One of the first things we plant outdoors is the main crop onions, shallots, and garlic. We overwinter a crop in the polytunnel, which will be ready several weeks before the outdoor sowing. We found that those overwintered outdoors did not perform quite so well. Whilst they can stand the cold, the damp is problematic. Instead, we fill two of our 14 foot x 4 foot beds with our main crop in the spring. Though I would like to grow more from seed, sets are very convenient and several hundred can be planted out in just a couple of hours. At the moment we only grow a few special sorts from seed, mainly quick maturing ‘cipollini’. Sowing of the main onion crop is really at the mercy of the weather. Whilst it would be good to get them in early, there is no point whilst the soil is too wet and cold. Thanks to the heavy winter rains this year, the conditions have only just become suitable. We prepared the beds at the weekend and sowed today.
As in previous years, we are growing yellow onions Sturon and Stuttgarter Giant and red onion Red Baron. These are reliable varieties and produce good storing onions. I did not bother counting, but I suppose we planted some three hundred or so onion sets. I tend to plant them a little closer in these beds than one would if growing in rows. It makes weeding a little more difficult as it must be done by hand but we get an excellent crop of good sized bulbs from the available space. We laid out the sets first and then simply inserted them into the soil until just the tip is showing. We planted 30 of the French shallot Vigarmor, a new sort for us this year. I underestimated the number of sets needed to fill these beds, so also planted several dozen of the smaller round shallots of the Dutch sort, of three different varieties. At least some of these are destined for pickling in the autumn.
Finally, we planted garlic Arno. Garlic benefits from a period of cold weather and early planting, but to my mind, there is no point in planting until the weather and soil conditions are favourable. They are not likely to produce bulbs quite so large as those overwintered under cover, but if they perform as last year, we should still get a useful crop. The indoor crop is growing away very well now that the weather is warming up and I have hopes for some good quality bulbs once again. This is our second season growing Arno outdoors, whilst we grow Thermidrome indoors. There are numerous varieties that one could try, but it is also good to find a variety that performs well under our particular conditions and can be relied upon. If they crop well again this year, we may well grow Arno again next year alongside trialling one or two new varieties.
Winged pests are perhaps the biggest problem with newly planted onions. As the onions begin to shoot they are often pulled up by birds. We have some wooden frames covered with enviromesh, a very fine netting that we use to keep carrot root fly away from the carrot and parsnip crop. They are not needed at this time of year so we use them to cover the onion beds until they are reasonably developed.