I was re-reading this post over at one of my client’s blogs that gives a glimpse of just that, and thought it was too beautiful to not share.  

If you like, you can read the post here


I hesitated sharing this when she first published it because it is such a plug for my work. I must sincerly confess I didn’t prompt a single word of it, so hope you find the imagery, and meaning of this post as beautiful as I have.

Up the chain: trophic system moderators

“What limits size and growth?……..

We ourselves are part of a guild of species that lie within and without our bodies….. Most of nature is composed of groups of species working interdependantly, and this complexity too must have its synchronistic regulators.”

-Bill Mollison Permaculture: A Designers Manual

Rummaged potting soil and dried, dead little seedling roots dangling in the air was a recurring sight in our greenhouse a couple years ago. Whole flats of peppers would have their tops nipped off and the like because of mice.

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Our heated greenhouse.

Poisons, traps, and even some nasty sticky pads lined the floors waiting to dole out death to the offenders, but they were ineffective. The traps caught few mice. The destruction continued. The sticky pads outside our sprouting room caught sparrows which I had a hard time cleaning the nasty goo off trying to save. Nothing worked until we got a cat.

Esmerelda is a small, long haired drop-off cat, but is the best mouser I have ever seen. For a while after she showed up, I would regularly pass her walking up the driveway with a fat vole in her mouth. As I raked out last season’s growth in the greenhouse, her face would be stuffed right in the middle off my work, waiting for a vole to dash from its dinner table.

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Esmerelda and Niki

Now when we plant, the only thing mice bother is fresh squash seeds, but even those are seldom touched. Having made some hanging shelves to keep the squash seeds out of reach, it’s difficult to tell if we have mice or voles at all.

Making friends with rodents is recognizing what voles, mice, and many of the technically-not-rodents like rabbits and ground hogs do for our plants I explained in the earlier post. It also means keeping their numbers in proportion to the rest of the ecology. Artificial trophic system moderators, such as traps and poison, aren’t that effective. What is effective, is encouraging these rodents’ predators.

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Perched Niki

As a USDA Certified Organic farm, we actually have to submit a written explanation of how we manage trophic levels such as rodent population, and Esmerelda is officially accepted as part of that system.

Owls are major predators of mice and other smaller rodents. Barn owls, which have species across the globe, eat at least one rodent a night. A pair with young captures as much as 3000 per year according to some sources, which would certainly keep about any rodent population in check.

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One of the many subtly varied species of barn owls. Photo by Jim Vallee

Barn owls are fairly ubiquitous, so the chances of hosting a pair is pretty likely if you have old buildings, hollow trees, or nest boxes where they can raise their young.

In addition to preying on mice, larger species of owls can prey on rabbits. We have a pair of great horned owl on our farm, which we likely wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for the faint sunlight betraying one of their silhouettes as it ghosted off one evening. We had some young pullets at the time the owl’s were picking off once a day at dusk. The remedy was caging up the pullets earlier in the evening and letting the owls go eat the mice and rabbits.

With this kind of appetite and stealth, great horned owls can obviously carry away some rabbits. Studies have shown even these big owls though also like mice, and that a pair will catch up to a dozen a night when feeding young.

Dogs have a pretty broad array of prey. Foxes prey on mice and rabbits. Larger animals like coyotes can prey on groundhogs, but few of us want those close to our gardens and homes. This is why we domesticated them.

We have a rat terrier, named Daisy -named after the bee bee gun brand. We got her specifically for managing the rodent population, which she does very well. Despite her small size, she also gets possum and groundhogs. This is because we’ve carefully trained her.

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Daisy hoping to get a bite of that pea. She loves veggies.

We have adhered to the idea that dogs seldom hunt alone, almost always in packs, with one taking the attention, others lunging in for the kill. Daisy has always been taught that if she finds something, we will always come to her aid. If she finds a mouse under something, she barks, we come, and do what we can to move things around and let her get at it.

This is especially important when she beats a very large groundhog to its hole and lays into it. She kills her prey by lifting it off the ground, giving it a whip, snapping its neck. As a result, groundhogs larger than her are pretty much impossible for her to kill alone. She has always been taught that someone will show up shortly to make the final blow while she keeps its attention. Although she can handle young groundhogs herself.

Our neighbor had a much larger dog they would keep in their fenced garden area at night when the sweet corn was about ripe. This kept raccoons from pillaging the place.

Some might object that allowing an animal to kill anything makes them a threat to their human caretakers. I think this is more a matter of teaching the dog who is a friend, who is a foe, who is above them, and who is below them. This sounds petty among us humans, who obviously function differently, but this is how dogs work in their packs. Even with animals that could, and should, be prey for Daisy, we have trained her to not kill.

If our rabbits get out for instance, we sic her on them. She catches them by simply holding them until we come pick them up. She doesn’t pick them up and snap their neck as is her method to kill anything else. The rabbit is a bit slobbered-on after this, but in my experience, catching rabbits otherwise is seldom less stressful for the rabbit, usually unsuccessful, and so leaves the rabbit prone to being eaten by a raccoon -which certainly doesn’t care about a rabbit’s quality of life.

In general, I think cats and dogs enjoy a much better quality of life when they are allowed to express their instincts. If we can figure out a way they can do this without endangering us, this is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Across the board, effective ecology creation means making friends with your pests. Sometimes, keeping a balance means making friends with their predators.

Featured on Plant Scientist

I’ve been working with Sarah Shailes, the curator, and writer of the prestigious Plant Scientist blog, to feature The rules of spacing, which was such a hit here a couple weeks ago, on her site. She published it today. Thanks to Carolee, a follower of Mortal Tree, for already liking the guest posting. Find the post here: The rules of spacing


While you’re there, you might like to check out some of the other articles Sarah and her guest writers have compiled. I have followed Plant Scientist for years now, and always appreciate the detail of the subjects explored there.

Moles: a link in the trophic chain

“Mole starts with M, and and M is for meat” as I once read. Moles don’t eat much plant material, they mostly eat worms and grubs -meat. What does it mean if you have a high mole population? You have a lot of worms, grubs and the like -a thriving ecosystem to sustain the little diggers.

Farming with Nature: why we welcome moles on the farm (~2min read)

This article gives a little more explanation on how moles benefit their ecology. 

Moles also eat young, ground-dwelling cicada nymphs. We were plagued by the adult cicadas this year. If I can get a higher mole population, perhaps I’ll have fewer of these bugs when they’re next due to emerge circa 2029. That would be nice.

Manual of bed building

IMG_5759Group and Conquer, A bit blunt, and even some link posts on this blog all revolve around the non-ground-breaking task of building no-till beds from turf.

As you can tell, these posts are a shared learning experience, with changes for the better always turning up. This year I did a lot of bed building, both for myself, and alongside several clients, resulting in new found tricks to really make a new bed weed free, and productive, fast.

First is the timing. While it is entirely doable to mulch and kill grass at any time of year, I find it easiest done just before the grass breaks dormancy in early spring. It seems to be a vulnerable time for the grass, I assume because it needs sunlight to jump start for the year. In fact mulch laid at this time of year often gets by with no weeding or raking at all.IMG_5270

I also find raking dead grass in spring is much quicker and easier to do than mowing with a scythe. I’ve noticed this is a relatively long lasting mulch -at least as much as green grass mulch, despite its being broken down over winter a little.

So I mow less in fall to leave more grass for mulching in early spring, do less work mulching, and get better results all around.

The idea of long grass I know isn’t attractive to a lot of people. A lot of permaculture designers stress that its not necessary for quality design.

It’s not. But it is far better. Deeper roots, more diversity, more growth, greater stability Through wet and dry wheather are just some of the benefits of letting grass grow tall and harvesting on scheduke like the one I’ve mentioned; but slow growth is better than no-growth. By all means, adapt as your circumstances allow.

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Another detail is using bulky, woody material as a base layer –not on top of the mulch. This way it holds the mulch higher off the ground, making that much more space for the weeds underneath to overcome. It also puts the wood where it will hold more water, and so grow more beneficial fungi.

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There is no question your mulch will be successful if the weeds are half dead before you even lay the mulch. Putting something completely impenetrable over the ground such as rocks, or logs, as explained in A bit blunt, is probably one of the best findings I made this year. It weakens even pernicious weeds like thistle, and allows for progress to be made while you’re waiting for grass to grow, as I did in the picture above. Every time I got some grass, I would clear as much room as I had grass for, and move the logs onto fresh grass.

Finally, or rather first, have plants propagated and ready for planting. Nature wants to make that site productive. If you don’t, nature will –with the same grass you just cleared. As soon as the plants underneath are dead –probably a week or two after mulching –less if you’ve used logs ahead of time, get that bed planted with mulch makers, fruit bearers, nitrogen fixer, anything you want. Definitely don’t leave the bed empty.

Of course perennials take a long time to grow to full size, so plan on adding fillers such as annual nasturtium or nitrogen fixing peas, beans, or vetch to occupy the gaps until the perennials move in.

With such a good start, it’s wise to build onto a bed rather than start a new detached bed; this conserves your efforts, and allows some leverage of the existing plants.

One way this can be done, as explained in Martin Crawford’s “Creating A Forest Garden” is putting an impenetrable mulch at the edge of a bed whose ground cover is a runner (mint, strawberries, etc. ). This lets the runners grow out, (underneath in the case of mint, on top in the case of strawberries). All the while, the grass is languishing beneath the mulch, so once removed, it allows light to the root runners, earth to the vine runners. The product: instant ground cover.

About the same thing happens with violets. Such as one spot with violets growing among grass, fall aster and others on which I laid a very thick layer of mulch. The grass and everything else were never seen again; the violets, I suppose because they can tolerate very, very deep shade, not so. They broke through!

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Of course I am trying hard in other parts of the food forest to establish such a ground cover. So I was more than pleased to see this. But just a note for the reader: violets are not killed by mulch.

And there is my review of bed building for the year. New developments to come I’m sure. Any experience from you, reader, is very welcome in the comments below.