Monday, September 26, 2016

Harvest Monday 26 September 2016

I finally got enough Ancho Poblanos to make a batch of chilies rellenos this week. The plants are a meter tall and very healthy, but unfortunately the weather is getting colder. It is 40 F/4.5 C this morning, which is getting uncomfortably close to freezing. The mature pepper plants can endure a little cold weather as long as we don't have a killing frost. Seems we are never lucky in that respect.  Also in the pile is a Melrose sweet red pepper, a pile of Jimmy Nardello, and a ripe jalapeno.

Another boring basket of cherry tomatoes. I already had a large number of these in the refrigerator from our Acadia trip. I ran out of time to process them so I threw two bags of them in the fridge, following Mark's lead. One bag was then slow roasted and frozen. The second bag went into the blender for gazpacho, along with onions, peppers, summer squash, and a chili. I used some of the suspect red onions I had set aside, the ones with the apparent bruise on the side.

You can see the flat spot on the top of this onion. The spot is flat but does not seem soft. I don't remember dropping any of the onions, and even so the onions are rock hard and wouldn't show a mark unless they were whacked hard. In fact, they had these spots when they were harvested.

On peeling the onion, you can see the black mold growing under the skin. So it was a good idea to set these aside and not put them in the onion storage bin. The mold must have caused the flat spots by collapsing the onion cells on the surface.

Slice off the infected spot and you can see the mold has not yet penetrated the interior of the onion, so the onion is still good. I only have  a few more to use up.

I also used garlic in the gazpacho and was disappointed to find some of the bulbs are already starting to soften and dry up. Unfortunately I just grabbed a bulb and did not notice which variety it was. From the same head, the two cloves at bottom right were white and juicy, the two at the top had yellowed and softened but were still used, and the clove on the left was brown and nasty and was tossed. So I have to get on with trying to preserve some more of the harvest this week. I plan to slice and dehydrate some, and I will also try roasting a number of whole heads and freezing them. I tasted one of the fermented cloves I made and it was eye opening. Very pungent but the clove was still firm and could be used in cooking.

That is what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Dave at Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Harvest Monday 19 September 2016

I missed Harvest Monday last week because we spent a week in a cabin on Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island, Maine, doing strictly non-gardening tasks, like watching the sunset from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.

Or a little before the sun set, we watched the moon rise over the fog bank on Frenchman Bay from the other side of Cadillac. A storm front went through the day before and it was very cold and windy up there, so not a lot of flatlanders were around to spoil the picture.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Potato Onions, etc.

I have been interested in trying potato onions (also called multiplier onions, hill onions, mother onions, pregnant onions) and finally on impulse included some with my springtime seed order from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. These got shipped in the Fall and my order arrived last week, a bit early for planting here but in time to prompt me to start my planning. They keep well (8-10 months) so I don't have to worry and will plant them about the same time as I plant the garlic.

Potato onions, Allium cepa aggregatum, are similar to shallots, but larger. A single bulb, planted in the fall, emerges in the spring and eventually divides into a cluster of at least 3-5 bulbs, maybe even 10-12 bulbs, giving you a big "multiplier" effect. Potato onions are not grown commercially because they do not plant or harvest easily and are not suitable for commercial growers. But they are ideal for home growers. Despite that, they were almost lost, but SESE reintroduced a strain that dates back to 1790.


The bag of onions I received was eight ounces (227 g)  and the bulbs varied considerably in size. That is OK because potato onions do not grow like garlic, where you are always selecting for size. From what I have read, large seed bulbs will tend to produce a large number of smaller bulbs, while the smaller seed bulbs produce 2-3 large bulbs. So regardless I will wind up with a variety of sizes in the harvest.

The origin of potato onions is not known, but they probably came from Europe with settlers in the mid-Atlantic states. They are still planted in the UK where they are called Egyptian onions (but are not the top-setting  onions we refer to as Egyptian walking onions). The name seems to indicate their probable origin in Egypt.

The advantages of potato onions to the home gardener are many:
  • They are easy to plant and easy to grow. Just plant bulbs in the fall and harvest in the summer when they go dormant and  their foliage dies down. They can also be planted in the spring if needed. They are very cold hardy so fall planting is not a problem in northern latitudes.
  • They are almost trouble free, but onion thrips and onion fly maggots can still be a problem. The thrips like hot, dry weather and the maggots like it wet.
  • They are not day length sensitive and can be grown in most areas of the US, except southern Texas and Florida.
  • They are supposed to have a sweet, mild taste, less pungent than seed onions. And they peel easily, easier than shallots.
  • They are productive, producing, by various estimates, 3-5X to 8-10X the quantity planted, by weight (figure 5X as an average).
  • Sizes range up to 3-4 inches in diameter, which is pretty good size, big or bigger than the seed onions I grow. You get a variety of sizes from each cluster, which home cooks like but commercial growers hate.
  • They store very well, staying rock hard into spring..
  • You save some of your crop for seed so they are a one-time purchase. Since the onions are grown from divisions, they tend to have a very low rate of bolting. The scape does not come from the center of the bulb, but rather from the base of the onion, so it can be removed without affecting the quality of the bulb.
Planting instructions call for divisions to be planted with 1/2 to 1 inch of soil above the top in warmer climates, and deeper if grown in northern areas. Then add several inches of mulch to protect them. I plan to handle them the same way I plant my garlic. I will add compost to the beds, and supplement with bone meal, kelp meal, crab shell and rock dust.

While searching for cultivation information on multiplier onions, I re-encountered Michelle's spotlight article on L'itoi onions, another rare multiplier onion. Baker Creek was still showing an out of stock message but the original source, Native Seeds, had them in stock and I ordered a couple of packets (about ten tiny onions in each packet). I figured if I have to find space for potato onions, I might as well try this one, which I hope will provide some green onions before the bulbs go dormant. That would be a nice supplement to the potato onions, where bulbs are the goal.

Since it is adapted to high desert conditions, and probably does well in Michelle's climate,  it may well be a challenge to get it to survive a New England winter. But if they do, given our desert-like conditions this summer, maybe they will like it here. As a back up, I plan to put a few of them in a pot to keep indoors.

The bulbs are small and pinkish, with some having a bluish cast. You can see some of the bulbs are already twinned with two independent sprouts emerging. There is not a lot of planting information available, but my plan is to plant them in the raised beds with six inch spacing, or four per square, the same as I do garlic. Both of these onions will go in the garden with the garlic, but it may take a year to evaluate the results. You have to be an optimist to be a gardener.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Harvest Monday 5 September 2016

Not much is coming from the garden except tomatoes. Here I did get a few beans, a Romanesco squash and the first Super Shepherd pepper. The squash is very stingy this year, with a squash per week if I am lucky.

I am still picking tomatoes as they start to color, but the birds seem to have backed off a bit in their attacks. On the right, the three tomatoes at the top are Rose de Berne,then a Black Beauty and a badly cracked Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye, and my first Sunkist at the bottom.

A basket of cherry tomatoes. From the top clockwise: Bing, Juliet, Sweet Treats, and Black Cherry. That is another Rose de Berne in the middle.

I used my four heads of cabbage to make sauerkraut. A lot of the outer leaves had to be discarded because there was mold and discoloration, so I only got a quart of kraut from about 2.5 pounds of cabbage. The jar is topped with a nifty silicone rubber lid called a Pickle Pipe from Masontops. You use it with the standard band to seal the jar while it ferments. It has a tiny slit in the top of the "pipe" that releases any fermentation gases.

Here is another Pickle Pipe on my jar of garlic cloves, now going into its second week of fermentation. You can see how the top is bowed out from the pressure, which I consider a good thing. It does occasionally burp some gas, but the bulging indicates that the slit is tightly sealed and only releases under enough pressure, keeping contamination from getting into the jar. I almost photographed the two jars side-by-side but decided that would look a little obscene.

I also made a batch of tomato sauce from a bag of tomatoes I purchased from a farm stand. I used my Ninja Ultima blender so there was no need to peel or seed the tomatoes, just cook down for a few hours. I am not really getting enough of my own tomatoes to use for sauce, but I may roast some of the cherry tomatoes and freeze them.

That's what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Dave at Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday.
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