Monday, February 16

Topsy Turvy Onion Crops,

Last year was the first time in a while that our autumn planted onions did really well. I know that we had a mild winter but I think the main reason for the improved performance was that we planted the sets much earlier. In 2013 we planted directly into the ground on 21 September which was about a month earlier than in previous years. Previously we have ordered autumn onion sets online as this has offered more choice but it also means that planting time is at the mercy of the timing of the delivery of orders and in the past this has been rather late. Last year we decided to buy sets locally even if this meant that we had less choice.
This strategy appears to have paid off as last year we had a good early onion crop which lasted well.

We start picking the autumn onions as soon as we think they are big enough to use but last year we ended up lifting and storing some in the greenhouse for later use.
I think one advantage of getting them in the ground earlier is that they have time to put on some growth both above and beneath ground before winter sets in and calls a halt.

The table below shouldn't really be used to compare varieties as I think we planted more of some that others. Next year we will try and keep a better record of what we plant.
In 2014 we repeated the early planting on 25 September and planted, First Early, Electric Red and Troy which were the varieties available locally. They were off to a good start and are holding their own in spite of the constant battering that the wind has subjected them to.
To try for an early start for the spring planted onions, the sets (or at least some) are started off in modules and planted out as soon as conditions allow. Last year things started off well.
Then at the end of July things suddenly went wrong.
The plants just suddenly keeled over leaving us worrying about allium leaf miner or onion and leek moth. Received opinion was that this was neither so it remains a mystery. We harvested some and the bulbs seemed fine and so the whole lot was lifted on 3 August as there was obviously no more growing likely.
The previous year we lifted the onions on  8 September, a whole month later. The mature onions were rather small - some being not much bigger than the bulbs produced by the closely planted sets . 
There are always too many sets in a bag so this is how we use them up. They produce good pickling onions from this planting method.
After drying the onions were stored on cardboard trays firstly in the shed and then the garage. In previous years we have stored them in the greenhouse but we felt the conditions were too damp which made the onions more likely to rot. The drier atmosphere seems to have been beneficial.
This year we will be growing Red Karmen, Rumba, Sturon and Stuttgarter again. There does seem to be rather a lot! I doubt they will all be planted.

Batches of each variety of onion have already been potted into modules so here's hoping the mystery problem that affected our onions last year was a one off occurrence.
We are still using the spring planted onions but I think their time may be running out.
It's mainly the very small ones that are still to be used up so I look set for an onion peeling session. Anyone ever frozen small onions for use in stews etc. I know that they are readily available to buy all year round, I'm just thinking about not wasting the ones we have grown. Maybe I should make some French onion soup and freeze that.

27 comments:

  1. Reading with interest as this is the first time I've ever grown onions {done shallots before} and I planted my sets {a mixed bag of three sorts} in November on a patch of previously unused ground. I don't know if they are doing well or not, as I've nothing to compare to; there are lovely strong green shoots but the bulbs don't seem to be growing much yet, so I'm hoping this is something that comes later as the days warm up a tad. Maybe I planted too late, and I certainly didn't know you can bring on in modules! This is information I must now squirrel away for future use!
    I have frozen onions in the past, sliced and diced ready to use, but will not do so in plastic again as everything cross contaminated with onion/plastic smell ~ all wasted. A friend is experimenting with using glass in the freezer so that is my next step {with great care, obviously}
    As to the onions almost going over, I'd be making a caramelized onion chutney!
    Sorry, rattled on a bit today ~~~Deb

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    1. I'm happy for you to rattle on Deb. Onion bulbs won't have bulked up yet so don't worry. As the weather was mild ion autumn later planting may not be an issue. Some years when we have planted late the bulbs haven't even shooted until early spring, The trouble is that the weather is unpredictable so you can;t guarantee that the autumn will be mild.
      Did freezer bags contaminate?

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    2. I used Tesco's freezer bags, and another generic freezer bag too, both ended up making the onions taste of plastic. I tried Tupperware~style containers and they ended up tasting of onion. Lose Lose!
      We still haven't had real winter weather yet!

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  2. I've had mixed results in the past with my onions, and we don't actually use that many, so I've decided to streamline everything this year. I'm not going to bother with red onions, which rarely do well for me, or shallots and I've decided that three dozen sturon should do us. I wonder what caused the foliage on your onions to keel over as they did last year, it's worrying that more and more pests and diseases keep being discovered, isn't it?

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    1. We always find red onions to be far more fussy Jo and white ones are even worse. If we didn't have plenty of room onions would be one of the first things to be chopped out.

      Pests are a nightmare - did you read about the aquilegia disease? I've linked to the article at the top of the blog.

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    2. For all the reasons above, plus onion root rot, I've given up large scale onion growing and currently buy my onions in sacks for very little money (certainly less per kg than mine were working out grown from sets) from an asian grocer. I don't get a wide choice of variety (yellow or red), but at least I know what I'm getting.
      My plot neighbours had a similar occurrence with their autumn and spring planted onions and garlic last season and had to lift early. Funnily enough they found the spring grown ones from sets were more affected than the ones from seed. We all decided that they had just matured extra early due to the exceptional growing weather and lack of rain last year.

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    3. That was the conclusion we came to, SandD but the brown spots were the worry. As I have commented already we wouldn't grow them if it wasn't that we have lots of space - we certainly don't grow them to save money it's more a satisfaction issue of not having to buy veg :)

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    4. I'm with you on that one - it's definitely all for the satisfaction that we do it.

      There is a fungal condition of onions called Purple Blotch disease which sets in where insects damage leaves. Despite the name, the blotches look more brown than purple but are distinctly round - like in your photos.

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    5. You could be on to something SandD through further investigation I also came across onion blight and this did occur at about the same tome as some potatoes were affected by blight. I may send a photo to the RHS

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  3. I've frozen sliced or chopped onions before with success so I see no reason why you couldn't freeze small whole ones. We have a mixed bag selection out on the plot along with some shallots. With the left overs I might put them in a pot to see if they grow to a suitable pickling size! Thanks for the tip x

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  4. I've never particularly liked the texture of raw frozen onions and they make the freezer smell of onions for a while. Make sure your other food in there is well protected. I have frozen caramelized onions and was happy with that.

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    1. I think it will be soup, Daphne

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  5. I hope what ever caused the problem doesn't return Sue, there is nothing worse than not knowing what's causing issues.
    Good luck with this years crop.

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    1. Thanks, Angie fingers crossed that we don't have a repeat.

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  6. I'm almost at the end of last year's onions, they didn't store very well for some reason. Maybe I didn't dry them well enough, but they've been hanging in a cool dry garage. I'm interested to see how early you plant yours, I shall see if I can get mine in earlier this year.

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    1. Last year we planted them out on the plot on 10 April, CJ. Most of them were first started off in modules

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  7. Well a lot of great advice on your blog and also from the posts! I am starting onions from seed this year and keeping fingers crossed. Yours all look fantastic except for the ones that suffered (. Hope you don't get that this year.

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    1. I've never grown onions from seed Bren so I'll be interested to see how you get on. I hope we don't get a repeat too

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    2. You get a really big choice of variety of onion seed, and in the past I've had more success with seed than with sets which can fail to swell and grow (as I see has happened to you too). Seeds are supposed to bolt more readily than sets, but the sets bolt readily too no matter how much you water in dry weather. Seeds are no more difficult to grow in modules than the sets, you just have to be a bit earlier (Feb) so they have time to get big enough to go out early.

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    3. It;s the early sowing that pits us off SandD as we don't usually start sowing much 'til the end of March,

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  8. Well, I have never grown any onions, which some might find surprising, but the reason is lack of space. We use a LOT of onions in our cooking, and we would need a huge space if we were to grow enough for all our needs. Also, I think that onions have low VSR, because they are slow (and difficult?) to grow, but cheap to buy.

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    1. If I was in your position Mark I wouldn't grow onions either

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  9. How strange that the foliage just died like that....each year something weird seems to pop up. I was just about to ask how long you could keep your onions before they started sprouting and then you showed them doing just that...what would happen if you planted those, would they grow bigger or just rot down?
    I only manage to get tiny onions, hardly bigger than when first planted so onions are my obsession...it's like an illness now, each year I give it one more go....you know the one....sighs...xxx

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    1. I'm guessing that if you plant a small onion, Dina it will just quickly run to seed. It will be interesting to find out though.

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  10. Oh I do hope that the mystery ailment does not return this year Sue. I only grow a few onions which I pick to use when they are spring onion size so less time for things to go wrong. I plant more shallots though and your post is a reminder that I must get cracking!

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    1. So do I Anna. I've sent photos to the RHS so maybe they will be able to help.

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