Onion and garlic farming on Ly Son Island

(VOVworld) – Surrounded by sea and plagued with severe weather, Lý Sơn Island in Quang Ngai province does enjoy certain advantages – like delicious onions and garlic. Though small, they have an incomparable flavor. Ly Son has long been considered “the kingdom of onions and garlic”.

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A corner of a garlic field in Ly Son (Photo: Lan Anh/VOV5)

Ly Son Island was formed by a volcanic eruption which left lava rock mixed with its sand and coral. Older residents say Ly Son, which is 25 km from the mainland, used to be overgrown with vegetation. Boats often stopped to take on fresh water. Some fishermen eventually returned with their families to settle the island. At first they grew corn, potatoes, and cassava. Islander Dang Van Hien told VOV about the advent of onions and garlic: “Early fishermen believed that garlic can cure many diseases – even expel demons. This belief led to growing garlic on the island. They weren’t sure the local soil would be suitable to garlic farming, but it has produced garlic with a special flavor that no other garlic in the world can match.”

From the top of Thoi Loi Mountain, the villages of An Vinh and An Hai present a perfect picture of peaceful Vietnamese villages surrounded by a checkerboard of garlic and onion fields.

Ly Son has an area of approximately 10 square km, one third of which is dedicated to growing onions and garlic. In early April, though it is scorchingly sunny, farmers are busy harvesting one crop and planting a new one.

Truong Van Tien, a farmer who lives in An Hai village, says: “Although you see white sandy fields of garlic and onions, basalt soil lies underneath. The sand is brought from the beach. It is this sand that makes Ly Son garlic and onions so special.”

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Harvesting time (Photo: Lan Anh/VOV5)

Each garlic crop grows for 5 to 6 months, with onions being planted between the garlic crops. Growing garlic and onions has become the main source of income for Ly Son islanders. It has lifted households out of poverty and made some of them rich.

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(Photo: Lan Anh/VOV5)

Duong Van Giap’s family is a good example. Giap’s 26 ha of garlic and onions is very productive, earning the family 22,000 USD a year on average. But, according to Giap, not every year is favorable, because the weather is unpredictable.    

“The weather here is very harsh. If it’s too rainy, muddy fields can result in a dead loss. It’s extremely important to take care of the crop. We must visit the fields regularly to detect insect pests and ask the Farmers’ Association to help us apply immediate treatment,” Giap said. 

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Dry onions and garlic have become an indispensable souvenir for visitors to Ly Son Island. (Photo: Lan Anh/VOV5)

Garlic growers say that even when the weather is most severe, Heaven will never take it all from them. The garlic left in the fields is often single-clove garlic, called solo garlic by the locals. It can sell for as much as 10 times the price of regular garlic, because of its mild flavor, rich nutrition, and high medicinal value.

Hinh, a local farmer, says everybody knows that single-clove garlic is valuable, but no one knows how to deliberately grow single-clove garlic. They occur naturally in a field of regular garlic.

He said: “When there’s too much sun and wind, regular garlic can’t grow. But those are good conditions for single-clove garlic, which can be used to cure rheumatism and cardiovascular disease. Single-clove garlic is rare and expensive. Sometimes we find several bulbs of it in a field of garlic.”     

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