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Pungent wheels

Posted by Guy Barter on 08 Aug 2008 at 10:11 PM

People are even more reluctant than usual to ride in my car now carting home the alliums is in full swing.  Last year my garlic, onions and shallots were so disappointing that an emergency leek planting session had to be undertaken to have enough alliums for the winter.  Not so this year, although I have still planted an improbable number of leeks.

The spring planted onion sets and shallots have fallen over and dried off – they have come home now, to ripen in the coldframe, to make room for the last of the leeks. They were grown through white faced black polythene salvaged from the ‘Taste of Autumn’ Wisley event.  This kept down the weeds and reflected light back up into the foliage.  I have been a bit sceptical about this white polythene but I really think it has benefitted this sun-loving crop.  With no need to weed and hoe there is no need to space plants widely or in rows.  Therefore the onion crop was set out at a high density with about 10cm between plants.  The onions are on the small side of course but there are a very great many of them, all about 6 - 8cm in diameter which is fine for home use.  On the other hand the white kept the soil cooler delaying maturity by two weeks compared to black polythene, but I think the yield is better under white.

There was virtually no bolting suggesting I could have planted a fortnight earlier for a bigger crop.

In the coldframe they join the over-wintered crop, which being planted much more widely are very much bigger, although the crop per square metre is smaller than for the closely planted spring onions.  ‘Setton’ and ‘Sturon’ were the main spring planted onions and cropped very well as usual and were joined by newcomer ‘Stur BC20’ which seems just as good although it is hard to say if it is better.  A new red onion ‘Red Supreme’ seemed to have the edge on good old ‘Red Baron’.  A white onion ‘Snowball’ also did well, but is so pungent as to be almost unusable.  Perhaps it will come at you less fiercely after storage.

Official onion trials suggest some good newcomers for 2009: ‘Reddawn’ and ‘Red Emperor’ are reported to be very promising and two sets with good disease resistance may be available to gardeners soon.  By some fluke of dry weather in June onion downy mildew was less damaging this year but is a scourge against which the gardener has no defence.

As ever ‘Senshyu Semi-Globe Yellow’ and ‘Radar’ were reliable over-winter and the red ‘Electric’ is completely reliable unlike older over-wintered reds.

A wide range of shallot cultivars were grown from onion-sized ‘Red Sun’ and ‘Hative de Niort’ to funny little ones whose label I have yet to uncover from beneath the black landscape fabric mulch through which all the over-wintered onions, shallots and garlic were grown.  Some of these shallots were set out in spring to replace onions that failed over winter and have filled in the gaps productively.

To harvest the onions and shallots the sheet is lifted and those bulbs that don’t come way with the sheet are gathered up.  I was pleased with myself for planting beans, courgettes and pumpkins into the maturing onion crop to get an early start but of course I cannot now lift the sheet and each onion has to be laboriously inched out without disturbing the following crop.

Garlic has all been gathered with ‘Early Wight’ and ‘Solent Wight’ making a heavy crop despite the severe rust disease and ‘Moldavian Wight’ being very much smaller, but supposedly tastier. I am not sure about that.

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on 27 Nov 2008 at 05:21 PM