Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Planting the onion bed

For the last week the weather has eased up enough to allow some time on the allotment. All of the beds have been turned over and are ready for planting. We have covers over those not in use to warm up the soil.

Yesterday I had a pleasant late afternoon planting the onion bed with onion and shallot sets, that particular bed is 7 metres long and last year had a crop of maincrop potatoes followed by a green manure crop of mustard grown on it from late summer until the first frosts, when I cut it down and dug the tops into the soil.

We had selected two types of onions, 'Stuttgarter' and 'Red Baron'. A firm favourite of ours, Stuttgarter Giant (left) are characteristically flat shaped, yellow skinned onions, with a good yield and storing qualities.

The Red Baron onions, right, are a mid-late maturing variety and won the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2005.

The extensive health benefits of onions are frequently overlooked or even unknown. Studies reveal the onion as an all-encompassing multi-talent; from supporting brain fitness and preventing cancer to fighting anxiety and depression it also acts as a natural probiotic and sleeping pill.

The onion also has a reputation as a potent aphrodisiac and has been referenced in many ancient Hindu and Greek texts, while Egyptians Pharaohs' celibate priests were forbidden to eat onions because of the potential effects on their libido. Even in France, it was once a custom for newlyweds to be served onion soup on the morning after their wedding night.

The shallots chosen were 'Golden Gourmet', left. These 'Golden Gourmet' shallots won the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in the 2005 trials and this improved yellow shallot can be planted in very early spring. Its mild taste makes it excellent for pickling and each will produce 8 - 12 similarly sized bulbs in July.

We hadn't bought enough sets to finish the row of shallots (left), so I finished that row with some garlic, you can never have enough garlic!

Shallots probably originated in Asia, traveling from there to India and the eastern Mediterranean. The name "shallot" comes from Ashkelon, an ancient Philistine city (now in Israel), where people in classical Greek times believed shallots originated.

Like garlic, shallots are formed in clusters of offsets with a head composed of multiple cloves. Their skin color can vary from golden brown to gray to rose red, and their off-white flesh is usually tinged with green or magenta. Shallots are much favored by chefs because of their firm texture and sweet, aromatic, yet pungent, flavour.

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