Saturday, May 23, 2009

onions for all seasons

We have run out of onions. Well, there are some smallish gladalans left - but only a few. The leeks are almost ready to start eating, but well, I liked having bunches of onions hanging from the roof in the shed for the last 6 months.

Late last winter I purchased hunter river brown, sweet red and red shine seedlings from a local farmer at the farmers markets. (Mr Duck Herder and I love red onions the best) This year I have decided to try and grow my own "sets" from seed. But to make them last the whole year, I think I am going to have to get cleverer about variety selection and try and grow two successive plantings.

Things I have learned about onions over the past week:

There are short, medium and long day length onions. The day length lets you know how many hours of daylight the onions need to trigger the big bum response. So, all things being equal, if you planted short, medium and long varieties in autumn/winter, the short ones would mature first, then the mediums then the long.

Short, medium and long day length mostly, but not necessarily corresponds to early, mid and late season. These relate more to planting time than day length (I think). ie autumn, early winter, late winter respectively.

The bestest keeping onion is the Pukekohe Long Keeper. In ideal conditions they can keep for up to 9 months. There is a commercially available Australian version of the Pukekohe Long Keeper called Vecon Regular Creamgold.

If I grow short, medium and long day length onions early in the season, we can start munching out on the shorts by perhaps November, while the others mature. Then, in late spring or early summer I could plant another short day length variety, ready to be transplanted into the garden by January or February to mature before the day length gets too short.

If the long day length varieties are super good keepers (like PLKs) I could store them under the house while we work our way through the shortest keepers through to the longest. The other idea floating around my head is to get an old fridge or freezer and put it in the shed set on around 5 or 6 degrees to keep all the other veggies in.

So far (before I worked out this fiendish plan) I have sown Gladalans (short), Red Brunswicks (long, good keeper), Ailsa Craigs (brown, huge, long day length, good keeper) and Red Wethersfields (long day length, eat first, poor keeper).

Today, I discovered Cornucopia seeds - and I have ordered more Ailsa Craigs and some Pukekohe Long Keepers. I am going to have way too many onion seedlings. Perhaps I can sell the extras at "sets" wrapped in newspaper and ready for folks to plant in spring. All up I have spent $15 on onion seeds. I will need to decide which "short" season variety to plant in December so add another $3. If the plan works, I reckon that's OK for a year supply.

Today I cleaned up where the tomatoes were, added some gypsum, chook poo and mulch. All ready for onions in early spring.


Garden Pheenix said...

I find it wonderful that we have opposite seasons. The reason being is that reading aussie blogs about gardening give me ideas to mull over and implement well before the season ye are talking about arrives here giving me loads of time to plan.

This is my first year really growing my own veg, which I think you know, and some alliums I am growing "by accident". Like the organic garlic that had sprouted in my fridge and the red spanish onion sets that my friends mum gave me. What I find interesting is that the stuff I am growing my accident is turning out to me the things I want/need the most. I caved to a lot of novelties this year lol.

btw what is gypsum?

The Duck Herder said...

Hello Garden Pheenix - I love that about blogworld too! I love seeing photos from yours and killi's wet grey winters when we are baking in scorching summer sun.

Getting into veggie growning I must admit is so joyfull and interesting. And I agree, the accidents are often the most rewarding.

Oh, gypsum is a natural form of calcium sulphate - its one of the "lime" family. Depending on your soil, you might from time to time need to add things like lime or dolomite (calcium and magnesium) or gypsum (calcium and sulphur). From memory I think in UK soils, it would have been normal to add a bit of lime in autumn and then manures and compost in spring. Gypsum is good for helping to break up clay soils without impacting on the ph too much.

Dolomite is great for adding calcium and magnesium, and bringing the ph up in acid soils.

Most soils in Australia are very low in calcium, and depending where you are, magnesium. But my soil at the community garden has plenty of magnesium and a good ph, but not enough sulphur (also a common deficiency in our soils)

So a little gypsum helps to lighten the clay, add sulphur and (hopefully) help to make some of the locked up phosphorous available to plants.

...probably a bit too much information! IF you are near a library, there is a GREAT book called "Natural Farming" by Pat Coleby which I found REALLY usefull.


Jacqui said...

between you and Stewart I'm learning so much about serious gardening - it's terrific -thanks! Also the planning ahead for a year of veg - I don't know if we have enough space to do that but you certainly inspire me to give it a try. I have been gazing out my front window where we think we might add a room in a few years time and...well, there's room for at least two beds and that's a few years worth of veg in a very sunny well draining spot - woohoo!! waiting on some new apple trees too