Saturday, January 29

It could end in tears ...

You may have guessed that this post will be about onions and you would be right although more correctly the allium family.

You may also have thought that the title refers to the attack on your tear glands as onions fight for their lives when you prepare them for the pot. Apparently enzymes escape from the cut onion to produce a volatile sulphur that reacts with the water in your eyes to create sulphuric acid. It's hardly surprising that this makes our eyes water. Sounds scary doesn’t it sulphuric acid in the eyes?

Actually what the title refers to is far more scary if you grow your own. Our onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, chives and even ornamental alliums could soon be under attack from a pest that was first spotted in Wolverhampton in 2003 – the allium leaf miner, (some of you may already be suffering its presence). Since that time it has gradually been spreading to other parts of the country. It seems that if this pest is prevalent in your area that the only answer is to grow under fleece or enviromesh as we do our carrots. We haven’t seen any signs yet but I guess it is only a matter of time! You can read more information here.

Until such a time that the dreaded allium leaf miner strikes we will carry on regardless. At the end of September we planted our autumn onions Autumn Champion and Senshyu Yellow (can’t provide any links for Autumn Giant as they are unavailable at this time of the year but they came from Dobies). They never grow much through winter but still look OK and on target to provide onions from about June. We start to harvest as soon as they look big enough to use as they don’t keep well but certainly fill a gap.

We planted garlic in October from one of the bulbs that we grew last year – I’m not sure whether it was Solent Wight or Purple Wight as the garlic was mixed up and neither looked particularly purple. We planted four bulbs last year and had enough garlic to render all the vampires in the universe helpless. The cloves were planted in pots in our cold greenhouse where they will remain until around the end of March/beginning of April. It’s a case of really waiting until the ground is ready as the cold won’t hurt them – in fact they need a period of cold to form cloves.

This year we are adding Elephant garlic to our list which is not really a garlic at all but belongs to the leek family. It’s supposed to be milder than garlic and can be used raw in salads.

For a few years now we have planted heat treated onion sets. They are a bit more expensive than the standard sets but we think they are worth it as the onions are far less likely to bolt and set seed. They are planted a little later (March last year) as the sets have to be heat treated for 20 weeks before they are sent out. This is suppose to destroy the flower bud which is developing inside the set. We will be growing four varieties of onion this year, Fen Early – an early variety, Hyred (red) which we grew last year, Hytech which is claimed to be the best heated treated onion and stores really well, We are also growing Stuttgarter Stanfield which isn't heat treated so it will be interesting to compare them to the others. Most are new for this year. This isn’t because there was anything wrong with last year’s choices but each year different varieties are bundled together as a collection by the seed companies.

Shallot sets ordered for this year are Pikant which performed the best of the two varieties we planted last year and new for this year Picasso. We are also going to have a go at growing some shallot seeds – Ambition. We haven’t tried growing shallots from seed before so this will be a learning experience. This year if the weather hasn’t improved by the time the shallots arrive we may consider getting them off to a good start in pots.

At the beginning of last year our spring onions were very slow to germinate and even once they had germinated were very slow to grow. I read somewhere (as you do) that ones described as bunching onions are more reliable and so we bought a couple of packets White Bunching Onion and Performer which certainly peformed better. This year so far we have bought a packet of Crimson Forest that produce red onions. We thought we had some of last year’s seeds left but if they don't turn up we will buy some other varieties later.
Weather conditions meant that we were a bit late planting our leeks last year and so they are fairly small. Next year we will have to try and get them in earler. The trouble is it can depend on the weather and soil conditions. This year we have ordered Giant Winter which we grew last year. It didn’t live up to the giant part of its name but I don’t think it was its fault and so it is being given another chance. A new variety for this year is Blue (or Bleu) Solaise both are praised for their hardiness which if we have a repeat of this winter will be a bonus.

We have lots and lots of chives which have seeded themselves prolifically so far from planting more I think this year they will benefit from a severe tidy. They are really pretty when on flower though and the bees love them. Maybe I can use some to edge some of the other vegetable beds.

Just hope that the dreaded allium leaf miner keeps its distance and that none of you are affected by it!


  1. Fingers crossed for you re the allium leaf miner, hope it doesn't find your garden. I don't grow onions but have allium flowers and hope they do okay.

    Self seeding chives, wonderful, ours don't do that here. I love the flowers of chives too, they are so delicate in their colour with a hint of purple too. I also love all flowers that feed bees :-D

  2. The bees do love chive flowers Shirl which is a big bonus! I believe some people use the flowers sprinkled over salads etc. but we haven't quite got into eating flowers yet unless its a cauliflower or broccoli.

  3. Wish I had space to grow onions on that scale! We use so many onions in cooking that I never feel it is worth devoting any of my precious beds to this crop. I don't think it has a sufficiently high "Value for Space Rating".
    The flowering chives are most impressive. It's nice when something edible can be so decorative as well. The ones I have produce a much deeper-coloured flower - almost purple, rather than blue.

  4. My garlic chives that I grew last year appear to have self-seeded and are beginning to pop their heads up now. These are lovely in salads, potato salad etc as they have a gentle taste of garlic. Worth growing I think. x

  5. Doesn't that look purple to you Mark? They are purple rather than blue flowers that fade as they age. Onions do take a lot of space and are difficult to keep tidy too.

    We have some garlic chives in a container in the garden Fran but they are only small at the moment as they haven't been planted long - if they bulk up some will go down to the plot.

  6. Best of luck, hope your crops survive the leaf miner.

  7. I have to remember to order the shallot and garlic before all the stocks finished. I heard about Blue Solaise leek, said the cooler the weather are the bluer the leaves become. We have problem germinating spring onion in spring this year!Your chives flower is really purple,can it be due to the weather, mine not that purple.

  8. Maybe it's just the colour-reproduction on my computer, but the chives in your picture look blue to me! I thought they must be a different variety.

  9. There's always some pest waiting in the wings ready to destroy whatever crop you plant. Let's hope the allium leaf miner stays away from Yorkshire. I've already planted my shallots in plantpots to give them a good start. They'll go in the allotment once the weather improves. I always grow my spring onions in containers. They've always grown really well this way.

  10. Thanks Damo - is it in your area.

    The flowers do fade a bit if it is really sunny Diana.

    You'll have to take a photo iof yours and see what they look like on your computer Mark. There is a theory that says we don't all see colour in exactly the same way!

    Our shallots haven't arrived yet Jo - maybe we should set up signs directing allium leaf miners away from us. It's one of the penalties of importing food as apparently it orginally came into the country on stuff imported from overseas.

  11. I hope that the leaf miner stays away from your alliums!

    I have had an awful time the past two years growing onions. We use a lot of them and it has been very disappointing. This year I'm not growing any from seed..hopefully I will have a more successful onion crop.

  12. So do I Robin.

    We have never grown ordinary onions from seeds - just sets! It will be a first for us growing shallots from seed!

  13. Well I don't much like the sound of that 'bug' but at least I know to keep an eye out for it so thanks for that. It amazes me how organized you are with what you're growing...and you seem to have so many different varieties of each that I wonder how many allotment plots you have...I'm not sure I could fir this amount in.

    About the only thing I know the name of are my potatoes and runners....oh well it all works out regardless but maybe next year i will take a little more notice!!

  14. We didn't grow enough onions last year, but we have enough garlic for next decade.
    I hope spring will be warm so my spring onions will be ready for harvest soon. It is a good replacement when there are no more onions in the storage.

  15. We have 5 plots Tanya although - we started allotmenting when it wasn't popular and our site was semi derelict - there were murmurings about changing the status of the land and so to keep the allotments going the people who had plots at that time just took on additional plots. All were totally overgrown so it was a huge challenge but after yaers of hard work we got there in the end. May seem unfair to some but we have put blood sweat and tears and lots of money to get the plots to the state they are in now so don't feel guilty about it.

    We still are OK for onions Ana although they won't see us right through until the autumn onions are ready to pick but maybe almost. WE'll start some spring onions in tubs in the greenhouse so I guess you'll be getting a head start in your fantastic greenhouse.


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