I live in the northeast and am starting a bunch of mine today underneath lights. The following are a few tips gleaned from my own past blunders and successes to help you get started with yours.
Onions & Shallots: Depending on the type, onions are fairly flexible plants that will tolerate a certain amount of rule-breaking on your part. Bunching onions aka scallions tend to be tougher and can be direct sown outdoors in mid-Spring with some frost protection (a cold frame, bottle cloche, or cover).
It’s become a tradition and now that I live in an Italian neighbourhood it’s pretty much a requirement. When my local Italian greengrocer set out the seed rack I did a little happy dance, and it was then that I knew I was doomed to buy more seed than I will ever have room to grow.
Cucumber ‘Spuredda Leccese’ – While not technically a cucumber (Cucumis sativa), this Italian melon (Cucumis melo) from the Puglia region (Southern Italy) is eaten like one. I have seed for several Italian cucumber/melon varieties and am quite taken with them. The poorly translated product description was also a selling point. “It has to be harveste the unripe fruit and consumpted in salad.” It’s either going to be awesome in a salad or bring about the consumption — I like the promise of a little risk.
Arugula ‘Selvetica’ aka rucola selvatica (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) – This is my favourite arugula, hands down, and even though I have several packets from other companies, I can’t seem to stop buying it. Just in case! If The Apocalypse comes in 2012 I will not be without.
Onion ‘Tropea Rossa Tonda’ – I am partial to red onion varieties and am more likely to plant them than white. It’s the colour! This one has an interesting shape and matures to red. I’ve long since started my onion seed — these will go in the second sowing. I believe these may be a short day variety so I don’t know what kind of luck I will have with them; however, we have no shortage for scallion usage so I’d be okay if they never reach bulb size.
We popped over to the community garden yesterday afternoon with a frozen pail of compost. I thought I would take some pictures so you can see what it looks like in the middle of winter.
As you can see, not much is happening. Drab and dull. We stop using our plots between October/November and March/April depending on the season.
If I wanted to really maximize the space, I could construct some cold frames within my plot and grow cold hardy greens like kale, mache, and spinach. And I would, but unfortunately the lane-way that leads to the garden is typically treacherous terrain through the winter months. We haven’t had much in the way of snow and ice this winter — it’s the first year since joining the garden around seven years ago that I’ve been able to get to the garden gate with relative ease.
Instead, I grow edible perennials as a strategy for extending the season. Cold hardy, perennial herbs such as garden sage, oregano, marjoram, chives, garlic chives, mint, and ‘Egyptian Walking’ onion function as the bones of the garden, holding in the soil and offering up a harvest that starts in the early spring and lasts straight through to the late fall.
There are also a few self-seeders including calendula, chervil, bloody dock, lovage, shiso, lemon balm, and chamomile that pretty much grow themselves. They can be a curse or a blessing of plenty depending on how you look at it.
This is a wild geranium that showed up one day. I always let a few survive since they’re not too invasive and I like their pretty little pink flowers. As you can see, it is also proof that plants don’t necessarily “die” during the winter, but stay alive in a dormant stage underneath the snow.
And it looks like we’ve had a visitor in our absence. I noticed new graffiti in a couple of spots along The Beer Store wall.
Onions grow easily in the ground, but they tend to take up a lot of space in containers. In the past I have grown smaller, bunching onions in pots as a way to have the odd onion on hand without wasting the kind of space that could be dedicated to coveted crops like tomatoes and basil. I like onions well enough, but nothing, not even a batch of slowly caramelized onions is coming between my mouth and a caprese salad.
Speaking of which, I made my first caprese salad of the season last night.
But I’m always on the lookout for something different to try, just in case. In the early spring I nabbed a pack ‘Mini Purplette’ onion seeds with the promise that I would have bulbous, miniature yet mature red onions come late summer. [I got mine from Urban Harvest however, Seeds of Change has them in the U.S.]
And sure enough, this afternoon I reached my hand into the soil of a medium-sized pot and discovered several round, golf ball sized red onions.
I’m very pleased with them and plan to grow more next year. I grew mine in fairly deep containers (about 10″) but am absolutely certain they would size up well in a window box. In fact, I would like to see that — several little onion tops neatly lined up in a row.
Or not. Because really, who am I kidding? My gardens are anything but neat.