Friday, June 29, 2012

On Onion Harvesting and Curing

The main reason I'm writing this blog is so I will remember things from one year to the next. It is my garden journal. Most of my mornings are spent in the yard; planting, harvesting, tying up, cleaning up. I run between what I see in the garden and my computer to look up stuff on the internet; what's that bug, that plant, when to harvest, what do I have growing there again (?!?). This week I harvested a lot of onions, and this is what I've learned.

You can pick onions at any time; young onions are called "green onions", and you can eat from one tip to the other; medium onions are called "spring onions", and you can eat the bottom (root) part, which has started to get bigger \ fatter \ bulb-ier, and some of the green; mature onions are called "bulb onions", and you eat the bulb only.

Bulb onions can either be eaten "green", right out of the garden, or they can be cured for storage.

The trick - some say the art - comes next; knowing when to stop watering.

The longer your bulb onion is in the ground, the larger it will get. However, once they stop growing, you need to stop watering them, so they don't rot because they are no longer taking in the water.

Conventional farmers watch for the leaves to fall over. In a field planted with the same kind of onions, all the onion leaves \ greens will fall over at the same time, signaling that the onions have stopped growing, and to stop watering. In an urban farm, where the crops are often interplanted, that's impossible.

So, you need to feel the shaft of the onions, down near the bulb, and if it feels squishy \ soft, you need to pull that onion today, before you water again, and begin the curing process. The onion in the picture to the right was harvested this morning. The greens have not died back, but the shaft is soft - it bends 90 degrees.

Knock off the excess dirt. Lay the onion out on the ground, or on a screen, in the shade. After a day or two, when the roots are dry, you can trim off the stems, but no less than 1" from the bulb.

If your onions are 2nd year onions, they very likely will have had scapes. When you harvest onions with scape stems, separate that from the bulb. That is where the moisture will concentrate, and your bulb will rot if you don't separate them.

Onions take up to 3 weeks to cure properly. The point is to dry them slowly in order to concentrate the flavors. Keep them in the shade, keep them where the air is circulating. Once they are cured, theoretically they can be thrown in a box and kept in the dark. Last year we tied them up in pantyhose (knot in between each bulb) and hung them from the ceiling. This year most of them are in a basket and seem to be ok so far. Check them periodically to pull any that have gotten soft.

Or (see last week) make them into chutney!

Monday, June 25, 2012

 Onion Chutney !!

We are awash in onions, and there are more to come. We have been grilling them, sauteing them, and broiling them. It's time to preserve some for later. One of my favorite recipes comes from one of my favorite books, The Herbal Pantry, by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead. I have found their Tomato Chutney recipe works just great with onions instead of tomatoes. Sweet and spicey and tangy, and the galoot loves it.

3 lb. onions, chopped - whatever you have; this time I used Siskiyou Sweets and Red Bottle
1 c brown sugar
1 c cider vinegar
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 T fresh ginger, grated
1/2 c cranberries
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp salt

Place all ingredients in a large non-aluminum saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, about 30 min.

Sterilize the canning jars by boiling them for 10 mins. Separately, cover the jar tops and rubber rings with water, bring to a simmer, and turn off the heat. Let the jars and tops sit in the hot water until you are ready to use them, then drain them on a clean towel.

Fill a large pot half full with water and bring to a simmer. Ladle chutney into jars, leaving some space at the top. Lower the jars into water and add more boiling water if needed to cover the jars by 1 in. Cover and bring to a boil for 15 mins. To test for a safe seal, lift the jar by the lid only. If the lid stays on, it is safe to put that jar on the shelf for up to 4 mos. 

If not, eat now!  Open jar will keep well in the refrigerator for a week or so.  Chutney is an excellent accompaniment to meats, but also is wonderful on sandwiches and veggies.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Go Vertical

In a small space, the best use of the land can often be to grow vertically. Some crops are obvious choices - beans will grow up just about anything if they get a chance - but many can be trained to grow up rather than out, with a minimum of work.

Growing up is especially easy for us, because we have had a structure of posts - and wires strung between them - since last year. Specifically erected to hold shade cloth, a pleasant surprise is how versatile you can be with dropping some string down from the grid above, just about anywhere.

Keeping in mind that vertical growth will cause shade, you will want to plan to take advantage of that. I have been thinking that if I had put in something - sunflowers perhaps? - on the extreme Western edge of the backyard, the squashes that are growing there would be a little more shaded. Why is it always hard to remember that, yes, it's going to get really, really hot?

The beans against the east wall of the back square, for instance, are only hanging on through sheer determination. That wall is a killer for absorbing the heat. I had thought the beans would shade the wall, but rather, it's taking them out.  Next year . . . melons? that have been in for longer?  Maybe they could get up and shade the wall before the extreme heat.