My brand new onion patch will bring tears to your eyes

By Leigh Bramwell

I'm feeling extremely complacent that it's only 10am and our dinner is already cooking. What promises to be a fabulous, herby stew with heaps of onions and horseradish dumplings is sitting on the bench in the lovely, old fashioned crock pot I bought on Trade Me a couple of weeks ago.
I couldn't get excited about the new versions of the slow cooker all the ones I checked out looked flimsy and complicated. The one I've bought has a hefty ceramic bowl, a serious glass lid and one switch. Turn it on at the wall, select high or low, and that's it. Definitely my kind of machine.
While I've been concocting a recipe, a new vegetable garden has been taking shape on the lawn. It's a massive construction of macrocarpa sleepers, measuring 4.5m long by 1.5m wide, and in it we will grow things to put in the crock pot, of course.
Most of the articles I read about winter gardening are telling me to sow, heaven forbid, swedes and turnips. But despite being born in the deep south, I'm just not doing it. As a child I could always tell when farmers had turned their cows out into the turnip paddocks because I could taste it in the milk.
No amount of my mother's bribery could get me to drink the stuff during that time. So turnips and Swedes will not be welcome in our winter vege garden, but carrots, broad beans, garlic and onions will. This'll be a bit of a learning curve for me, since I've never grown garlic and onions before.
I'm motivated by the fact that I love white onions, and don't often find them in the shops.

So they'll be my first choice for the new garden.
But there are heaps of varieties of onions available, so you can choose for colour, pungency, size and storage abilities, as well as trying to select something that'll do well in your soil and climate. Pukekohe Long Keeper is perhaps the most popular choice, and reputed to be really easy to grow.
You can sow either direct in the ground, or start your onions in trays for later transplanting. Onions are slow growers and very susceptible to weeds so trays can give them a good start. You can put them in the ground in early spring. If, like me, you're going to plant them out now, make sure your soil is well drained so they don't get bogged down in the wet winter months. (Thank heavens for my new raised bed.) I'm serving up some good compost and bone meal and will check the soil for acidity onions don't like it so a lime dressing may be needed. Heavier soils usually produce onions that mature slowly but keep well sounds good to me.
I'm also impressed that you can, to a degree, dictate the size of your onions by how you space them in the garden. Instead of pushing each other over in a competition for space, they'll just limit themselves to what's available. So if you want small, pickling-style onions, plant them closer together. Judge it by imagining the final size and shape of the root, and the amount of space the tops take up, and plant accordingly.
Happily, your onions will tolerate frequent watering provided they are well drained, and they'll also handle long dry spells, although a real lack of water may make them bitter or too spicy.
Assuming you can resist digging them up too early to make sure they're doing the business, the tops will wither in late summer and most will fall over. This is the exciting bit. Bend any tops that haven't fallen by hand and, a couple of weeks later, pull up the onions and cut off their roots. Dry them out in the sun, turning a few times over a few days. Select clean, undamaged onions with a dry, papery neck to store until it's time to use the crock pot again.
And if you've grown white onions, eat them raw, sliced finely into salads and dips they are to die for.
TOP TIPS
OK, so I've made it clear that I won't eat turnips, and the fact that most of the growing information on the internet about them relates to growing them for dairy herds proves my point.
But if you want to grow and eat them, they're actually really easy.
* Sow them at a depth of about three times the diameter of the seed.
* Space them 12 to 20cm apart.
* Water regularly.
* They'll take only six to 10 weeks to reach a useable size. So if you are a true turnip fan, sow every three or four weeks to keep your supply going.
Swedes can also be sown now unless you're in a really cold place.
* Sow, or later thin, to about 12cm apart.
* They like growing where you've had another crop in beforehand, so long as it wasn't cabbages, broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
* Water them regularly.
* Give them a feed about a month after planting.
* They should be ready to harvest three to four months after the seedlings come up. If you really, really want to eat them, pull the roots up before they get too big.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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