Dry-Farmed Alliums?

I’ve mentioned recently how important a crop Alliums — Garlic, Leeks and Onions — are to our farm and as a component of your CSA boxes.  During the winter, the three crops combined make up a quarter of all the vegetables we have planted.  While onions and garlic are not harvested until late spring, both are planted in late fall and grow through the winter (We also plant more onions in the spring, but that’s another newsletter).  The actual harvest happens when it is warm and dry, most of the work of growing the crops takes place when it’s cold and (we hope) wet.
For many years, I considered these crops to be almost “dry-farmed”, grown without irrigation and watered by rain except for the last month or two before harvest.  In fact, in 2011 not only did we not irrigate the garlic a single time; we lost much of the crop in storage because the weather was too damp to allow it to dry after harvest.
In comparison, garlic and onions grown on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley — the primary area in California for growing these crops, at least before the drought — are always irrigated all winter long.  Normal rainfall in that area is around 4 inches, compared to the 20 inch average here.
During the winter of 2013, however, we only got 8 inches of rain.  We had to irrigate both onions and garlic regularly through the entire winter and right up until harvest.  What would normally be twp of our lowest-water use crops turned into water-guzzlers during that drought winter.  After all, garlic is in the ground for 8 months and onions for 7, making them two of our longest-growing crops.
Leeks are harvested in the winter, but they are planted in the heat of summer, so they use more water than their winter-planted cousins.  But most years we stop irrigating them in mid-fall and let Mother Nature take over for the rest of the season, which lasts until March.  In 2012/2013, however, we irrigated the leeks every week from July through March.
Last winter we got just enough rain in December and February that we didn’t have to water any alliums until March.
This year, we got one garlic field planted in late October and it got a nice slug of rain from the storms in early November.  The second garlic field went in just before Thanksgiving, and we were hoping last week’s storm would give it a nice soaking.  Instead, we got a tiny amount of rain and a whole lot of wind.
Last week’s storm brought us just a little rain and mostly wind.  By the end of the day Tuesday, it was already clear that we would have to irrigate all of our winter crops.
We’ve been planting onions this week, hoping that the storm forecast for Thursday will come through.  But the tiny plants are too delicate to leave unwatered in the meantime, so we’ve put out sprinkler pipes and turned on the pump.  Here’s to hoping it will be a nice long while before we have to water them again.


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