Archive for the ‘Onions’ Category

Onions & leeks

January 13, 2016

I had one go and one go only at growing conventional brown onions. While I think it was reasonably successful (so long ago, I don’t really remember), I gave up the idea because,  a) I don’t use a lot and  b) I don’t have the room, or at least I would rather use what room I have to grow more of what I use a lot and like.

I took to growing leeks instead. They take up less room (vertical growth, so can be grown closer together) and can be picked and used at any stage from spring onion size to baseball bat. They’re easy to grow from seed which germinates quickly and you don’t have to worry about day length varieties as you do with onions (and they don’t make you so tearful when you cut them). I usually plant seed in spring and transfer to small pots for growing on, before planting out when the cooler weather arrives. Here’s my current batch of leek seedlings waiting for planting time :


Getting back back to onions, I found seed of this variety, Rossa Lunga di Firenze and thought I’d give them a go because they looked pretty :


I sowed them in a large pot filled with chook poo compost, in late July and they took 20 days to germinate. I intended to thin them out, but as usual, didn’t get around to it, and now they look a bit of a mess :


But they are starting to bulb out so I’m thinning by picking :


They’re OK fried but I’m using them as a salad onion. The flavour is mild, but I’m not into strong onion flavour anyway. I’ll definitely be growing these again, with a little more care in thinning out next time, although come to think of it, since they don’t start forming bulbs till much later, it would be possible to grow them as I do leeks….. sow, then pot into small tubes and plant at the required spacing. No worries remembering to thin. Yup, that’s what I’ll try next time.


October update

November 16, 2014

I’m a bit late with this owing to activities on the chicken front taking precedence, but anyway here it is—better late than never and just to prove that things other than chook things do happen here.

The passionfruit climbing over the old chook run has finally decided to flower… :



…and produce fruit :


The redcurrants are colouring up. I suppose I’m going to have to think about netting them, although last year I didn’t, and the birds left them alone (although that ant seems to be interested) :


I put three cucamelons into a wicking tub and they’ve been slow to establish; maybe the weather hasn’t been hot enough yet. Their thread-like tendrils have finally found the wire support, so maybe that will jog them along a bit :


Last year was a poor year for the persimmon, with only three fruit and the blackbird got all of them while they were still green. There are only three buds on the plant again this year, but this time I’ll get in ahead of him with netting :


I planted out all the tomatoes during October because they were big enough and it looked like all the cold weather had gone. I did a quick tour & count and there are 36 plants out, most in wicking boxes or wicking tubs and just a few in the garden. This one, in a wicking tub, has trebled in size in just a couple of weeks :


These are in a wicking box :


The comfrey re-appeared with a vengeance :


These three chokos in pots are looking for something to grab onto. I don’t know where I’m going to plant them as I don’t have a trellis prepared. Maybe I’ll see if they’ll climb up a tree :


Well, I finally put one next to the wire corridor connecting the two chook runs. I have a feeling I’m going to regret it if it takes over the whole area :


The raspberries are in their first year of growth. Looks like I might get some fruit :


Basil futures. I froze pesto last year and it worked so well, I’m aiming for plenty more this year :


This is Wild Rocket. I think it has a stronger flavour than the common variety and the foliage is more attractive :


I go through 3 litres of milk a week. While I know the bottles can be recycled, it still pains me to have to throw out something I could maybe use. So I came up with this:


I’ve put 4 tiny holes in the bottom and I fill them from a bin that contains water with seaweed fertiliser, worm juice and comfrey tea, then sit them on a wicking box or wicking tub and let the contents trickle out slowly. It helps when I don’t have time to stand and water with the hose and it adds a bit of extra nutrient along the way.

I picked all my garlic. There were three batches, one (supermarket purchased) in a wicking box and two in the garden (one from Yelwek and another from a local source). The garlic in the wicking boxes didn’t form single bulbs, but separated into cloves, each with a single stem. Not worth eating, not worth replanting. I composted it. Was it because it was supermarket garlic or because it didn’t like the wicking box? I’ve grown it successfully in wicking boxes before, so I’m blaming the supermarket. It wasn’t that stark white Chinese stuff. I know better than to plant that! :


The local garlic in the garden was OK, but the bulbs were very small :


The Yelwek garlic produced the most robust plants, with the thickest stems, but that still didn’t translate into large bulbs. I think lack of fertiliser may be the problem. I really need to do more research into growing garlic :


The potato onions, also from Yelwek, aren’t doing well. After planting the bulbs way back in April, some in the garden and some in a wicking box, they sprouted and seemed to be growing well. Then in winter, they grew backwards and some died. Now it’s warmed up, the leaves are growing again, but the bulbs are small and I don’t know if they’re going to get any bigger. The batch I put into a wicking box all rotted away in winter. Too much water probably :


I’ve put pumpkins in the hugelkultur bed, in between asparagus which are only in their first year. In the other hugelbed I’ve put zucchini and button squash. I’ve made a huge hugelmound from raked leaves and twigs and put 3 extra pumpkin in there.

Pumpkin :


Zucchini & button squash :


Pumpkin on the hugelmound :


The strawberries in the strawberry wicking buckets are bearing, but a lot of the fruits are deformed. They look awful. I’ve never had this happen before :


Google tells me it could be caused by inadequate pollination or lack of calcium or boron, or attack by certain types of mites. I inspected, and there are aphid-like insects on them so I’ve removed all the trusses of developing fruits and given the plants a good spray with a garlic-pyrethrum spray. I wouldn’t be surprised if pollination was a problem, because they’re up on the deck against the house wall, where insects might not find them.

I always like to have a patch of calendula somewhere in the garden. The bees love the flowers and I can pick the petals for salads :


That’s all I can remember for October. I won’t write anything about chooks because you’ve had that ad nauseum by now and anyway that all happened this month. I’ll bore you with more on that in next month’s update.

The winter garden

June 9, 2014

Not much is happening and I’m not picking much. There are still a few tamarillos* on the trees and in the greens department there’s silver beet, dandelion greens and warrigal greens. There are oranges and (very) small mandarins.

The kale seedlings finally grew big enough to plant and I bought a couple of punnets of broccoletti from the old chap at the Sunday Market. They’ve all gone into the big planter box…:

…and there’s more kale in a wicking box…:

…and some climbing peas in a wicking box behind the potato onions…:


…and dwarf peas in another wicking box:


There’s just one celery plant:


Carrots are too small to pick.

Potato onions still looking OK.

Garlic likewise.

And leeks.

And that’s about it!

One good thing…I finally managed to buy a bamboo plant:


This is Bambusa oldhamii. I’ve wanted a bamboo for ages and finally Bunnings had them in stock. This one will grow to 12 metres. I want to use the culms for stakes, bean tepees and trellises and whatever else I can think of.

This is a clumping bamboo, not a running one, so it won’t take over the neighourhood. I’m not sure if rabbits like bamboo, but the wire circle means I’m not taking any chances.

I’ve started building the new chook run and coop, but I won’t write about it until it’s all finished.

* Just an update on the tamarillo seed for those who wanted some. I haven’t forgotten you! I extracted seed and dried it and it was very thin and immature-looking, so I’m leaving some of the remaining fruits on the tree till they’re almost ready to fall and hoping the seed will look more mature.

Here endeth the summer

March 24, 2014

Well…I hope so.

The autumn equinox has been and gone, we’ve had an inch of rain, the days are cooler and the plants are making new growth.

I’ve planted my garlic and potato onions from Yelwek Farm. Some went into the garden and some in a wicking box. I had success with one potato onion bulb (just one!) in a wicking box last year and I want to see if that was a one-off or whether they will tolerate the extra moisture in a wicking box. The drainage will still be good and if I need to, I can shelter the box from excessive winter rains. I’ve grown garlic successfully in a wicking box before, so no worries there.

Potato onions in the garden:


Garlic in a wicking box:


I’ve also planted asparagus in the first of the hugelkultur beds I made.  By spring, this bed will be in its third year and the underlying wood is starting to break down, at least enough for me to get the treeplanter into it without hitting any resistance:


I’ve staked and tied up the ferns for the time being to keep them tidy and to dissuade the rabbits from investigating them. I’ve had to protect each side of the bed with wire to stop the blackbirds tearing it apart. The ferns will die back over winter and I’ll side-dress each plant with chook poo compost before the spears emerge in early spring. I doubt they‘ll be big enough to harvest this year but should be OK for the next:


In the spaces between each asparagus plant I’ll sow cucumbers next spring/summer and let them ramble over the mound. By that time the asparagus will have stopped bearing and will be at the fern stage. The ferns, which grow to over a metre tall in mature plants, should provide some shade for the cucumbers during the summer. So the asparagus will do two things—provide me with a yield in spring and shade for other plants in summer. An example of the permaculture principle which says that each element in a permaculture system should perform more than one function.

Garlic chives are flowering. The bees love them. I’ve got a couple of dozen new plants in pots and will plant them everywhere:



Tamarillos are ripening. I made sure I kept the water up to the plants in summer and it looks like a bumper harvest this year:


New batch of potatoes coming on. These are Kipflers:


Dandelions for use in casseroles and soups this coming winter:


The last of the tomatoes ripening. This one is called Nicoleta and the seed came from a member of the Ozgrow forum. It’s a good size and shape and has a beautiful flavour. I’ll be growing this one again:


Still getting a few strawberries from the wicking box on the deck. The blackbird has found them so I’ve had to put a net over them in addition to the ring of wire around the tub. Did I mention I hate blackbirds?


This is purslane. It self-seeded in a wicking box and I’m hoping it will flower and seed there again. It has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a crunchy texture and can be eaten in dozens of ways:


The oca has kicked on with the recent rain and should form lots of tubers by winter when the plants will die back:


It wasn’t the best of summers from a food-growing point of view. Yields were woeful compared to past years. The most important things I learned were that I have to make provision for shade on 40-degree-plus days and that plants in wicking boxes will do better than plants in ordinary garden beds.

It also wasn’t the best from a personal-keep-cool point of view either. Before next summer I’m going to have an evaporative cooler installed. I don’t need to worry about electricity use, because the solar panels will run it through the day. No more do I want to try and sleep in a house where the temperature is in the high 30’s.

Garlic time again

March 8, 2014

It’s nearly the autumn equinox and time to plant garlic. I’ve ordered again from Yelwek Farms in Tassie—four bulbs of garlic (they sent five—they’re nice people) and also some more of their potato onions. They’ve just arrived. Look at the size of that garlic!:


I’m trying potato onions again although they weren’t overly successful last year; I don’t know why, unless the spot where I planted them was a bit too shady. I bought both white and brown potato onions and planted them in well-drained beds where they sprouted readily and grew lots of leaves. Then, over winter for some reason, the leaves began to die back and eventually all the plants rotted away. Not one single bulb from any of them. Was it something in the soil? Note to self: Google and see what attacks onions.

For some long-forgotten reason I pushed one bulb into the corner of a wicking box, not really expecting it to grow because I thought it would be too wet for it. Lo and behold, it grew and flourished and produced these:


Two dozen bulbs from one. Imagine if they’d all done that! I’d now be knee-deep in potato onions. And they weren’t small either—the same size as the new ones I’ve just ordered, so I’m keen to try again.

Yelwek garlic was successful for me last year, although my harvested bulbs were small. I’ve prepared the beds with more fertiliser this year. I’m wondering where to plant the potato onions this year. I think I’ll put some in the ground and some in a wicking box. I really want to be successful with them, they have such a lovely delicate flavour.

Well…in the process of writing this post, I’d written to Yelwek to say the onions and garlic had arrived and to thank them for refunding some of the postage (I told you they were nice people), and received a response from Lynn with some really useful info about growing potato onions. Here’s what she said:

They don’t like overwatering and once the tips of the leaves begin to die back (around mid November on) they don’t want water at all. The bulbs need a dryish  soil to harden and dry out. The occasional shower is okay, but if harvest is nearly ready and heavy rain is predicted, we harvest early rather than let the bulbs swell with the rainfall. The bulbs will not be good keepers at best. 
Having the bed raised even by 10 to 15 cms helps winter rains to drain quickly. We make walkways a spade’s width between beds and shovel the soil from the walkway up onto the beds. Mushroom compost mixed through the top 5cms of soil keeps the soil from becoming too compacted. We have a mushroom farm close by so it is economical for us to use it. 
Side dressing with fertiliser in Spring gives them a good boost along as does weeding so the roots don’t have to compete. Sometimes if we have time, we put a little mushroom compost around them again once Spring weeding and fertilising has been done, but the last couple of years we haven’t had the time and they have still done very well.

How about that for useful info. Thank you, Lynn. So I think my problems last year were due to overwatering and not something eating the bulbs. I don’t know why the bulb in the wicking box did so well then, but I will try some there again.

More on the strawberry wicking buckets: I’ve put them on the deck. It’s been so dry that the blackbirds are digging wherever there’s moisture and mulch, which happens to be in every garden bed and wicking box that’s being watered. I loathe them! They dig up seedlings and throw mulch everywhere. I’ve had to put nets over everything. They’re even coming up onto the deck where there are pots and wicking boxes. The handles on the strawberry buckets have come in handy:


Just right to throw a net over:



Bread & cheese on a wet day

June 13, 2013

We had 47 mm of rain on the first day of June; just over the June average for Melbourne. Then another 23 mm by the end of the following week, 20 mm last night and it’s been raining all day today. The gauge is visible from the bathroom window and it looks like another 20 mm so far. The 3 pools at the rear of the property are brimming. I’d be happy if I was a duck but I’m not. The chooks are disgusted; they’ve been confined all day to the only bit of their playground that’s covered by a tarpaulin and their holes are just puddles. But not muddy ones thankfully; the soil is sandy and water drains quickly, so I don’t expect any cases of chookfootrot.

It was obvious no outside work was going to be done today, but I had a batch of bread lined up to make and also some cottage cheese. I’m making the cheese weekly now, using the recipe from Green Gavin’s e-book, Keep Calm and Make Cheese. It’s a bargain, downloadable from Gavin’s blogsite for just a few dollars, as are his other e-books.

The bread turned out fine:

bread 007
As did the cheese. Here it is draining in the sieve:

bread 003
From a litre of milk I get 200-250 gm of cheese, depending on how long it drains. I keep and freeze the whey to use as stock:

bread 004

The cheese has a lovely fresh taste and it’s free of all the additives in the commercially made stuff. One day I’m going to have a go at a hard cheese.

Out in the garden, I’ve been making more hugelkultur beds from sticks, raked-up litter and leaves. The bed I made last year has been invaded by fungi which is good because it means the underlying wood is being broken down:

fungi 001

I’ve been adding wood ash and chook poo compost to the bed and I’m hoping to get a good crop of pumpkins from it this summer.

The garlic and potato onions I bought from Yelwek Farm earlier in the year are growing well. The garlic took a long time to eventually sprout but it’s OK now:

wednesday 004

These are the brown potato onions. The nets are to keep the blackbirds off. Their constant digging is driving me crazy:

wednesday 006

There’s not much else happening at the moment. It is winter after all. I’ve planted Sebago, Desiree and Kipfler seed potatoes and still getting lots of greens and two (small) heads of broccoli. It’s almost the winter solstice and time to think about what tomato varieties I’ll be sowing this year. I may wait another month and start sowing in July. Time to get out the seed bank and do some sorting out.

Potato onions

February 27, 2013

I don’t normally grow onions. I grew them once and the results weren’t bad, but I just don’t seem to use a lot of onions and they’re usually not expensive, and I wanted the space for other things, so….

Recently, some of the members at the Ozgrow garden forum were talking about potato onions and someone gave this link to a place in Tassie (where all good things seem to come from). So I took a look.

Yelwek Farm. It looks like a nice place. Nice people. A family-run business and organic to boot. Couldn’t be better. Not only do they sell potato onions, but garlic and oca as well. Different coloured oca. Salmon, Rainbow and Cream. Wouldn’t they all look nice in a salad? I’ve grown oca, but only the pink colour.

Potato onions are grown like shallots. You plant a bulb and it makes new daughter bulbs around it. You keep some back for replanting and eat the rest. I’ve grown shallots and they’re easy.

So I ordered some potato onions, some white and some brown. There must have been a problem with how I ordered because it seemed when I got a confirmation email that I was going to get two lots of white onions instead of one white and one brown. I wasn’t fussed. Then an email came saying there’d been a PayPal mix-up and could I confirm my order. I did that and mentioned that I’d wanted one lot of each colour instead of two lots of white. That had apparently been my mistake. Clicked the wrong link I suppose.

As an apology for the inconvenience (it wasn’t) of the PayPal mix-up  they offered to send a complimentary pack of brown onions if I paid the postage. In the meantime I’d seen how stupid I was not to order garlic as well so said I’d make a new order (the initial one had already been sent) for garlic, which I did. I ordered 3 bulbs of garlic and received enough complimentary brown onions to make the package weight up to the postage rate. Like I said, nice people.

Two visits to the Post Office later, here is my box of goodies:

tuesday 001

Go and have a look at Yelwek Farm and order from these nice people. Family-run businesses who care about what they do deserve our encouragement.