July - A month to relish for the keen Exhibitor
11th Jul 2002
The month of July for the keen exhibitor is undoubtedly one to relish, it's the month where you can walk though the garden and enjoy the results of all the hard work that you put into it. There's nothing I enjoy more on a warm Summers evening than having a look at the range of vegetables now romping away. Taking a collar off a leek and admiring it, another collar off the celery, a look at the carrot and parsnip tops, and of course seeing red cards everywhere. My tape measure is invariably in use all the time and is usually hanging up on the leek supports to measure their progress, but at the moment the tape is left close to the 250 gram onions.
250 gram Onions
Although these onions are worth only a maximum points value of 15 it certainly isn't easy to get a really top class set with each onion in the set matching each other in every way. Gone are the days when you could just walk down a row of onion sets or onions from seed and pick a matching set a few weeks before the show. For the very best quality they need to be grown under covers to makes sure that the outer skins when harvested are blemish free. This is more difficult to achieve when grown directly outside as the weather will leave it"s mark on them.
have banked on two varieties this year, Tasco, which did so well for me last year and Friso, another lovely shaped onion. At Bangor I also have a new variety called Carlos which is also looking very good but at the moment is still on trial and smaller than the others. I would say at the moment that my best set this year will probably come from the variety Friso rather than Tasco as, for some reason, it is producing onions of a consistently better form. I started pulling my onions towards then end of June and will still be pulling some until around the middle of this month when I hope to have a good selection to chose from.
Knowing when to harvest the onions is paramount as each onion has to weigh in at just under 250 grams. The best way to accomplish this is to measure your onion bed on a daily basis and when they get to nearly ten inches around, remove all dead and loose leaves down to one complete skin. This will now give the onion a few extra days to arrive at the desired size whilst at the same time filling out the skin to give you that silky finish when the onions have eventually dried properly. My first onion was pulled at 10 and three eighths of an inch and the roots were immediately removed with a sharp knife.
Next the tops were removed leaving just over an inch or so of neck, the onion was then washed in some tepid soapy water with a soft sponge and dried with some paper towels. It is then given the same treatment as the large exhibition onions by covering the skin of the onion with some talcum powder. In my case I still have some Zinc starch and Talc that I have had for some years now and seem to impart a lovely yellowy colour to the skin. The purpose of going to all this trouble is get the skins of the onions to all dry out at the same rate. Once the treatment is complete the onions are placed on a bed of fine saw dust in a plastic tray and left in my shed for a week or so to dry out.
Immediately you finish treating the first onion it must be weighed and for this purpose I use an electronic scale which is far more accurate and reliable than the balance ones. The size that I shall pull the remainder of the onions will depend on how much this first onion weighs in at. As it happened it was very slightly over the 250 gram mark but from my diary notes last year, all the Tasco onions were harvested at this size and were eventually, when fully dried out, weighing in at just under 250 grams. Another consideration when harvesting is the shape of the bulb and here you have to be very careful because the first onion has to be representative of all the onions that are left in the bed.
For example if the first onion happens to have a tall or high shoulder or conversely has a flat bottom, and most of the others left in the bed have flatter shoulders or a rounder bottom will make you decide whether or not to pull them at 8 and a quarter inches or 8 and a half. Whatever size you decide to harvest them at, do veer on the side of caution as the last thing you want is to show a set and be given the dreaded NAS card by the judge as the onions were slightly over weight. Even though the NVS Judges guide states quite clearly that the 'bulbs should be as near to 250 grams as possible' If you are in any doubt, pull the onions at the lower measurement. It is no use arguing afterwards with the judge, his decision is final and the scales that he used on that day will have to be the ones that count.
After a week or so in the potting shed they will start to change colour as they ripen, at this point I go through them all sorting out the very best bulbs. Out of nearly a hundred planted, I might well end up with only a dozen or so that are matching each other; these will then be taken indoors to complete the ripening stage. Even though they will have been harvested at the same measurement, they won't all be exactly the same shape. Very often the crucial factor is the shape of the bottom of the bulb as very often they can vary from flat through to pointed. I can stage a set of onions that look pretty near identical when you look at then from the front and from the top. However, any good judge will handle every bulb and lay them on their side on the plate to check just how uniform they really are. A good stager of onions can easily push a pointed bottom onion deeper into the sand making it look perfect, true, I have done it!!