How To Grow Onions From Sets

Snowball onion set

Snowball onion set

Onions are one of the nicest things to grow in your garden and one of the first crops to plant in spring. I always feel that once I plant my onions, then my gardening year has really started. They are relatively easy to grow and once you follow a few guidelines, should provide you with one of the best crops of the year. They can be stored for months in the correct conditions and are a staple of most culinary dishes.

You can of course, grow onions from seed but I would advise against it unless you have the time, patience and a greenhouse/polytunnel. Instead, I would recommend you get yourself some onion sets. Onion sets are partly grown onion bulbs, they are usually more reliable than growing from seed and because you are growing from set, there will be less work as there is no thinning required.

Recommended Varieties:
White Onions: Stuttgarter Giant, Sturon
Red Onions: Red Baron, Karmen

Planting:

When planting your onions, prepare your soil a few weeks in advance by adding some compost or soil enricher. Onion sets will need to be spaced properly to give them space to mature and bulk up. Space your rows about 30cm apart and plant your sets about 10-15cm apart. Plant each set with the neck facing upwards, leaving the tip above the surface. Firm these in well and water.

Onion sets being planted

Onion sets being planted

Growing:

Young onion plants are very, very appealing to birds and because you leave them poking their heads out, you’ll need to protect them with some netting so the birds won’t rip them out from the bed. Frost can be another issue for young onions so wait until mid-late March to plant them. Frost can push your sets out of the soil so be vigilant and push them back in. I often keep an eye on the weather report and put fleece over my onion crop if a ground frost is on it’s way.

You will need to weed in between your young onions a lot as they hate weed competition. Take care not to disturb your sets from the soil while weeding. I have a great hand held onion hoe for this purpose, an old dinner fork also works well.

That's my onion hoe in the centre, brilliant for weeding between my onions

That’s my onion hoe in the centre, brilliant for weeding between my onions

Harvesting:

Onions are usually ready to harvest in mid summer. Their tops will start to fall over and yellow. Loosen the soil around them and lift them gently with a fork. Onions will need to dry out, it helps if you harvest them on a sunny day. Hang them in an airy, dry place (like your shed) for about three to four weeks to dry them for storage.

Dried onions

Drying onions

Bolted Onions:

The biggest problem I seem to have experienced when growing onions is bolting. Bolting is essentially when a plant begins to flower, which of course is pretty (especially allium flowers), but not very useful when producing food as you want the energy to go into the food and not into producing seed. It generally occurs when the spring and summer are particularly wet and chilly.  Bolted onions won’t store well at all and I have found red onions particularly prone to bolting early. If they do bolt on you, snap off the thick flower stalk just above the bulb. Bolted onions will not mature any further and could likely rot in the ground in wet conditions so your best bet is to harvest it and use it within a week as it won’t store well.

Bolted onion form last summer, very pretty flowers

Bolted onion from last summer, very pretty flowers

I just bought my onion sets today an will be planting them this weekend. This year I’m growing Sturon for my white onions and Karmen for my red onions as I have had success with both varieties before. I’m also going to plant some spring onions and garlic and have my leeks germinated and growing strong at home. Looks like I have my allium beds sorted for 2014.

How To Grow Asparagus

I’ve decided to start a weekly feature on my blog every Tuesday, called “How TOuesdays” (see what I did there?). I’m hoping to help spread what little gardening knowledge I have for the benefit of my readers and share some ideas for projects for your garden. I’ll try to keep them simple and practical, if you have any suggestions for posts or would like me to do a post on something in particular, please don’t hesitate to send me a message and I’ll add it to my list. I’ve popped a contact form at the end of this post if you want to send me any feedback. You can also message me on my Facebook page, there’s a link in the side column on the left (yep, I’m coming up in the world).

So, to get started, this is the perfect time of year to plant asparagus, a tasty and pretty perennial plant that would be a lovely addition to any vegetable garden. If you have the patience to wait three years for your first crop, asparagus is one of the best crops you can plant in your vegetable garden. It’s a hardy perennial that, once established, will provide you with gorgeous spears for about six weeks every spring. Being one of those veggies that’s considered gourmet, asparagus is quite expensive to buy in most supermarkets so growing it yourself will pay off. Plus, once it is established, it will provide you with a crop for twenty years so the three year wait is small in the grand scheme of things.

The best way to plant asparagus is to grow it from crowns as opposed to from seed. You can buy asparagus crowns in most good gardening centres or seed suppliers. Asparagus crowns will benefit from fertile soil with a lot of sun and little wind.

Recommended varieties: Gijnlim, Jersey Giant 

Plant asparagus in early spring.

  • Dig a trench about 30 cm wide and 25cm deep.
  • Add some compost and create a ridge about 10cm high down the centre of your trench
  • Place each crown about 30cm apart, spreading their roots on either side of the ridge.
  • Fill your trench in with soil, enough to cover your crowns and water them in well.

Mulch your asparagus bed every autumn, building up your trench slowly until it is ground level. Please resist the urge to harvest any asparagus spears in the first two years, they need time to establish themselves. In the third year, you can harvest some spears but try to keep it minimal.

Asparagus plants can grow to be quite tall so in time, you may need to provide support with bamboo canes. The plants themselves are ferny and make a pretty addition to any garden border.

Watch out for slugs, they love young asparagus shoots.

I planted my Asparagus two years ago now so it’ll be another while before I can harvest any, however, I do have a steady growth of young spears in springtime. It was very easy to plant, I was concerned about the trenching process as it seemed a bit complicated but once you have it dug, that’s the hardest part completed. If you are going to plant some crowns, try to do so in the next 3-4 weeks, otherwise it may be too late in the year for your crowns to establish.

This is my trench from two years ago, it's well established now, but it will give you and idea of how I did it. Funny looking at it now, the ground looks so barren, amazing how much has changed in two years.

This is my planted asparagus trench from two years ago, it’s well established now, but it will give you and idea of how I did it. Funny looking at it now, the ground looks so barren, amazing how much has changed in two years.

Should you wish to contact me with any feedback/suggestions, please do so below.

Happy Digging

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January Jobs In the Garden

It’s dark, it’s cold, there are only a few hours of light a day, it’s wet, it’s barren, the plot is a mess. Sound familiar?

It may be late into winter but it is a new year and the garden season is just about to kick off. Despite the cold and dull weather, there’s a tonne to do in the garden in January before the planting kicks off in a few weeks time.

  • Most importantly, it’s time to get your soil ready for planting. It’s no use planting seeds in terrible cold soil in spring, so spread some well rotted manure or compost on your beds, If you can get seaweed, do it, it’s great for your soil, packed full of nutrients. Cover your beds up with polythene to let the soil heat up for springtime.
  • If you still have winter veggies in the ground, this is the time to harvest them, parsnips and the last of your spuds need to be up in the next two weeks so if you have a glut, get yourself a decent soup recipe (watch this space).
  • It’s a great time of the year to get any infrastructural work completed in your garden. Fix your fences, mend your gates, reinforce your sheds and your beds, these are the jobs that you won’t have time to do during the summer months when you’re knee deep in weeds.
  • You can get some digging done too if the ground isn’t too frosty, wait for a good rain then turn your soil over.
  • You can of course, get excited and begin to chit your early potatoes.
  • Prune your fruit bushes if you need, especially your gooseberries and currant bushes.
  • Wash your tools and pots, seeds will do better if your pots are clean, it’s the little things like this that make the gardening year easier.
  • You can begin to force your rhubarb if you are so inclined. Cover it with straw and an upturned pot to keep out the light and force them, you will get lovely tender stems early in March.
  • Buy your seeds, this is often one of the most fun parts of the year, choosing what to grow, shop around for your seeds, have a seed swap with your fellow gardeners, order some heirloom varieties, have some fun with what you grow.
  • If you have a polytunnel, get some seeds planted, keep them warm, water them well and you’ll be well prepared.
  • Broad beans are great to plant this time of year but make sure they don’t get frost damage.

In a few short weeks you’ll be grateful if you get ahead of yourself in January, it’s worth braving the elements for.

My plot this morning, very chilly indeed.

My plot this morning, very chilly indeed.

 

Brace Yourself…..

isnns

As the honourable Ned Stark once said said repeatedly, “Winter is Coming”. In fact, friends, winter is just about here, the clocks went back on Saturday and now it is dark by six in the evening. It is getting that bit colder every day and before we know it The Others will be among us (well, maybe not, but it does no harm to be cautious).

However, despite the wind and rain and cold and darkness, I like the winter, it is a time to reflect, to take stock and to plan. With this in mind, I am going to get to work this winter. I have some major changes I want to make to the plot. I have a huge section of totally unworked land at one end of my plot which I am going to turn into a bee garden. I hope to add a small seating area for those hot summer days on the plot where I can sit and simply enjoy my surroundings. This is the perfect time of year to get busy with structural changes on your plot as there’s not a huge amount to do in terms of planting and the weed growth slows down significantly. The ground is perfect for digging, the rain softens it and the frost hasn’t hit yet so if you do have digging to do, do it now, you’ll be grateful in springtime. I spent a few hours digging today and it was fun! I love when the soil is as workable as it is now, it makes digging and weeding seem like easy work.

Winter may not seem like the best time to be in the garden but I’ve enjoyed spending time at the plot the past few weeks,  I had gone through a tough phase during the year when I didn’t even think it was possible to keep my plot but I’m so glad I did. The weather has turned but I like the dull rainy days on site, there’s barely a soul around and the place is peaceful, if sometimes a little eery.

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If you look very very closely, you can see a direwolf in the distance, I swear.

There are also plenty of crops still growing if you thought far enough ahead and winter can be one of the best times of the year in the garden. The food is rich, hearty and nutritious, and a hell of a lot tastier than the out of season veggies you buy in the supermarket.

My friend bought me this adorable postcard and I had to share it

My friend bought me this adorable postcard and I had to share it

My herb garden is pretty much the only thing that looks pretty at the moment, the only crops really growing in my beds right now are my parsnips and my winter salads. However, once November hits, I am going to plant some overwintering crops, garlic, purple sprouting broccoli, chicory and broad beans.

It’s hard to believe the gardening year is coming to an end, but then again, it doesn’t really end at all, it’s just a cycle of seasons, a cycle of change. Since I first got my plot, this is the least I’ve had growing on it at any given time and yet there is still plenty, that’s the joy of growing plenty of perennials I suppose.

20131023_155210

My asparagus is still going strong and in fact, is thriving at the moment, though it’ll be at least another year before I can even think about picking any. My fruit bushes are all starting to establish themselves, I have 10 foot tall raspberry bushes, a blackberry bush, redcurrant bush, gooseberries and even my two blueberry bushes are beginning to grow and have a beautiful colour in autumn.

20131021_145737

Blueberry “Spartan” (I need to physically restrain myself from crying “This Is Sparta” a la Leonidas every time I see it)

This week, I also finally got around to staining my shed. This serves two purposes, one, it looks a hell of a lot better and two, it protects the wood from the battering of the winter weather.

Before

Before

After

After

It’s strange really, because of the way my year worked out, I didn’t really get time to garden during the gorgeous summer this year, so I’m going to get on my scarves and gloves and make sure I get out there during the cold weather, there’s plenty of work to do, lots of dirt to get under my (Little)finger nails.

20131023_152107

My sage plant looking fabulous in the late October sunshine

A March Miracle

Yesterday, something miraculous happened. I woke up early (yes, on a Saturday, I was as surprised as you are) and the sun was pouring through the window. For a moment I thought I was dreaming, until I looked out the window and there it was, high in the sky, yellow as the daffodils outside my door and I realised, spring is finally here.

I’ve been stuck in a winter rut. I haven’t been able to find the motivation to get up and go out to the plot in the cold and dig and weed and freeze my bottom off. The sunshine was like the flick of a switch, my mood instantly changed. I was all of a sudden itching to go to the plot, plant some seeds, do some digging and get some much needed fresh air.

So, off I went, to put on my wellies and get to work. Unfortunately however, my wellies had been left out on my last visit, they had been caked in mud and I left them to “dry out”. 

My "Dried out" wellies

My “Dried out” wellies

First port of call, was to move the raised bed that I grew my carrots in last year. When we first built the six raised beds, I had already planted my onions in the spot where I wanted to put DSC_0473one, so instead of disturbing my onions, we put the bed elsewhere for the year. It looked out of place where it was however, so we decided to move it so it was in line with the other beds. I dug the muck out from the edges and lifted the bed to it’s new location. I did have a little “incident” however, and the bed is now in two pieces. With the bed moved, we had a grave-like pile of muck left behind. I’m sure the neighbours thought that somebody had met an untimely end after said “incident” with the raised bed.

I made short work of the pile of muck, I transferred some of it back into the raised bed and used the rest to fill two brand new one metre square beds which went in it’s place. These little beds might only last me a year but they’re very handy and just what I needed to fill up the now empty space. I planted my garlic in one. I know it’s about two months late but we’re still getting enough frosts for it to get the cold snap it needs to start off and maybe I’ll get some small bulbs. It was the first thing I planted on the plot this year and it gave me a thrill. Next week I’m hoping to plant my onions and shallots too.

The new beds

The new beds

I also took the opportunity to use up some of the billion pine needles I have in the shed, left over from great Christmas tree Massacre of 2013.

Dave the monster

Dave the monster

I decided to recycle my tree myself instead of dumping it, or doing as most people do and letting rot away in the back garden until mid-summer; I bagged up all the branches and I now have six black sacks full of pine needles and braches in the allotment shed (which I still havent gotten around to tidying). Yesterday, I used one of the bags of pine needles to create a nice mulch for my blueberry bushes, which I noticed yesterday have lovely green buds on them. Blueberries love acidic soil, and while my soild is slightly acidic already, it does no harm to help them along. Pine needles are very acidic, and are excellent for using as a mulch for blueberry plants.

Before going home for a much needed cup of tea and a pat on the back, I had a little drool over my rhubarb, it’s looking very healthy. It’s hard to resist pulling off a stalk and munching away, but in just another few short weeks, I’ll be making rhubarb crumble. Yum.

DSC_0476DSC_0470

A Nice Surprise.

Today, I learned that I am a finalist in the Best Eco/Green Blog category of the Irish Blog Awards. What lovely news! I’m quite shocked really, considering I’m not only new to blogging but also to gardening and only taking baby steps in to the great world of green living. There are some other wonderful blogs nominated in the category, well worth a read, I’ve linked them below. Wishing my fellow nominees the best of luck.

http://greenjamjar.com/

http://selfficiency.wordpress.com/

http://greensideup.ie/dees-vegetable-blog/

http://patentpendingprojects.blogspot.ie/

xx

Hunger

Yesterday was, supposedly, National Potato Day. It’s the second year of the attempt to turn our appreciation for the humble spud into a national holiday. I can’t really see it taking off, it’s not easy to start a whole new holiday. Although, the brains behind it, might benefit from studying the success of Arthurs Day, the celebration of Guinness that began three years ago as a once off anniversary celebration and was so successful that it has become an annual event. That, though, might have something to do with the appeal of drinking pints and pints of the black stuff at reduced prices and Guinness’s ever brilliant advertising campaigns encouraging us to paint the town black.

I can’t quite see national potato day having the same appeal, crowds of people coming together to eat some spuds, somebody would most likely bring poitin and everyone would just get drunk and lament about the famine, because, lets face it, it’s next to impossible to get Irish people to talk about spuds without mentioning the great hunger.

Inevitably, I got to thinking about blight, and the effect it had on my plot this year. Both my earlies and my main crop spuds were hit, reduced to nothing in the blink of an eye, and the once greenest pride of my plot, now lies bare, unusable for spuds for the next few years. That’s ok because I can grow something else there next year, it’s not a big disaster.

Digging up the blighted spuds was a bittersweet task. I couldn’t help but think about all of those people, poor and hungry, relying on their crop to sustain them, dying of starvation when the blight hit. Slaving away in workhouses for a morsel of food, only to die of hunger and exhaustion anyway. The cloying sickly sweet smell of the rotten potatoes, the soft black tubers, how it must have felt when their crops failed the first year, the second and the third. The struggle to feed their children, to keep their children alive. Leaving on the coffin ships, their only hope of survival, only to die of hunger or thirst or typhoid on the way to their new lives.

Today, I visited the Tall Ships Festival in Dublin. It was a wonderful event, the city was packed full of tourists, families, all having a great time down at the docks in the sunshine. While I was there, I saw a queue as long as I could see, for the Jeanie Johnston, a replica of one of the coffin ships, which made sixteen long voyages across the atlantic, full of emigrants leaving for a new life; and I thought to myself, we are so lucky to be here. Last year, myself and Dave visited Westport, Co. Mayo, one of my favourite parts of the country, and while we where there, we visited Croagh Patrick, and the National Famine Memorial monument at Murrisk at the base of the mountain, the bronze coffin ship with bones and skulls as its rigging, and it haunts me, that memorial, it aways has. It haunts me just how many people died on those ships, they knew death was inevitable and they went anyway, to escape the hell of hunger.

And as a new generation of Irish people leave these shores, looking for an escape from the hardships of our current economic climate, I realise, just how lucky we are, to know we’re not going to starve to death, to know we won’t die on the way to wherever it is we go. To be able to wait in line to see a coffin ship for fun and to be able to leave it alive. To be able to take pictures of it on our smart phones and drive home in our cars. To be able to have holidays, to have roofs over our heads, clothes on our backs and warm food in our bellies; and it makes me angry to think, just how far we’ve come to appreciate so little.

I thought of how very lucky I am, to be able to grow potatoes on a small plot of land and not see blight as a death sentence but as an adventure, and of just how much something as simple as some blighted potatoes on my allotment, can open my eyes to so much more than I ever thought it could.

Shelter

Dave’s reading chair

I was chuffed the other day when I visited the plot and discovered the shed had been put up. It’s a 6ft by 4ft shed which is small but it’s big enough for our needs and I didn’t want the shed to take up too much space on the plot. Finally I have somewhere to store the tools, the car was destroyed with all the muck etc, it also means I can cycle out to the plot now as I don’t have to carry all the tools with me.

I planted another crop of peas the other day. Succession sowing means I should (hopefully) have peas throughout the summer. I tidied up the plot the other day, there’s a lot of weeds to deal with and I’m trying to keep them in check.

I put some collars on my cabbages to protect them from the dreaded cabbage root fly. I wrote a blog post about how to make them yourself, you can find it here if you want to try it yourself, it’s very easy. I also put netting around the bed to protect the cabbages from the birds. I hammered a small length of wood to each corner of the bed and just draped the netting over using twine to hold it up. You’ll notice I also have some CD’s in the bed, this is to try scare the birds away, I’ve heard it helps so fingers crossed.

Other than that I haven’t done much on the plot this week, again the weather hasn’t been great. You can tell by my photos it’s been very grey and dull. Things are looking up though, the weather forecast tells me we should have a dramatic improvement in weather this week, we might even get some decent sunshine and a raise in temperatures. I’m just hoping for at least one day when I can get out on the plot in my shorts, is that too much to ask?

I’ll leave you for now with some shots of the plot from the other day.

Rain pooled in lupin leaves

View from the shed window

Spuds

Borage

Grey skies

How To Make Your Own Cabbage Collars

I’ve decided to do some “how to” blog posts on DIY garden projects, as I’m often asked for tips from fellow plot holders and gardeners. Hopefully this’ll be the first of many.

Cabbages are a staple of most vegetable gardens but need lots of care and attention. Cabbages are a member of the bassica family and are therefore plagued by a variety of pests. They are well worth growing though as they are very tasty when grown yourself, nothing at all like the shop bought cabbages and they also look gorgeous on the plot.

Not only do birds love them, they are also plagued by slugs, caterpillars and the dreaded cabbage root fly. The cabbage root fly lays it’s eggs on the soil at the base of your cabbages; when the eggs hatch, the maggots tunnel down to munch on the roots, effectively destroying your cabbage. The hearts will not form properly  and the leaves will wilt and often turn a blue colour. To protect your cabbages from the root fly, you can install some cabbage collars at the base of your cabbage. You can buy these in most garden centres but they’re fairly pricey and often flimsy so I decided to make my own. They were very easy to make and you can use materials you have lying around the house.

I used a doormat to make the collars, old carpet or carpet underlay is also ideal, anything that won’t warp when wet.

To make the collars, you will need: one doormat/some old carpet, an old CD, a marker or pen and a scissors.

Step 1: Using a CD as a template, draw circles for your collars on the mat.

Step 2: Cut the circles out using a scissors.

Step 3: Cut a straight line halfway through the circle and then cut either side so it forms a Y shape.

Step 4: Place the collars around your cabbages.

Water the collars a bit to flatten them to the ground, and there you have it, quick, cheap and easy homemade cabbage collars.