Last year was my first time growing onions & it was so much fun.
|Copra Onions - Mid-July 2015|
|Copra Onions - Mid-July 2014|
|Camelot shallots falling over in mid-July|
Bed # 6 holds Rossa di Milano, Ailsa Craig, perennial bunching onions, a few leeks and the potato onions.
I harvested the potato onions a couple of weeks ago & they were a bit of a flop. Potato onions (not potatoes at all and it’s uncertain how they got that name) are onions that are grown much in the same way as shallots. They are a multiplier type onion where you plant a bulb which then goes on to multiply into 3 or more onions. These are harvested and then you save the best specimens for replanting. Potato onions were actually quite common in home vegetable gardens until the early 20th century.
Although I’ve seen some sources indicate that potato onions are in fact a type of shallot, I’ve seen others dispute this. All I know is that it’s an interesting idea & I had wanted to try potato onions ever since I first heard of them.
I was even more intrigued when I read Kelly Winterton’s paper on them. I consider him to be THE potato onion expert. I really wanted to try one of his varieties but, unfortunately, that wasn’t possible due to border restrictions, so instead of bulbs, he sent me some potato onion seeds. The only thing with using seeds is that they do not grow true to type, so you never know what you will get.
So last year, I sowed the seeds and subsequently harvested a wide variety of sizes & colours:
|Potato onions grown from seed last year|
I planted the bulbs pictured above in the fall, the same way I plant golden shallots (which have never bolted), so this may have been a factor. Initially I was planning on planting a few in the fall & the rest in the spring, just to see what the difference would be. Unfortunately, all of the potato onions showed signs of leek moth* damage. I was concerned that they wouldn’t keep long enough to plant in the spring & decided to go ahead and plant them all in the fall instead. The good news is that not all of the plants bolted. I'll try to hold those that didn't bolt over until next year and try again. Hopefully they keep that long.
My leek moth* issues last year prompted me to cover the allium beds with netting this time round. I used my standard hoops & netting and everything was doing just fine until the tops of all the plants started pushing against the netting. Who knew that alliums grew that tall?
|Shallot & Garlic bed|
before I expanded the netting
The last bed to get the expanded covering was the one with the potato onions, which were huge by that point & their foliage was pushing up the netting and flopping all over the other onions.
I forgot to take a photo of the bed before I took off the shorter netting, but the photo above shows the higher support so you can image how squished the onions were with supports that were about 12" shorter. I really should have harvested the potato onions long before this, basically as soon as I saw them bolting, but obviously, I didn't get around to it. I finally did harvest them after this photo was taken, but all of that congestion in the bed likely caused a lack of good air flow & some of the leaves on the remaining onions were turning brown and had dark patches on them.
|Dark Patches on Browned Leaves|
At first, I thought the dark spots may simply be dirt, but when I looked more closely, I saw this:
|Bottom leaf is just starting to be affected;|
the top leaf has completely died back and you can clearly see the fuzzy mold
|Onions before trimming|
|Onions after trimming|
(I still had to do the right side of the bed at this point)
When I started the onions back in February, I still had a lot of last years harvest hanging in my basement plus several bags of chopped onions in the freezer. Since I had a few more months to go until this year’s harvest, I wasn’t certain whether the quantity I grew was just enough or too much (although I was fairly sure it wouldn’t be too little). So I ended up sowing roughly the same number as I did last year.
I can now say that it was too much - I will be changing things up in the allium beds next year and growing fewer storage onions and more garlic, green onions and leeks (if they work out this year!).
As it turns out, the onions have kept unbelievably well. I haven't even touched the 4 large zip lock bags of frozen, chopped onions in the freezer (although I did use the ones that I caramelized and froze into dish sized portions - those came in super handy) and there are still onions hanging in the basement.
|Balance of last years harvest|
(in addition to the frozen onions)
I kept track of those that sprouted or spoiled in storage and this is the tally:
Copra - Total of 8 sprouted/spoiled - One sprouted in March, April and May and then there were 5 in June & 1 this month. You can see I still have several that are ok in the photo above, although they are drying out a bit.
Rossa di Milano - Total of 15 sprouted/spoiled - 1 sprouted in January but the next wasn't until mid-March. The last to sprout was at the end of June & I still have a few left (the small, red bunch on the left).
Camelot - Total of 4 sprouted/spoiled - The first to sprout was at the end of March, then a couple in mid-July & another a few days ago. Since regular (golden) shallots last so long, I have actually been holding of on using these much, just to see how well they did in storage. They did quite well, although the Copras have them beat when it comes to the number that spoiled as a percentage of the total. I would say that these keep more like normal onions vs. the Golden shallots which normally have zero spoilage for over 1 year.
So it looks as if onions will be joining garlic on the list of veg that I no longer need to purchase from the grocery store - hurray!
Till next time...
*I originally thought that the alliums were being attacked by onion maggots but have subsequently realized that, in fact, I was dealing with leek moths so have adjusted this post accordingly.