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The Onion Family

With a pretty heavy heat spell sapping the energy of a whole lot of folks in the United States, I thought it might be a good idea to kick off today’s column with a song. You know, to try to raise the spirits and all.

We’ll sing this little ditty to the tune of the old Addams Family theme song. If you’re reading this with a group of people, feel free to harmonize.

Some people think they’re funky
With smells that seem quite skunky
While others think they’re spunky…
The Onion Family

They add a touch of flavor
To dishes you will savor
For health, you ought to favor…
The Onion Family

OK, I guess this explains why I don’t have a songwriting Grammy sitting on top of my bookcase. The lyrics might be lacking something but I bet most of you will have a hard time getting the tune out of your head for a while. Just consider it one of those bonuses you receive when you visit the Off the Grid News and click on my column.

Speaking of bonuses, members of the onion family (also known as alliums) come with lots of healthy bonuses and they are easy to grow in any survival garden.

Onion Family members include:

* Garlic

* Leek

* Shallot

* Welsh onion

* Tree onion

* and, of course, bulb onions of all varieties

If you’re looking to keep your house and home vampire-free, stories and legends tell us that garlic can help the cause. From my way of thinking, avoiding vampires (and most vampire movies) is probably good for your mental and physical health. Actually, having a whole lot of garlic around is also pretty good even if you’re not trying to avoid meeting up with any broody, fanged folk.

Numerous sulfur compounds are responsible for garlic’s pungent odor. These compounds, including one called diallyl disulfide, seem to smooth the flow of your blood by preventing platelets from clumping and clotting. A study done at Brown University showed that men with high cholesterol who received the equivalent of five to six garlic cloves a day had a 10 to 58 percent drop in the rate their blood platelets stuck together. Since fewer clumps equals fewer heart attacks and strokes, I’d say this is a good thing.

Studies show that garlic also lowers the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream. A recent study at UCLA also showed that aged garlic extract can reduce the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels by as much as 66 percent.

We’re also seeing some evidence that these powerful bulbs can help combat cancer.

John Milner, PhD, chief of the Nutritional Science Research Group at the National Cancer Institute at Bethesda, Maryland reported that a garlic compound called s-allylcysteine appears to mess up the process that causes a healthy cell to become cancerous. Garlic also contains other tongue twisting compounds that keep nitrites from turning into nitrosamines. What does that mean to you? Well, if you eat bacon or other cured meats, you’re consuming nitrates. You can’t even avoid them if you’ve decided to become a vegetarian or a vegan because nitrites are found in a number of the pollutants that have fouled up our air and water. When these nitrites transform into nitrosamines, they can trigger cancerous changes in your body’s cells.

Actually, all members of the onion family seem to have cancer fighting compounds. A massive study in the Netherlands tracked the diets of more than 121,000 men and women and found that the Dutch folks with the highest quantity of onions in their daily diet had the lowest chance of stomach cancer. A smaller study in China seemed to show that increased onion consumption also resulted in less prostate cancer.

Other studies have shown that onions are beneficial in lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol, raising good (HDL) cholesterol and lowering levels of those dangerous blood fats called triglycerides. That’s a pretty healthy heart combo.

Fortunately, you can get all these benefits without a whole lot of work or expense when you grow members of the onion family in your survival garden. Members of this family all prefer well-drained, relatively fertile soil. For crop rotation purposes, members of the onion family tend to grow well in patch where you’ve recently grown brassicas.

Prepare the soil by mixing in some compost and add some Protogrow before planting. You’ll want to stay away from unbalanced, heavy-duty, artificial fertilizers when you grow onions. Personally, I think you should stay away from them for any vegetable gardening but it is essential that you use a balanced organic fertilizer like Protogrow when you are planting members of the onion family. Heavy fertilizing of onions, garlic, leek, and shallot encourages disease. It will also cut down on the storage life of these veggies. There ain’t much point in planting these potentially powerful vegetables if you’re going to spend your whole time battling diseases to get a few bulbs that you can’t even store for a full season. Fertilize them with the right stuff and you should avoid most of these problems, and have a healthy crop that you can store in a cool place good long time.

Most members of the onion family can be grown easily from good, open-pollinated seeds. Garlic, however, is always planted from cloves. Choose bulbs with a nice shape and plump cloves. In warmer climates, you’ll want to prep your bulbs for planting by keeping them in a cool (45 to 50 degree Fahrenheit) dry spot for about three weeks. When you’re ready to plant, carefully separate the cloves the bulb. They should break away cleanly from the basal plate. If you bump into a few that don’t break off cleanly, don’t plant them. Personally, I wouldn’t bother planting any small cloves either.

Plant your garlic with the pointy end of the glove facing up and cover with about two inches of soil. I try to keep about six inches between each clove to give them room to grow. Some folks also like to add a layer of mulch after planting. I’ve had luck with or without, and have never seen a case where it did any harm, so I’ll leave the mulch up to you.

As I mentioned before, if you use the right fertilizer and grow in good soil, members of the onion family tend to grow pretty well. You can, however, bump into a few problems. If you happen to notice maggots from the onion fly attacking your bulbs, you’ll need to cover your plants with fine mesh netting. In wet seasons, you might get some downy mildew which will turn your leaves black, and an orange rust might attack them in summer. These can look terrifying, but if your plants are otherwise healthy, they’ll often grow right out of the problem and produce a good harvest.

One note on harvesting probably should be mentioned before we wrap this section up. When you’ve harvested your bulb onions, you’ll need to prepare them for storage. Keeping them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area for a week or two usually does the trick. This will harden up the skins which will help them store longer. With a little luck, you’ll have good eating for months if you take this easy step.

I hope this section on the onion family has been entertaining and has provided a few ideas to help your survival garden thrive. Here’s hoping you get that tune out of your head real soon. Until the next time we get together, here’s wishing you a wonderful (tuneful) time in the garden.

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