Showing posts with label Onions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Onions. Show all posts

2 Aug 2018

30 degrees in the shade (July in the garden)

So... July; how was it for you?  Here, like most of the UK, it was hot and dry. For most of the month I despaired as seeds failed to germinate, pea and bean crops failed, and garden pests abounded.  I considered the very real possibility of making the veg patch into a perennial drought garden next year. It would be pretty and not much work. I still haven't booted that thought out but the month ended on a happier note.  I now have a garden tap. Not exactly nearby but only two hosepipes away round the back of the flats that overlook the garden. After a heatwave summer, it was an exhilarating moment to turn that tap on and soak the garden.

26 Sept 2011

Stringing out your onions

Ah, the synchronicity of blogging!  Several of my favourite bloggers are writing about the storage of their onion harvests and, at the risk of driving people away through subject repetition, I need to do the same.  A quick look back at last year's post on this subject highlights how I've done things differently this year.

Last year the onions were lifted earlier and left to dry in a wire basket in Leigh's greenhouse.  I've since read that hot weather can start to 'cook' or soften the onions on the inner layers whilst crisping up the outside.  Certainly, many of my red onions needed to be used quickly last year and didn't store well, although the same method seemed to work well for garlic as I'm still using those stored bulbs. (And let's not talk about this year's garlic.)

This year I lifted the reds at the beginning of August (quite late) and the whites soon after, although I'd been pulling them both as needed for the kitchen since late June.

Last onions drying on upturned basket
I constructed a small drying igloo out of reclaimed plastic piping, some chicken wire and a roll of plastic sheeting. (I was lucky to find the pipes; they were clean offcuts from a local redevelopment project.) The onions were laid out in a single layer on top of upturned wire baskets (salvaged from an abandoned Ikea wardrobe) - this keeps them above the soil so that air can circulate all around. The pipes were bent across the bed and pushed into the soil at the corners, chicken wire was wrapped round the pipes and held up the plastic cover, the cover was then tied firmly to the piping struts at the sides and the ends gathered and tied to form a nice airy tunnel.  Ventilation and a moisture free environment is key for proper drying.

Certainly not a thing of beauty, the igloo was very effective and it held together (just) even in the strong winds we've suffered.  The onions had air circulating all around them but stayed dry and there they stayed for a few weeks until the bulb skins were papery but the leaves still had some flexibility.  In hindsight, the whites should have been lifted earlier as they suffered in the heavy rain we had end of July;  I thought they would be okay if left in the ground, I was wrong. In my defense, the leaves had only just started to yellow but the bulbs were beginning to rot as I lifted them.  (The good bits were swiftly chopped, blanched and frozen for future stews and soups, making sure any soft layers were cut out.)

Initially I brought them home in a big old rice sack but I needed to get them out of the way (my flat's not big) so I've strung them up using a combination of Matron's method (link below) and finishing off with a nice plait. I prefer to tie a double length of string to one of the first onions and then weave that in as I go, I think it gives the string greater strength.  Matron's method is to take the stem of the second onion round the back of the first stem, then over and round it's own stem.  Here's an illustration but check out Matron's wonderfully clear instructions:

Start with 3 onions, string tied round one.

Loop stem and string of onion 2 under the back of stem of onion , coming round above stem of onion 2. Then take it over and round the stem of onion 2.

Add in a 3rd onion and repeat: over and round back of 1st two stems ...
... then over and round itself.

Keep repeating with added onions.

As the string of onions starts to get heavy, split the stems into three and start to plait. (Bring outside stem into middle of other two and so on.)

Split double lengths of string and wrap - going in opposite directions - around plait to secure. Tie off and join string lengths at the top for hanging up.

Ta dah! 
However tempting and visually pleasing, it's not a good idea to store onions in your kitchen as this room can get steamy and hot and your onions won't store well!  As I don't have a garage, and my shed is a step too far when cooking, I've hung mine high up in the hallway where it's cool and airy - as in top pic.

25 Jul 2010

Saga and Onions

A couple of weeks ago the onions started to keel over and I received several complimentary comments to the effect that they looked lovely and ready, followed by: "Could I have one…? Only I can't be bothered to walk to the shop".  Harrumph.  In fairness, at that stage they weren't quite ready so I pinned up 'Do not pick' notices, feeling that the vultures were circling, and cast my gaze across the internet and a few books to see what I should do next.  Apparently once the leaves start to yellow and they're properly fall down drunk, they can be lifted - on a dry day (preferably) - which has been a bit hit and miss of late in North London.

With the threat (or promise?) of heavy rain at the start of the week (… and I'm still waiting), I decided to go for it and have them all up (I did the reds, Karen did the whites) - and the winter planted hard-neck garlic.  I slightly cheated last year by growing from sets, a bag each of 40 red and 40 white onions.  Bizarrely, we dug up 43 red onions and 36 whites!  When planting, I just managed 40 sets to each bed by following the spacing advice and there seemed to be ample space still between them when fully grown. The learning curve here is that, in future,  I'm going to flout the rules and try planting at least 60 in each bed in true cram 'em in style!  After all, the white onion bed had room for rows of carrots as well, which seems (so far) to have worked (at least until the onion tops flopped).

A York Rise tenant (and keen veg grower from Zimbabwe) suggested that I should plait them together straight away while the leaves were still green and hang them from the wigwam, come rain or shine. This is what works for him in his home country.  This would look great covered in strings of onions wouldn't it? (Not sure it would survive the rain though.)

Anyway, I took a basket of first liftings off to be plaited - after following clear instructions from Matron at Hillingdon, I was thrilled to have several of these:

I then bumped into a local woman whom I slightly know; she's an artist, experienced gardener, author of many craft books and leading light of the Highgate allotments.  When she said, "Lay your onions out to dry for at least a week", I listened and learned.  The plaits were undone, more baskets found, a space cleared in L's greenhouse and the wait begins…

This is a sight that finally makes me feel like a proper 'good-life' gardener - stocking the larder for the months ahead.

Several people were kind enough to comment after my last post on the extreme useful-ness of the book 'How to Store Your Garden Produce'.  Yet again, this book has provided very good advice on onions: "When dry, your best onions can be hung in nets or strung together.  They will store well in a cool, dry place until the end of spring.  Before you string onions, make sure that they have dried adequately." (my italics).  The author, Piers Warren, continues with a 'How To' on stringing and reminds us that onions can also be frozen by skinning, slicing and blanching for 2 minutes.
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