Thursday, January 20, 2011

How d'ya like them onions?

Reliable spring rain followed by a mild start to summer has given us a superb onion crop this year: big, juicy and full of flavour. In a raised bed about 2.5 x 1.5 metres I've grown about 120 onions - 30(ish) each of Early Barletta, Long Red Florence, Heirloom Red and Creamgold - plus a few English spinach plants. The Early Barletta and the spinach have long since been harvested and digested, but I've just pulled the Heirloom Reds and the Creamgolds, and the LRFs are still going.

I thought disaster had struck when we got the heavy rains last week: all my lovely onions were sodden and I was convinced they would all rot!! Fortunately I keep some long rolls of Solarweave in the garage and was able to cover the onion bed on Tuesday, allowing the soil to dry out.

Creamgold, Red Heirloom and Long Red Florence

Through trial and error I've discovered that to grow onions in our garden I need to avoid mulching. Even the thinnest covering of lucerne or pea straw seems to lead to white basal rot which ruins the onions' flavour and keeping qualities.

No mulch inevitably means more weeding and watering, but a leafy cover crop helps to shade the soil until the onions are well established - hence the spinach. Once the bulbs are starting to swell, some low-growing weeds can be tolerated and may actually help to cool the soil and retain moisture.

I always find onions a bit of a worry - they occupy the sunniest bed in the garden for 8 months of the year, so I want a good return on my investment. I often get it wrong: two years ago I left my newly harvested Creamgolds out to cure in the sun - on a 40 degree day. We came back from the beach to find the onions well on the way to becoming roast onions. Disaster!! There was no way I was going to chuck my precious crop out, so I fired up the barbie and spent the next two hours chopping and frying onions with tomatoes. That all went in the freezer and kept us in pasta sauce for a few months.

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