Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Time to plant onion sets and garlic

It's time to start planting again. The onion sets and garlic cloves I use need to go in before the winter starts, though I've had a mixed success with these two crops in the past.

The onions I grow are red onions. Our staple diet involves copious volumes of Greek Salad for which we need red onions. I also grow spring onions or "jibbons" for salads but don't bother growing the white onions for cooking because they are so cheap and plentiful in the shops all the year round and the qualuity is usually pretty good.

The red onion I used to grow was called Red Baron. You'll see it in all the seed catalogues in the UK as both seed and sets and I used to go fo the sets. It came highly recommended .The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has given it an award of garden merit (AGM) which is about as good a recommendation as you can hope for.

But year after year mine ranged in size between golf and tennis balls. Very disappointing - and I'm not a fan of either sport.

I was on the verge of giving up this time last year when I decided to have a go with a different variety, Electric. I don't think it has a coveted AGM from the RHS, but in early August I harvested a crop the smallest of which were the size of tennis balls ("the failures" we called them) and grew to about twice that width. The biggest weighed 2lbs.

They tasted terrific too - not too strong and not too mild - perfect for Greek salads. I'll let you know how well they store.

I can thoroughly recommend them for anyone else struggling with the bloody Red Baron - which I'm sure must be terrific for those who know how.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll get next year's crop in.

The garlic was also very successful this year. I grew two varieties, the hard necked variety Moldovan Purple Wight and the sof necked Albigensian Wight  - or is it Albigensian White?

There are four main differences between hardneck and softneck types : the obvious one - when they are harvested, having died back, the necks of one are hard and the other soft. The garlic plaits you sometimes see are only made from soft necked varieties. The same physical difference means one type, the softneck again, stores better. The hardneck varieties have fewer and larger cloves, just arranged in one ring and without little bulbules around hte outside of them.

The fourth is a culinary difference - and I suppose quite subjective - but chefs tend to facvour the hardneck one for their superior flavour.

Now, I eat a lot of garlic and I do like it but I have never really been able to tell the difference between flavours, perhaps because I inly use one variety at a time. They taste (and smell) ... well, garlicky.

Elephant garlic - those masive cloves that look impressive are in fact not true garlic and they are quite mild - see I can tell the difference there.

Anyway, I've grown two varieties very successfully this year. The secret - having ahd a few failures in the past, is to get the cloves planted in the early autumn - September-October time.Wait until spring and you'll get much smaller bulbs.

And I'll do my utmost in the next couple of months to do some flavour comparisons, perhaps when I'm not going to be around people for a few days.

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