Battling the Elements + Newent Onion Fayre
6th Sep 2001
The first two weeks in August were a nightmare for me as far as the weather went, apart from snow and ice we had the lot. Strong winds, hailstones and heavy damaging rain played havoc with all stuff in the garden with my hanging baskets once more taking a real pasting. My biggest concern however were my stock plants from which I harvest some of my special seed for selling in my seed catalogue.
The stock leeks are always kept outside right through from July to August in the hope that they will delay producing bulbils, thankfully I never lost any heads but they had taking some pounding.
Beans and Peas
My range of beans were also hammered down at Jim's garden, the Runners in particular were badly hit as one would expect, but thankfully, because of the strong posts and wire that I always advocate, the structure remained intact. I just hope that with all my peas and beans for stock purposes that we have a lovely warm dry month now for the seed to really harvest well. Ideally I will be looking for the seed pods to dry out on the plant which means that the seed are far superior having drained every ounce of nutrients from the pod. They were all sown much earlier than I would if I had wanted them for exhibition consequently they do harvest better during August and September before the cold nights really start to draw in.
Carrots, Long Beet and Onions
My carrot seed, long beet seed and onion seed are grown in my furthest tunnel and therefore well out of the ravages of the weather. They are all planted at the far end of the three beds and this year seems to be the best that I have ever had in terms of quality seed heads. They were well looked after during the early stages making sure that no pest or disease settled on them and I hope to be harvesting the bulk of them this coming week. The onion seed in particualr has been excellent and the fact that I have very carefully been re selecting only the best onions for re planting every year seems to have pulled off.
If you do have your own onions seed to harvest don't be in too much of a hurry to cut the head off from the main plant. Make sure that the flower heads are pale white with many of them partly open exposing the black seed and nearly ready to drop them. At this point I go through the onions every other day and as they get to this stage they are cut off with a 6 inch long stalk and placed inside a paper bag to be hung up in a dry place to really harvest properly. Hanging them upside down helps as the nutrients can still flow down from the stalk into the head making sure that you have nice plumb seed which will eventually germinate well.
The final drying out will be completed in my utility room right next to the central heating boiler and once happy that they are thoroughly dust dry, I shall harvest the seed from the head. In my case this can literally take hours as every head from the same onion is kept separately so that anyone purchasing seed from me will have the best opportunity of getting uniformly shaped bulbs next year. There is nothing worse than getting bulbs in the bed that are totally different shapes making it almost impossible to get a decent set.
Once the seed have been cleaned up through a sieve as best as I can, they are then scattered on top of a jar of water for their final clean. The seed are left for a few minutes in the jar being given a brisk stir now and then to loosen the seed from any chaff. During this time the best and heaviest seed will all float down to the bottom of the jar whilst all the chaff and the weakest, lightest seed will remain on top. These are then sieved off with a small kitchen sieve and disposed of. The water in the jar is then passed through a sieve and the cluster of seed in the bottom is allowed to dry out on some clean paper tissues an a dish. The paper is replaced a couple of time and finally the seed is taken to the utility room next to the boiler to be finally dried out.
Once thoroughly dry they are all packed in glass jars and labelled and some small packets of silica gel added to the jar. There is no point in going to all the trouble of drying out your seed properly only to leave them in a damp environment, once they have been dried they should remain in that same condition until required for sowing.
Newent Onion Fayre
Next Saturday I shall be down in Gloucestershire judging at the Newent Onion Fayre where they have a show which is dedicated to nothing else but onions and shallots. There is no doubt that it's getting very popular once more, simply because the venue is so different with the streets closed off to traffic and lots of market stalls. This event was revived 6 years ago after the original Fayre ended in the 1920s after centuries of tradition. There are only 11 classes including one for the 'Heaviest Kelsae Onion Dressed". As time is now short, if you fancy staging give Mike Davies a ring on 01531 822 750 for details of the classes, I'm sure he will be more than pleased to help you.