Tuesday, July 23, 2024
10.1 C


My Account

- Advertisement -

There’s shallot to be getting on with

It is the middle of June, and some of the summer vegetables have run out, but one of the cocktail tomatoes is still in full growth. The ‘Honeybee’ growing at the back door has a huge number of small yellow fruit that are still, somewhat to my surprise, ripening.

However, our supply of long keeper onions has finally been finished, and we have had to resort to buying in supplies. I have always found that onions are one of the easiest of crops to grow, planting out seed-grown plants in the spring planting season, then harvesting as the tops die off and the onions have matured in January.

The summer before last the crops did not grow as well – mainly due to the wet weather I am sure – but I managed to make use of the smaller bulbs by putting down a few jars of pickled onions.

We generally plant long keeping brown onions, rather than the more succulent red cultivars, as the red ones are not so easily kept through the winter.

Onions are the most well-known of the many members of the Allium genus – some for their value as vegetables, while others are grown for the spectacular flowerheads they carry, and there are even one or two that can be grown for both reasons.

At this time of the year there are two different alliums that should be front and centre for gardeners – shallots and garlic, both of which are traditionally planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest one.

Shallots are interesting plants – sort of like milder and sweeter onions, and probably not much consumed except by chefs and those who grow their own.

You can grow these from seed – the variety ‘Zebrune’ is one that I have seen around, with lovely banana-shaped, red-skinned bulbs – but they need to be sown early in the autumn. For now, the best bet is to plant using bulbs that most garden centres will have in stock.

They will come in a little cluster of bulbs, so the first step is to separate them out and then plant them individually , blunt end down, about two thirds of the bulbs in the ground. They should be in a well-drained fertile soil – one that had been used for green-leaved crops the year before would do well – with a high compost content. They much prefer to be in full sun, so bear that in mind.

We generally don’t plant too many of these, so one row does us. We plant about 15 cm apart in the rows, and if you have more than one row, you’ll need to space them about twice that distance.

The same process can be used for garlic, although in this case you’ll probably get a little more from each clump. Break the cluster into individual cloves and bury them to about 5cm. If you plant them too deeply, they’ll rot, but if they are planted too shallowly, they will fall over as they grow. You’ll end up with plants laid out neatly on the ground!

They require the same sort of soil as shallots – free draining and fertile – and need a sunny position to do well.

Probably the most common garlic variety is ‘Printanor’, which is an older French variety, but the mother plants have been grown in New Zealand for many years now. It is a nice white variety with good flavour.

Slightly milder and actually more closely related to leeks than garlic [they’re cousins anyway] is the wonderful elephant garlic. This is a biennial, growing a large bulb in its first year, then splitting into multiple separate cloves the following year.

The flavour is much milder – you could even use it is salads if you like – but it is said to be especially nice when roasted.

There are many other variations on the onion/garlic theme. I am a bit of a fan of chives, with their hollow leaves and pretty purple flowers. This plant is pretty enough to grow in a rock garden, but the trimmed leaves [and flower buds] are great for salads and omelettes. Their close relative garlic chives have flattened leaves and white flowers. The plants are evergreen, the leaves surviving happily though the winter.

Spring onions are generally harvested before the bulb has formed, while Welsh onions [not native to nor particularly cultivated in Wales] are usually grown for their leaves, and much used in Asian cuisine.

There is an odd hybrid between the Welsh onion and a true onion, one that is usually passed among gardeners rather than sold in the trade. The “tree onion” is an oddity in that it is usually grown for its leaves, but instead of flowering, it forms little bulbils on the stalk. They will even sprout on the stalk and can be detached to start the process over again.

It turns out that the old saying about “knowing your onions” is a bit more complicated than most people think.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -
broken clouds
10.1 ° C
11.6 °
10.1 °
66 %
82 %
10 °
12 °
14 °
14 °
14 °