The art of knowing when to pull the onions is important so that when they have completely dried up, they will hit the scales at whatever weight you desire. One thing to bear in mind is that they will loose a fair bit of moisture as the dry up, as much as an ounce depending on the size of the neck etc.
NVS and RHS – Differences
The under eight ounce onion classes (227g) or the under 250g (just under nine ounces) onion classes certainly gave me cause for concern this year as the schedules for the major shows differed from previous years. This came about because the National Vegetable Society Championship shows had their weight reviewed and settled at 250g which is nearly nine ounces whilst other major shows have still stuck to the guidelines as laid down in the RHS Horticultural Show Handbook which is eight ounces (227g)
There is nearly a difference of one ounce between these show schedules which means that if you enter onions weighing in at just under eight ounces in the National Vegetable Championships, all other criteria being equal, you could lose the first prize card by possibly being awarded less than the maximum of three points permissible for size whilst someone else with onions weighing in at 250g could get the maximum points.
Getting it Right
What I had to try achieve therefore was to pull two sets of onions that would eventually harvest at just the right weight. This proved to be very troublesome as it’s difficult enough to get one top quality set never mind two. This year, for the first time, I used my own re selected seed of an exhibition onion for competition in this class and the shape proved to be what I have been looking for, a classic Kelsae type globe shape.
They were grown throughout in 2 litre pots using Levington M3 and some added vermiculite on my cold propagating bench in the greenhouse. In previous years the results were haphazard, but this year, I was able to harvest over for final selection over 80% of those planted. This meant that I had thirty three good quality onions to select the sets from. They were sprayed regularly to prevent thrips taking hold and were given two liquid feeds of Phostrogen towards the latter end of their growing cycle.
When to Pull
The art of knowing when to pull the onions is important so that when they have completely dried up, they will hit the scales at whatever weight you desire. One thing to bear in mind is that they will loose a fair bit of moisture as the dry up, as much as an ounce depending on the size of the neck etc. As my onions were fairly tall in shape I found that they had to be removed from the pots when they measured 9.5 inches in circumference to weigh in at 250g. This is a big difference from varieties such as Buffalo which you would pull at 10.5 to 11.0 to achieve a weight of 250g.
Prior to this however you need to have a measuring tape on them daily and it actually took me twelve days to complete the harvesting, all at the same size. The idea is to pull forward those that are getting close to their correct size towards the front of the bench so that you can easily place your tape around them. As the front onions were harvested, sometimes only one a day, another one would then be pulled to the front line, this continued daily until all your possible selections had been exhausted.
When measuring on a daily basis the onions were cleaned down to one whole skin as soon as the size was 9.4 inches, this would then reduce the onion it to around 9.3 which meant that it would achieve 9.5 in one and a half to two days. They can, when growing well, increase in size by over 0.1 inches a night and when left to swell out the extra 0.2 to arrive at the final size of 9.5, the extra growth took care of any ribbing that may have been present as well as solidifying the skin condition.
Washing and Drying
Once pulled they were washed very carefully using a soft sponge with a drop of washing up liquid in tepid water. After they had been dried using soft paper towels they were given the usual powdering over with baby talc to help pull the colour out evenly. They were checked for weight and finally left to sit on some mahogany saw dust in the greenhouse for the first ten days, after this period they were placed in my cool garage, again on the same type of saw dust until required for tying with raffia. If you do powder your onions, make sure that the talc is completely washed off prior to staging, otherwise it could cost you dearly.
New Onion Trial
A new onion that I had on trial with Ron Macfarlane down at Pembroke has proved to be a winner, it’s similar to Buffalo but has a more global shape and a beautiful browny colour. The variety is Bison and won the under eight ounce onion class at the Royal Welsh Show from a large number of entries so it could well be one to keep an eye out for in my new seed catalogue for the 1998 season.