I have had mixed success over the years, with each lesson learnt the hard way until I got to the point when I knew what I was doing and started to get a bit smart… you can see where this is going…
I learnt that they really don’t like competition from weeds during the year that it got weedy quite early in the season and the only way I could see around it was to dig everything out, soak the poor onions in a liquid feed while I set about clearing away all the interlopers and then put the onion back. The harvest wasn’t too bad considering.
Then I learnt that you really should have fresh seeds for onions as I tried and failed and tried and failed and then once more for good measure tried and failed to get anything at all to germinate.
Then there was the year that my entire crop was just enough to put into two pickle jars. So much for lasting the year for cooking. It was such a disappointment I blanked it out from my memory. In hindsight I should have made a point to remember why so I wouldn’t repeat it. Fortunately I have dodged this failure for a second time.
Then there were the flowers. This is not a good sign in an onion – even when a proper onion grower tells you to leave them there. While well meaning, this was not particularly good advice. If you see flowers nip them out, or better still harvest the whole crop – it is done. An onion that has been allowed to flower will be a hollow empty shell won’t yield enough chopped onion to sprinkle over a slice of cheese on toast!
Onions also have favourite times of the year and are a bit dumb when it comes to change. I have figured out that day length and temperature has a large effect on how they grow. The increasing cold makes the leaves grow and then the longer day length and warming temperature causes it to get fat. In the wild, left to its own devices the second winter would make it flower. But if you get a cold snap in spring, then it thinks it’s had summer and sends up flowers. So knowing this has helped me to understand how to get a good onion, and I was on track to get great onions.
Conventional wisdom also tells us to plant them on the shortest day and harvest them on the longest. I have a problem with this. The longest day is three days before Christmas. Harvesting onions will never be on my festive to do list. So this year I got smart and added up the days it would take for Christmas, New Years and the summer holidays and even a day extra for holiday laundry and unpacking then I counted back six months and planted my onions so they would be ready then.
I was so smug. I was ok with the weather, the weeds weren’t allowed so much as a look in, the seeds were fresh and I was set to go. But what I didn’t count on was the variety. I decided to branch out from my usual Pukekohe Long Keepers and California Reds. I decided to grow some Hunter River Whites and proceeded to treat them just like the others. They were onions after all.
But after months in the ground these new ones raced ahead and were soon labelled my best crop ever!!! They were everything you wanted in an onion – fat bulbs and healthy stems. But then after a storm they started to get sick. The leaves started to go a bit yellow, and were flopping over. There was a touch of mildew, but it wasn’t on any of the other onions. Things were beginning to look dire and I started to see a few flowers.
Then the penny dropped – this isn’t illness. This is the classic signs of being ready to harvest. But it was early. Six weeks early. How could this be? A quick look at the old seed packets made everything come clear. My onions weren’t premature – they were perfect. All the other onions take about 30 weeks, but this new variety only need 24 weeks. So there was nothing else for it but to dig them up. And so my best crop ever is now drying in the greenhouse. All 146 lovely bulbs with enough little ones for a jar of pickled onions. The rest will be ready on schedule after the holidays.
Come again soon – I now have a large gap in my garden, I must fill it with something – anything, I’m off to the garden centre.
Sarah the Gardener : o )