Tuesday, February 2, 2016

End of Season Review - Onions & Leeks


Storage Onions

Onions are such a fun crop to grow.  I especially love them because they are one of the few homegrown veg we can enjoy “fresh” all year long.

The old kids wagon sure is handy at harvest time

In 2015, I grew all of the same varieties I grew the previous year – Ailsa Craig, Rossa di Milano and Copra - plus I added Red Wing, a variety that is supposed to hold up very well in storage.  I also made an attempt at growing potato onions.

Ailsa Craig

Rossa Di Milano

Copra

Red Wing

One issue that impacted the onions quite a bit, in both a good and bad way, was the netting.  In 2014, I discovered that a significant portion of the onions had onion maggot damage.  The solution was to net the beds this past year.  What I didn’t take into account was how tall onion foliage grew – my standard netting was completely inadequate.

I didn't end up getting a photo of the onion bed chaos,
but this is the garlic & shallot bed which was pretty much in the same situation

I expanded the cover on one of the beds fairly promptly, but then ran out of netting and waited far too long to replace it in the other onion bed.  Back in July, I wrote an Onion Update post that described my netting issues in detail.  The bottom line was that many of the onion tops developed mildew as a result of being squished and gaps in the netting let in some onion flies.

I trimmed the mildewy leaves and, thankfully, the onions are no worse for wear on that front – they cured well and I haven’t encountered any issues up until now.   The onion maggot damage was not that severe either, with only a small portion of the onions affected, primarily Red Wings.

As for the potato onions, my patience is growing a bit thin on those – most of those I planted in the fall of 2014 ended up bolting, which is not supposed to happened (if you don’t know about potato onions, I described them in the Onion Update post I linked to above).

I kept the few that were fine and have decided to give them one more shot, but this time planting them in the spring instead of the fall….if they make it to spring without rotting or spouting that is.





2014 was a phenomenal year where I grew 2 full beds of onions and harvested over 38 kg (85 lbs).  This year the total harvest went down, mainly because the size of the onions went down.  I’ll be blaming this on the irrigation situation.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

Even with the netting and irrigation issues, it was a pretty good onion year.  Not as good as 2014 in terms of quantity, but I think the harvest will still be more than enough for our needs.  Onion maggot damage was also significantly reduced, so that was a definite win.

The onions grown in 2014 stored extremely well - I still had some in storage when the new crop came in.  What I realized was that 85 lbs was a bit too much for our needs – yes, I know that sounds like a lot so it seems to be an obvious conclusion.  But as onions are such a basic addition to practically every dish we make, I really wasn’t sure until we harvested them this past season and we still had a good quantity of onions in storage from the prior year .

With the drip system that will be installed this spring, I’m expecting to get a better harvest with larger onions, so I’ll be cutting back on the space devoted to storage onions to 1.5 beds (instead of 2).  The bed space that is freed up will be used for bunching onions and shallots.

I'll also be making a change when growing the transplants.  Since it doesn’t seem as if the onion seedlings mind being grown together and pulled apart when transplanted, I thought I would make my life easier this year and grow them in large cell packs instead of plug packs.  This would also save space under the grow lights, a big consideration as last year I ran out of room at one point.

Once the onions are transplanted, I'll be placing the taller netting on the onion bed right from the start, which should virtually eliminate any onion maggot damage.

I’ll be growing all of the same varieties this coming season – I have yet to find a storage onion I don’t like! – and am adding a new one that I found at Baker Creek, "Jaune Paille Des Vertus".


Perennial Bunching Onions

This was my 2nd year growing perennial bunching onions and I think that I am that much closer to finding the right variety for my needs.  Of the three varieties I've tried so far, two ended up being too large (He-Shi-Ko and Evergreen Hardy) but the third (Nebuka) is looking promising.

Nebuka (left); Evergreen Bunching (right)
In the center is a Nebuka onion that has just started to divide

Not only does Nebuka form smaller onions – which I prefer when it comes to bunching onions – but it also seems to be a relatively quick divider.

But of course, we are talking about “perennial” bunching onions, so the real test will be how well they fare over the winter.  In 2014, most (but not all) of He-Shi-Ko survived the winter.  I didn't cut them back the previous fall which made mulching them a bit of a pain as I had to work around  their 24" high stems.

In an effort to make mulching easier, I decided to do a bit of a test on the Evergreen Bunching.  I cut them back, leaving only a few inches of the stalk, before mulching.  If this works, the benefit is twofold - not only are they easier to mulch, but I also get a nice late season harvest of onions which would otherwise go to waste as the leaves die back over the winter.


Mid-December harvest of Evergreen Bunching

Now we wait to see if they survive the winter after their haircut.  I didn't want to take any chances with the Nebuka onions, so those I left alone.




Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

I really like the idea of a perennial onion patch, but whether my idea meets with reality is still up in the air.

Dave of Dave's Square Foot Garden made a good point last year – he had grown them before and found that they were a bit of a hassle to harvest.  I didn’t have much of an issue with the larger varieties (that I don’t want, of course!), but did find the smaller Nebuka tended to break if I simply tried to pull it up.  Looks like a garden fork may be necessary to harvest them intact.  We’ll have to see how that goes next year – that's if they make it through the winter.

I also decided to try a new variety from William Dam – White Welsh. This one had been on my list last year but for some reason never ended up in my shopping cart.


Leeks

Leeks were a late addition to the allium bed.  My one and only attempt at growing them was many years ago and it was quite disappointing, with their size barely meeting green onion standards.  But I was inspired by the leeks I saw growing in UK gardens so I rushed to the store in early March and picked up seeds for two varieties:  Lancelot and Jolant.

I didn’t want to grow too many as this was simply a test to see how well they would do.  My plan was to grow 6 seedlings each for a total of 12.  Well, that didn't work out and I only ended up with 9 seedlings altogether.  Then several of those didn't make it after transplanting into the bed, leaving me with a rather depressing total of 2 seedlings for each variety.

But 4 leeks are much better than no leeks, so for that I was grateful.  Lancelot produced two "normal" leeks weighing a total of 232 grams (0.51 lbs).

Lancelot Leek

Normal is in quotes because these are still quite a bit smaller than those I see at the market.

In the case of Jolant, it produced one "normal" leek & one 22 gram runt, their combined weight being 156 grams (0.34 lbs).

Jolant Leeks

I tried to plant them deeply, but obviously didn't do a very good job of it - none of the leeks had particularly long white shanks.  But that’s where the sadness ends – for a first attempt and considering the other challenges last year, I was more than pleased with how well those surviving seedlings did.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

My leeks were delicious & even though I only ended up with 4 of them - well, 3.5, actually :) - I’ll be considering my impromptu attempt at growing them this year a success.

And my plan?  More leeks, of course!  I won't devote a large part of the bed to them, but I’m thinking perhaps a 1’ x 4’ spot.  I’ll be using the same varieties as last year and sowing them at the same time as the onions which is one month sooner than last year.  I’ll also be attempting to bury them a bit more deeply - we'll see if I can get a few more inches of white on those stalks.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

14 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Jane - we gardeners are always full of those, aren't we :)

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  2. I've always grown the Copra---their storage capabilities are excellent. I think the company I always order from screwed up and sent me something else. I suspected that at harvest , as these were as big as softballs---Copra are usually baseball size at best. And now---they are all rotten or sprouting like crazy. Copras were always as rock hard the following June as the day I harvested them. It's been an awful year for me---I will now be BUYING onions at the store for the next 5 months--and you can bet Organic Onions will be pricey. Sigh.
    Perhaps I should be growing from seed---but it's always so nice to get those plants delivered in May-so healthy, robust, and well, me not having to do it!!

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    1. Oh, you have got to be kidding me - sounds like they sent you some sort of sweet onion, like the Ailsa Craigs. I always use those first as they do start going soft after only a couple of months.

      Having to BUY onions....oh, so so sad! You know me, I'm all about growing them from seed - but then again, we don't have the Dixondale connection that you guys south of the border have :)

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  3. I didn't grow as many onions as you but we are still using them! I have them in the garage. Wish I could find a spot to grow those walking onions. Nancy

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    1. They are such a basic veg in the kitchen, which makes it double great that they're such good keepers. It's always difficult to find spots for everything we want to grow, isn't it? :)

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  4. I'd love to know more about the perennial bunching onions. Do you start them from seed? What's perennial about them (do they come up year after year)?

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    1. I start them from seed & transplant them, much the same way as onions. Once they get settled, they start to divide from the base as they grow - this happens at varying rates, depending on the variety. You would harvest only a portion of the onions throughout the summer and leave the rest to keep dividing. They are supposed to come up each year, but that also depends on how severe the winter is and the particular variety - some are hardier than others. It's all a bit of trial and error as the seed packets don't really give you much information on that.

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  5. I've never grown many onions as it's not something we use alot of, I always had problems with the red varieties though, they just never wanted to grow for me. I think a lot of people had problems with their leeks last year, there were lots of blog posts about spindly leeks. I did start some off but they never got transplanted and this is not the first occasion that's happened.

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    1. We are an allium loving family - even last night I made a raita yoghurt sauce with lemon and thinly sliced raw onion (to accompany some Indian food) and my son kept reaching for that bowl...always makes me feel good when I see that.

      I noticed that about the leeks too - so strange that it was such a widespread problem. I wonder why that was? Hopefully your leeks will make it into the ground this year & we will all be enjoying fat leeks by the end of the summer!

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  6. I love growing leeks (this year number three I think) and am so pleased you posted on both Onions and Leeks and those you tried. Here in Nova Scotia canada am just about to start mine indoors, a week late for leeks but...it will be fine. Blogging has taught me so much, so from another one I learned to dibble the leeks in, and plant in a trench. So that does seem to work and gives more "white". Great advice. Thanks so much.

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    1. It's always great to "meet" a fellow Canadian! I'll be sowing my leeks this week as well - after the bit of a break that this (non) winter gave us, I'm ready to dive back in.

      Using a dibble is a great idea! I don't have one but I'll now be keeping an eye out - I can see how one would be handy for all sort of things. And I completely agree - I have learned so much from fellow bloggers and their real world experiences, much more than any book I've read.

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  7. Last year our autumn onions did much better than the spring planted ones. The later ones are just not keeping very well possibly because the conditions are so damp. Our leaks were very late planted and so are much smaller than usual.

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    1. With an earlier sowing this time round, I have high hopes for the leeks this year...as is the case with every newly planted seed, isn't it ;)

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