Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Hercules the mighty

No potager would be complete without a row of onions in early summer. We grow onions from sets (baby onions) and have tried both over-wintering (planted in November) and spring-planting varieties. This year our over-wintered onions survived the freeze well enough but they bolted once spring arrived. Every single Red Baron and over 80% of the Silver Moon produced a flower head on a fat hollow tough stem. Bolting saps the goodness from the bulb, so you get smaller amounts of edible matter, and the plant having decided it has done its job in producing a flower, what you do get doesn't store well. I bought these two varieties on impulse - I should have stuck with something I know, such as Senshyu Yellow, which has some bolters but nothing like so many. At least this year there wasn't so much onion fly, thanks to the cold.

For spring planting, in March, I planted 500 grammes of a variety not known to me at all - "Hercules". Immediately after I'd bought them, Gardening Which printed a study of onion varieties (January/February 2012). Hercules was "recommended", the comment being "a decent crop of big bulbs, spoiled by a couple of bulbs with rot" - which was exactly what I got when I harvested them last month. The biggest point in their favour, though, was that not a single one bolted. I'd definitely grow them again, though I'll look out for the "best buys" Autumn Gold, Centurion and Forum (what's with the Roman thing? They all come from the Netherlands!).

I laid the newly lifted onions out to dry on racks so that the air could circulate around them. Actually the racks are old bakery delivery trays in galvanised steel that we found in a skip at the allotment. These have a wide range of uses; the other way up they are great for collecting and drying off potatoes!

Two racks of onions drying nicely - 10th August
The onion skins were dry enough at the end of August for me to string them up. The method I use is one described by Harry Dodson of The Victorian Kitchen Garden. You take a piece of stout string about 60cm long and make a loop in one end. To the other end you tie a good onion with a reef knot around its neck. Hang the string from a hook by the loop.
Ready to start - an onion on a string. Trimming the roots ready to start twisting
Take a pair of onions roughly equal in size, remove any loose skin and the roots. Put to one side any damaged or unhealthy-looking onions for use straight away, do not attempt to store these. Cross the necks of the two onions, about 10cm up the neck.
Cross the necks - and twist!
Twist the two necks together a couple of turns for each onion, twisting the necks around the dried leaves, not the leaves around the necks, so you form a very short rope between the onions.
Onions with a twist
Pass one onion behind the string, cross them over and let them hang over the bottom onion.
First pair of onions on the string
Do the same with a second pair of onions, but hang them at 180 degrees to the first pair.

Second pair
The third pair hangs above the first pair. Keep going until you run out of string or run out of onions.
Third pair

Fourth pair

That's heavy enough I think
Trim off any leaves that are sticking out.

Hang the string of onions in a cool airy place out of direct light where they should keep well through the winter.

I got about 10kg of Hercules from my 500g, after a month of drying, which I think is pretty good. That was 9kg on strings and 1kg in the "use now" bag. Not all of the "use now" were "iffy" - a couple were too dry in the neck to twist properly and broke off. And of course there was an odd one. These all go very rapidly now the tomatoes are on line, mostly in the form of bottled pasta sauce!


Jean said...


All you need now is a striped jumper, a beret and a bicycle .... !!

GaynorB said...

That's a pretty good return. What a harvest!

Ken Broadhurst said...

Ce sont de très beaux oignons !

Tim said...

The same method and usually crop result can be applied to shallots.