Archive for category Alliums

How to Harvest & Cure Onions

Bulbing alliums, Onions and garlic, can be harvested as soon as they are big enough to eat. The whole plant is edible so they are a real treat pulled young and eaten fresh; bulbs, greens, flower buds the lot. However if you want to store onions or garlic you need to wait for the right moment. Stored well they will last right through autumn & winter until the next harvest in spring.

White onions strung for storage

Timing
Bulbing alliums have a lovely habit of telling you when its time for them to be lifted, the tops start to turn yellow and bend over. Just make sure they are not turning yellow due to lack of water and you are on to a sure thing. In my garden, main crop onions planted as sets in late winter – early spring will be ready to lift in late summer. The onions start to show signs of drying in the summer months, the tops naturally start to bend over once this starts to happen bend over all the tops and stop watering. Some gardeners say you should not bend over the tops as this can damage the onion neck but I have not found that to be the case. I gently push the leaves over letting the onion bend at the natural point. Turning the necks down will prevent the onions bolting and let the plant concentrate on bulb rather than seed growth. Leave the bulbs in the ground until the tops are brown or nearly all brown, in high summer that takes about 2 weeks.

After a couple of weeks lift the bulbs carefully, brush off the soil, and spread out on dry soil or on racks or anywhere handy to dry out for another couple of weeks, undercover if the weather is wet. This is to dry or cure the bulbs ready for storage.

Preparing for Storing
Once the onions are dried for storage, a good onion for storage should have a dense firm bulb and the neck dried back all the way to the bub, with a dry outer paper. Check over all the bulbs; separate any that still have a thick neck, or are a bit soft as these won’t store very well or any that show signs of disease and use them in the kitchen. Rub off any loose papery skin and any remaining dirt

Storing
Onions can be stored in sacks, baskets or boxes so long as there is ventillation around them. They can also be strung to hang in bunches, which is my preferred option. I find stringing them easier to store as they can be hung from the rafters or wall hooks and don’t take up any space. I also love looking at them given the choice between an Object D’Art or a string of onions on the wall I’d take the onions any day. I plait the onions together in groups of about 7-9 to make a useful bunch, one plait can be brought into the kitchen at a time. Store in a dry, frost free place with plenty of ventilation. A kitchen is normally too warm and humid so find somewhere cooler.

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Rouge de Florence


Onion (Allium cepa) 'Rouge de Florence' of the Liliaceae family.

Description Rouge de Florence, is also known variously as; Rossa di Firenze, Rossa Lunga Di Firenze, Rossa di Toscana, Long Red Florence, Florence Simiane, Italian Torpedo or Italian Red Torpedo. An outstanding long, red onion that I find a joy to both grow and to eat. I love this onion, the shape the colour and the outstanding flavour. In my garden it is one of the easiest and most reliable of croppers and can be grown right through the year. It stores quite well and can be used raw or cooked so this variety definitely makes it to my list of desert island veg.

The torpedo shaped bulbs have a deep purple red colour and robust flavour. According to the seedsman Thomas Etty this onion may be synonymous with the Ox-horn Onion or spindle shaped onion (ognon Corne de Boeuf) listed by Vilmorin in The Vegetable Garden, 1885 however I would disagree with M.Vilmorin who thinks that … ‘These [pear shaped] varieties, however, are more curious than useful’. In my opinion this is a really cracking onion for the home or cook’s garden.

Origin & History This is an old variety from Tuscan Italy which I think dates back to the 1800’s.

Flavour The flavour can be mild and delicious raw but it can also become quite pungent depending on the year and how the weather effects growth. I find some years these onions are stronger than others.

CultivationSow outdoors in early spring for a summer crop or late summer for a spring crop the following year. Sow undercover from winter and transplant in early spring spacing seedlings 5cm-8cm apart in rows 30cm apart. In my garden I have had the best results sowing in trays in November, pricking out into double trays in December-January and planting out late February -March to harvest a bumper crop after midsummer.

Plants are strong and reliable growers bulbing up nicely after midsummer. They withstand light frost, heavy frost seems to make them divide, drought and heat.

Harvest Grow in succession for use fresh – 2 sowings July-Nov and March-May will provide a continuous supply. For early spring onions leave some onions in the ground over winter and harvest the new green onions that are produced as spring arrives. Harvest when tops have died down and dry as for bulb onions, see my post on Harvesting & Storing onions. Rouge de Florence will store for about 6 months.

Use I use these onions for everything, you can even pickle the small ones.
Resistance a really easy going onion that will grow in poor soil and in tough conditions. An unstoppable onion.
USP When left in the ground overinter I’ve found that these onions multiply to form clumps of 4 or 5 green onions in the spring. These new green onions can be used as spring onions and are delicious.

Grown at Mas du Diable 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Seed Source Franchi

Note seed sources generally recommend to Sow Feb-May in cool areas and in warmer areas sow from Sept to April to harvest April – Sept outdoors.

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Planting Leeks

I thought I’d share my method of leek planting as I do find it fascinating. It is the classic technique that many of the old timers advocate but more modern gardeners seem to shun. I personally think it works a treat and is particularly good for dry conditions.

When I was a kid my dad used to grow whopping leeks for the show bench. As one of those mad exhibition vegetable growers, his process for growing leeks was finely tuned, if not obsessive. His leeks were planted on long raised beds stacked with manure and earthed up to blanch the stems. I can remember him out in the garden with a tape measuring the girth of his leeks. I just grow leeks for eating, so no fancy treatment here. Apart from planting out and watering no further attention is required until harvest.

The best time to plant winter leeks in my garden is late summer, depending on the weather. If it is too hot and dry I’ll leave it until later, even as late as the end of October.  Leeks are best started in a seed bed and planted out when about the thicknesss shown below. In France it is common place for gardeners to buy baby leeks at this stage rather than go to the trouble of raising the seedlings themselves.

Preparation

Carefully dig up the young leeks and put straight into a bucket of water, keep them like this until you are ready ready to pant, which you need to do within a day or two. Take the seedling leeks and cut the roots back to 3 or 4cm, then I cut the tops off just above the smallest inside leaf. It may seem a bit harsh on the plant but it really does work for seedling alliums. The reason for doing this is to reduce any damaged or unnecessary plant material so that the roots are not supporting what they don’t need.  Reducing the roots is optional but I find that it does help the leeks to re-establish and it cuts back roots which may have been damaged when the seedlings were pulled up. It also makes the seedlings more manageable, getting huge long roots into the planting hole is difficult, roots can get congested or damaged. This method allows the roots room to start again and water to be taken up more readily on planting. It is an old technique used in the UK and more commonly in France when planting anything out in summer, even lettuces get this treatment, which I do find a bit barbaric and my observation is that they never quite recover from it. Lettuces are much better plug sown and planted out without too much disturbance. Anyway I digress. Leeks do seem to like this treatment so I carry on doing it.

Planting

  1. Clear any weeds from the planting area. In this case I am using land that had corn and pumpkins on previously so it was heavily manured earlier in the year.
  2. Hoe the top 6-10cm of soil to loosen and work in a little bonemeal and woodashes or not previously manured.
  3. Mark a line for the row of leeks and with a knife or trowel dig a planting hole about 10cm deep, at intervals of 20 to 30cm. Spacing will depend on the variety or how big you want the leeks to grow.
  4. Drop each baby leek into a hole and water well. In dry weather water the holes before putting the leeks in, as well as after.

Note There is no need to push the soil back in around the leek. The roots are safely at the bottom of the hole and the hole has been filled with water. Gradually the hole will fill with soil and or the leek expand to fill the hole. Either way you get a nice blanched stem and a leek with plenty of water directed to the roots.

Aftercare

Water well every few days making sure each hole gets filled for the first couple of weeks until the roots get a chance to establish then water as normal once a week or so.

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