25 Jul 2010
Saga and Onions
A couple of weeks ago the onions started to keel over and I received several complimentary comments to the effect that they looked lovely and ready, followed by: "Could I have one…? Only I can't be bothered to walk to the shop". Harrumph. In fairness, at that stage they weren't quite ready so I pinned up 'Do not pick' notices, feeling that the vultures were circling, and cast my gaze across the internet and a few books to see what I should do next. Apparently once the leaves start to yellow and they're properly fall down drunk, they can be lifted - on a dry day (preferably) - which has been a bit hit and miss of late in North London.
With the threat (or promise?) of heavy rain at the start of the week (… and I'm still waiting), I decided to go for it and have them all up (I did the reds, Karen did the whites) - and the winter planted hard-neck garlic. I slightly cheated last year by growing from sets, a bag each of 40 red and 40 white onions. Bizarrely, we dug up 43 red onions and 36 whites! When planting, I just managed 40 sets to each bed by following the spacing advice and there seemed to be ample space still between them when fully grown. The learning curve here is that, in future, I'm going to flout the rules and try planting at least 60 in each bed in true cram 'em in style! After all, the white onion bed had room for rows of carrots as well, which seems (so far) to have worked (at least until the onion tops flopped).
A York Rise tenant (and keen veg grower from Zimbabwe) suggested that I should plait them together straight away while the leaves were still green and hang them from the wigwam, come rain or shine. This is what works for him in his home country. This would look great covered in strings of onions wouldn't it? (Not sure it would survive the rain though.)
Anyway, I took a basket of first liftings off to be plaited - after following clear instructions from Matron at Hillingdon, I was thrilled to have several of these:
I then bumped into a local woman whom I slightly know; she's an artist, experienced gardener, author of many craft books and leading light of the Highgate allotments. When she said, "Lay your onions out to dry for at least a week", I listened and learned. The plaits were undone, more baskets found, a space cleared in L's greenhouse and the wait begins…
This is a sight that finally makes me feel like a proper 'good-life' gardener - stocking the larder for the months ahead.
Several people were kind enough to comment after my last post on the extreme useful-ness of the book 'How to Store Your Garden Produce'. Yet again, this book has provided very good advice on onions: "When dry, your best onions can be hung in nets or strung together. They will store well in a cool, dry place until the end of spring. Before you string onions, make sure that they have dried adequately." (my italics). The author, Piers Warren, continues with a 'How To' on stringing and reminds us that onions can also be frozen by skinning, slicing and blanching for 2 minutes.