Easy to grow and store, valuable in the diet, alliums have to be grown by every gardener. They accumulate sulphur and impart some disease resistance to plants near them, and their flowers are good for beneficial insects.
Shallots are the easiest vegetables to grow; simply put healthy cloves in very shallow depressions and fix in place with a dollop of sand, at about a foot apart from mid-winter on, and even during the prior autumn in mild areas. They are soon pulled out of their holes by birds and and need , but otherwise rarely suffer any problems. When the leaves have withered, lift the crop and store them in a dry, airy place selecting the best clumps for next year’s ‘seed’. New varieties such as ‘Creation’ can be grown from true seed. Shallots can be planted almost anywhere convenient, even in the ornamental garden.
Pickledare much better than .
Leeks are a very hardy crop, take up little space and rarely suffer any problems in a rich, moist soil, but they do not do well in hot, dry conditions. They can be grown mixed with onions,and with where they will decrease attacks of carrot root flies. They hide from pigeons, and unused should be left to flower as they are loved by beneficial insects. Sow them shallowly indoors in midwinter and in a seed bed in mid-spring. Transplant them in late spring to about a foot apart. When transplanting make deep holes, insert the leeks and align them so their leaves hang out of the way then water them in well with dilute seaweed solution.
Surround leeks with paper collars and be ultra careful not to let grit in the middle. Invert them for trimming and careful washing for the same reason.
Onions do suffer a few pests and diseases, but most years they still produce good results if the weather is favourable. They can be grown in several different ways which splits the risks and also extends their season of availability. Easiest of all is to buy organic onion sets. These are not cheap, but usually avoid many of the problems and give good results. Onion sets are planted from late winter to mid-spring, but the earlier the better if the ground is ready. Plant them in very shallow holes a hand’s breadth or so apart, and keep putting them back as the birds and worms pull them out or fix them with a handful of sand.
Onions are convenient for where space is available especially between brassicas, but keep them away from . They are also useful in ornamental areas where they discourage pests and diseases. Onions can be sown direct but are best sown under cover in mid- to late winter in pots or cellular seed trays. Do not worry about getting more than one plant per cell, as two or three grown together will produce smaller, harder onions that will keep longer than big ones. Plant the seedlings out in mid-spring. Use closer planting — down to one every three inches — for small long keepers, and much more space for big ones and clumps. In late summer, mid-August in southern Britain, you can direct sow Japanese onions for over-wintering. These crop before mid-summer when onions are expensive to buy, but do not try to store them as they go off easily.
If onion fly is a problem in your area grow sets which rarely suffer or grow under netting or horticultural fleece. The spring sowings can be mixed with carrots as anwhich helps hide them from the fly. If the leaves get a , dust them with wood ash, which checks the attack. Be careful never to break or damage the leaves or bulb when cultivating — it is best to weed round onions by hand.
Once thestart to ripen, let the weeds grow, as they will take up nutrients and help the ripening process. Never bend the leaves down to help ripening, as this lets in disease. Loosen the soil underneath the onions with a fork or sever the roots with a sharp knife. Dry them off under cover in an airy place, and store on open trays rather than tie them up in bunches.
For small pickling onions, just sow thickly so that they crowd each other. Spring onions are the slender ones you want for salads, but are never ready in time, they need to be sown the year before in autumn or winter for spring use and again every few weeks for succession.
Peel onions under water; slice them in both rings and segments as these cook differently.