Grow Your Own
Grown your own - Piers Warren helps us to tend to onions
Used in so many savoury recipes, onions are an essential crop for the kitchen gardener, and to store for self-sufficiency throughout the year. They can be sown as seeds or planted as sets (immature onions that have been dried) in the spring. Some varieties can be planted as sets in the autumn for an early harvest the following spring. As sets have had an early start they can produce larger onions.
White Lisbon: Grown as spring onions, they can be sown as seeds in autumn and spring.
Red Baron: Sow as seeds or sets in spring, these attractive red onions are popular in salads.
Sturon: Large globe shaped bulbs that can be sown as seeds or sets in spring - store well.
Radar: A Japanese variety. Sow as sets in autumn to harvest June/July and eat fresh.
Shallot Longor: A traditional French shallot with a mild flavour. Plant sets in February/March to harvest in July/August.
Seeds can be sown directly in the ground where they are to grow and then thinned out, or in a seed tray and then planted out about six weeks later. Those intended as spring onions won't need thinning. Sets can be planted 10-15cm apart with just the tips of the small bulbs visible.
If birds pull them out you may need to net the crop temporarily while the roots grow. By all means mulch around the crop as it is growing, but not deeply around the bulbs themselves - they need to be exposed to the sun as they swell.
Onions can suffer from onion white rot - a fungal disease that lives in the soil and causes the foliage to wilt. If this happens, check the bulbs for signs of rot or a white fluffy fungus. Remove affected plants as soon as possible and in future years grow onions (and other alliums such as garlic and leeks) in a different part of the plot as the fungus will remain in the soil for some time.
Onions can be harvested and eaten fresh at any stage.
Storage: After the tops have fully died down at the end of summer, onions should be lifted on a sunny day and left on the ground. They then need a week or two to dry. The easiest method is to lay them in trays (clean seed trays will do) that are left in the sun, but brought indoors if rain threatens.
When dry, the best specimens can be hung in nets or strung together. They will store well in a cool dry place until the end of spring. There are various methods for stringing - plaiting works well, or you can take four onions and tie the stalks together, then tie the knotted stalks to a piece of string.
Hang this from the roof of your store and then add further onions, one at a time, by tying their stalks around the string and sliding them down to meet the others.
Make your own Pickled Onions
Onions are an ingredient in most chutneys, and you can also have a go at making your own pickled onions.
Peel small and medium-sized onions and soak in brine (100g salt per litre of water) for a day, before drying on kitchen paper and covering in vinegar in sterilised jars. To avoid overly sour pickled onions, add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to each jar and mix well. You can also add a variety of spices or a few fresh chilli peppers. Ideally leave the onions a month or more to mature before eating.
Grown your own - Piers Warren is the co-author (with his daughter, Ella Bee Glendining) of The Vegan Cook & Gardener: Growing, Storing and Cooking Delicious Healthy Food all Year Round available from shop.permaculture.co.uk