Enjoying the result of all the Hard Work
28th Jun 2001
Things are really moving along in the exhibition garden now and it's that time of year when I can really get into the garden and enjoy the result of all the hard work that has been put into it.
My onions for the under 250 gram class look really well and some have already been harvested and are currently drying out in my greenhouse underneath some fleece. With these small onions it"s very important to keep measuring them on a regular basis, particularly as they are approaching their optimum size. In my case with the variety Friso, which was introduced in my seed catalogue for the first time this year, I started to harvest them from the bed when they were 10 inches around.
Cleaning down to One Skin
Prior to harvesting them I made sure, a few days prior when they were approaching this size, that they were all cleaned down to the one skin. This means that as the onion puts on the extra tenth of an inch to get to the ten inch mark, the skin is smooth with no signs of any rippling in it. Once harvested the tops are removed leaving about two inches of neck, the roots are also trimmed off using a sharp knife and each onion is washed down with a soft sponge and some warm soapy water.
After they have been dried using some soft tissue or dry towels, they are powdered using talcum powder. This certainly helps to dry out the skin of the onion whilst at the same time bringing out the uniform colour of the variety. They are then spaced out on some large trays which have been lined with fine saw dust and covered over with some heavy gauge fleece. The purpose of the fleece is to prevent the direct rays of the sun from burning the tender skin of the onions. The diffused heat of the sun passing through the fleece seems to dry them out more naturally
It's important to make sure that the saw dust you use is soft and that it contains no sharp objects or bits of wood that can easily damage the fresh onion skins. To be absolutely sure I pass the sawdust through my quarter inch sieve and it's amazing how many bits of wood you get out of it. After they have been in the greenhouse for a week or so the trays are then removed and taken to my garage which is positioned on the north side of the house and therefore cool most of the year. It's from here that I shall be picking my best onions for a set, hopefully for the National Championships.
When making your selection for a set, and as mine are going to be entered in the NVS Championships, they will be selected in accordance with the judging criteria as laid out in their Judges Guide. The first thing to remember is that Condition alone is 5 points, a third of the total points, so every onion must have unbroken and unblemished skins, firm around the shoulder and the root plate and of an even colour all round. Uniformity is next, each bulb to be as uniform as each other in size, shape and colour, yes colour is important under the criteria Uniformity as well. Shape carries 3 points as well so each bulb must be the same shape all over, not just by looking down on them, but also from the side. The remaining two criteria are given two points each for Size and Colour. With size you must make sure that they weigh at just under the 250 gram mark, if the judge finds one onion in a set that is over 250 gram, he will then discard that set from any further consideration.
I am scared of saying that my leeks are doing well, just in case something goes wrong with them but they are, without a doubt, the best blanch leeks that I have ever grown at this moment in time. The marker size that Peter Holden always has in his mind is the one on the 6th of June where his leeks measured 6.6 inches two years ago when he broke the world record. Well I was pleased to note that I had a few in my bed that measured 6.6 on this date as well. From now on I hope that the growth rate will continue on a steady pace with the main emphasis on the watering, making sure that the edges of the bed are kept uniformly moist throughout.
They were on 18 inch collars by mid May and early June I placed some loose larger collars made from polystyrene and coated with silvery foil around the collars. I bought this material at the local DIY store and is used as wallpaper behind radiators etc. to through out heat into the room. In my case the idea is to deflect heat from the black builders damp course collars thereby keeping the barrel of the leek as cool as possible. There's no doubt that if the leeks carry on as they are they will have to get a taller collar, a 21 inch wide piece of damp course placed around them.
Another important factor now is the intense heat passing through the polythene and onto the flags of the leeks which are currently supported on some old plastic drainage rods. As the warm temperatures arrive and as the leek matures so the foliage of the leek alters with the flag of the leek separating in two causing it to bubble over. This in itself is no problem but if no action is taken to diminish the searing heat of the sun, these bubbles can soon be burnt through leaving the leeks looking burnt and very likely to be down pointed on Condition. This year I have formed a very simple false ceiling above the leeks with some loose battens and the fleece has been stapled to these, it positively stops the sun burning down on to the foliage, it also creates a more conducive growing atmosphere.