In this month’s Grow It Yourself column Michael Kelly from GIY International talks onions and what to do, sow and harvest this month.
After a couple of quiet weeks it’s time to get busy in the veg patch again, this time with harvesting. Our onions are ready to pick so it’s a job for a quiet Saturday, if the weather plays ball. Gathering onions and getting them ready for winter storage is one of the bigger harvesting jobs of the year, but I love it. So, how do you know when your onions are ready to harvest? Thankfully onions are rather helpful on this matter, providing you with an indicator of sorts so you know when they are ready. The foliage on the onions will turn yellow and literally topple over (approximately 20 weeks after sowing).
One of the most remarkable sights you will ever see in your vegetable plot is a bed of onions getting itself ready for harvest. In the last weeks of summer, a nutrient ‘tug-of-war’ of sorts happens between the bulb and its foliage which of course you are hoping the bulb will win. The bulb starts to suck all the vitamins and minerals from the foliage until finally, thoroughly beaten, the foliage turns yellow, withers and then topples over dramatically in a final act of surrender.
It’s a good idea at this stage to gently loosen the soil around the onions (or turn the onion very carefully and very slightly in the soil – my friend Joe Hurley, a wise old GIYer from Viewmount in Waterford talks about ‘turning the onion a quarter moon’ in the soil). Loosening the soil like this allows the onion to expand. After this, leave for another week or so, and then your onions are ready to be picked. Lift them carefully (ease them out using a fork, being careful not to damage the necks as you pull them). It’s worth eating a few of them at this stage, because they are literally bursting with nutrition. It’s perfectly fine to eat onions “fresh” straight from the ground, but the key to getting them to store is to get all the moisture from the neck and skin which means drying them out well (see tip of the month below).
Things to do this Month – August
Green manures (mustard, buckwheat, radish, rye, alfalfa, clover and vetches) are plants which are grown specifically to improve soil fertility and useful at times when beds are empty (as is often the case in August). Grow directly in the bed and then cut down and dig in to the soil. Give pumpkins plenty of water and apply a high-potash liquid feed. Nip out the growing points to encourage the fruits to swell. Net brassicas to keep butterflies and the cabbage moth away (and check undersides of leaves regularly for caterpillars). Keep watering – mulch around plants to retain moisture.
Continue succession sowings of lettuce, oriental greens and other interesting salad bowl leaves. Sow spring cabbage, red cabbage, winter spinach, salad onions (in polytunnel for spring crop), autumn salad mix, endive, parsley.
Pick Beetroot regularly as they reach the size you require – if left to grow too large they will loose their tenderness. They can be stored in sand. Continue to harvest tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, broad beans, french and runner beans, salad leaves, radish, turnip, potato, onions, peppers and chilli-peppers, aubergine, globe artichoke, courgettes, cucumber, gooseberries, raspberries and currants.
Recipe of the Month – Spicey Tomato and Cucumber Salad
This is a fiery little salad that will clear the head and gladden the heart. Serves 4.
- 1 cucumber, peeled and cut in half, then cut lenghtways in to thin strips
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 green or red bell pepper, seeds removed and finely sliced
- 10 cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 2 tbs sunflower oil
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbs rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ½ red chilli, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Put all the veg ingredients in to a large salad bowl. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Pour the dressing over the vegetables in the other bowl and mix well. Leave to sit for about 20 minutes to rest, and then serve.
Tip of the Month – Drying and Storing Onions
The ideal way to dry onions is to leave them out in the sun and wind, but of course the Irish climate’s fondness for precipitation can play havoc with this plan and so, if I have to, I resort to laying them out on a wire rack in my potting shed for about 2-3 weeks and then hanging them in a twine braid. Having braided them, I will leave them in the shed for another month or so and then move them in to the kitchen. Braiding onions is a time-consuming process, but if there’s a more impressive kitchen decoration than a home-grown onion braid, I’ve yet to see it. Make sure to store your hard-earned onions somewhere very dry – if there is any moisture at all in the air, the onions may rot. I stored them in our porch one year and lost several braids because the air was too damp there. Check the braid frequently and use/remove any onions that are showing any signs of softening.
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Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.
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