As any grower of edibles will tell you, every year is different in terms of what is successful. What proves to be the star of the vegetable rack one year, will be disappointingly poor the following year, and it’s never easy to work out why. Different weather conditions, different varieties, a different range of pests and diseases, or just varying degrees of luck. Sometimes you can work out where you went right or wrong, but sometimes it’s just down to the whims of old Mother Nature, and what she decides to give you.
This year, she has mostly given us onions, in the form of shallots, spring or salad onions, and humongous maincrop onions.
We grew pretty good shallots last year, so decided to grow the same variety again, and this year they’ve been even better. These are Longor shallots from the Organic Gardening Catalogue. We find the small round shallots are a faff to peel, which has put us off growing them, but these elongated ones aren’t at all, they’re easier than regular onions, and they’re delicious. Even if I do lose the ability to see properly 30 seconds after cutting into one. They’ve already become the basis for most of our meals, and should hopefully see us through the autumn and winter months.
Spring onions are, strangely, a crop I’ve never had any luck in growing before. I’ve no idea why. I put the seed in, keep them watered and maybe get a few very weedy specimens at most. But my luck has turned this year. I grew them in a small bed at the top end which has been well composted and doesn’t get walked over, so the soil is rich and not compacted, and I think this has made all the difference. We eat a lot of spring onions, so these have been very welcome this year. The variety is White Stem from the Real Seed company. I have sown some more of a different variety in the hope that I can continue the supply for a while longer.
I would give you the name of our main crop onions, if only I’d kept the label. I might need to search back through my notebooks or online order history in the hope of finding it, as I’d like to grow these again next year. They’ve been very successful, easy to grow, no bolting (as our onions usually do) and more importantly, no onion mildew, which wreaked havoc on last years crop. After researching onion mildew last summer, I was horrified to read the advice from the RHS, which was to avoid growing any of the onion family in the same vicinity for at least 4 years. 4 years! 4 years without garlic, onions, leeks. Needless to say, I ignored the advice, and thankfully there’s been no sign of it this year.
The onions are now drying out nicely in the shed, the shallots have been stored and are being used already, and we are using up the last of the spring onions. I wish I could also be singing the praises of our garlic, but both they and the overwintered onions were very small. I think this was due to the very dry spell we had in early Spring. Having said this, the garlic is satisfyingly strong, and the small overwintered onions have seen us through the summer months, so we haven’t had to buy onions for quite some time.
Our leeks have been planted out. Pretty much every space on the plot has been filled with them, well over 100 leeks, so we should be good for (or sick of) leeks throughout the colder months. In fact, we’re down to the last few that I chopped and froze in spring, and should be able to start harvesting some early planted ones very soon. So that’s a full year of self sufficiency in leeks at least. I’m also self sufficient in their seed. I allowed a couple of leeks to flower and this has now been pollinated by the bees, and is full of seed for starting the whole process again next spring.
Back in 2008 when we took on our allotment, a wise man said to us ‘if you’ve got an onion – you’ve got a meal’ and how right he was.