Friday, September 20

Timing is important

We planted onion and shallot sets in three phases. The first lot of shallot and onions sets were planted in modules on 18 February. The shallot sets being larger were planted in trays that held 15 cells and the onion sets in modules with 24 cells.
They grew away well and were planted on the plot on 5 May, (11 weeks after planting).
These plantings have gone on to produce some good sized onions and shallots. Some individual shallot sets produced ten new shallots. 
As usual the red onions were the least productive.
Again to get them off to a good start, the second batch of onion sets were also planted in cells and kept in the cold greenhouse.  These were planted on 15 March in just the same way as the previous sets except that we anticipated planting them out quickly and so they were planted up in smaller modules. Each tray contained 40 cells.
The weather delayed planting out the second batch and they finally made it to the plot on 26 May, (10 weeks after planting).
Unfortunately these onions have struggled to grow. I think that they had stayed in the modules too long and become root bound. Even though they were in modules a week less time than the first lot. However the later planting meant that the sets grew away quicker and they were also in slightly smaller cells consequently they didn't cope well with the setback once planted out. They never really looked as though they were growing as well as the earlier planting and the harvest from this batch has been disappointing both for onions and shallots. We did manage a small crop but the red onions had virtually disappeared. Bear in mind that this area is twice the size of the area in which the first lot of onions and shallots were planted and held almost twice the number of sets. Below is our total crop from this batch.
Rather than throw away any left over onion and shallot sets, these were planted into a spare patch of the plot. They were planted just about touching one another on 27 May. The idea being that rather than waste them the sets may produce small useable onions.
These last sets grew really well - much better than those which languished for too long in modules. This area is about third  the size of the bed in which the first lot of onions grew and about a sixth of the area where the second lot were planted. We knew that being placed so close together that the onions and shallots produced would be small.
What did surprise us was that the total weight of the crop from the left over sets was about 2.5kg more than the second lot of sets transplanted from modules. 

The first lot of sets planted produced nearly three times the weight of onions as the second batch from half as many sets! Comparing the shallot harvests produced a similar result.

So what lessons have we learned. Onions that have been kept in modules too long become root bound and just don't recover from this setback when planted out. Later planted sets fare better if kept back and planted directly into the ground. 
Next year we should start one lot of onion and shallot sets early in cells and plant all the others directly in the ground as soon as conditions are favourable.

We also now know for sure that the weed control fabric didn't impede the growth of the onions in any way which means we can confidentally reuse it next year.

Our results confirm what we have long believed and that is that red onions are far more fussy growers than yellow ones. In our experience white ones are even more fussy than red onions.

For full details of our onion and shallot harvest and a comparison of how each variety cropped see this page on our web site.


16 comments:

  1. Hi Sue
    Your experience with onions almost parallels mine, with a few exceptions. Having suffered the module rootbound condition, I decided never to do it again as the time taken up with prep and care didn't warrant any gain. So they all go straight in, but a little later than others on the site. Reason? Avoiding allium leaf miner which has totally destroyed onion crops here in recent years. This year there has been none and the weather has suited onions so much that even those tricky reds have not performed their usual going-to-seed trick that at least a third of them do.
    I can also recommend those French echalotes grises from seed (Zebrune, DT Brown). They are free germinating and grow to small onion size. V tasty!

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    1. Hi John, Whereabouts are you - allium leaf miner hasn't arrived here yet so I don't now much about it. I hope it keeps away!!

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  2. Well, at least you have acquired some useful knowledge - and I'm sure many beginners will thank you for passing it on. I had quite a good year for shallots, though of course I only grew a tiny quantity. Maybe one day I'll pluck up the courage to grow some onions. People say that thay are hugely better than commercially-grown ones, in terms of taste anyway. The trouble is that in order to grow onions I would have to stop growing somethng else...

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    1. I think if I had limited space I wouldn't devote a large area to onions, Mark

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  3. I put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. I think next year I'll do as you're going to do, plant up half in to modules and plant half directly in to the ground. At least if one lot aren't so good, there's another to fall back on. If you've got leftovers, like you had this year, you could pull them throughout the season and use them as spring onions.

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    1. That's one way of managing spring onions then, Jo

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  4. A wonderful harvest Sue. I love growing onions and garlic, they are so reliable and easy. They even grow in my dreadful soil at home. When I first moved to a house with a garden it was autumn, and garlic was the first thing I ever planted. I was so excited to have a garden, and I remember being thrilled when the first green shoots came up. And I still am, every year.

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    1. I'm afraid I haven't always found garlic reliable CJ but I do think growing in a garden where you have more chance of keeping ab eye on things helps.

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  5. What an interesting post Sue, one which I'll take note of given my dismal onion growth....again! I love the shallots producing so many more and wow...what a difference a week makes eh...xxxx

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    1. I think it was a case of more than the week making the difference, Snowbird it was more the time of the year meaning the plants needed to go out much quicker.

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  6. Hi Sue...well I al grovelling again in my long absence but I hope that now I can get caught up and stay on top of things as life once again settles into routines. I have to confess to not having being through and read all of your posts that I missed as they were published as there are just so many but maybe over the next week or so I will be able to get through them at leisure. Your onions look FANTASTIC by the way. My whites were good this year but my reds have left a lot to be desired and I wonder if I will even bother with any next year. So that's all the blogs written to...now I just have to get on and write a post of my own...maybe a lot of them over the next few weeks!!

    Thanks for the note on the manure...I will pass that info on to my fellow allotment holders!!

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    1. Welcome back Tanya. Look forward to reading what you have been up to!

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  7. This is really helpful, thank you so much. My red onions were rubbish last year and I thought it was just because I am a learner veggie gardener. I will note and learn from your experiences, very grateful.

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  8. Really interesting post Sue, I enjoyed reading about it. The Allium Leaf miner came to us last year for the first time but I've got to say it affected my onions far more than my shallots. I don't know if they prefer the onions to shallots or if it was to do with where they were planted...time will only tell.

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    1. There just seems to be some sort of pest waiting to attacke everything., Lisa

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