I have a “stick them wherever they’ll fit” attitude towards onions, shallots, garlic, and leeks. While most edible alliums grow to be their biggest and best when the soil is rich and the sun is bright, I often start the season with more allium seedlings and sets than ideal space in which to plant them. Rather than tossing the surplus away into the compost bin, I tuck them into any little space I can find, regardless of the growing conditions. The end of the season is like a treasure hunt as I gather these little treats from their hiding spaces underneath bushes, alongside taller crops that grew and shaded them out, and even stuck into pots.
The other day I wrote about hardening off onion and leek seedlings. This week I am planting out onion and shallot “sets”. Planting sets may seem redundant since I already have seedlings on the go, but I assure you there is a method to this madness.
In my house, we cook with shallots and onions everyday and we never seem to have enough. This year I plan to step up my game and grow more than ever. I don’t want them to be ready for harvest at the same time. Now THAT would be madness. Starting from a range of sources (seed, sets, and even store-bought transplants) allows me to have a steady stream of edible alliums (as well as tender onion greens) available for use in our meals throughout the growing season and well beyond. Not only have I already been using the fresh greens clipped from my onion seedlings, but I have even harvested some of the full-sized perennial bunching onions that I planted last fall! Over the years I have found that if I take care to plant at intervals and protect the plants, I can have some form of edible allium available almost year-round!
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).
Recently, the addition of an island/counter that has suddenly provided me with more counter space than I have ever had before, as well as the well-timed arrival of an indulgent purchase of newly published cookbooks has us spending whole days in the kitchen. I am always drawn to the kitchen in other people’s homes. It’s the room I always seem to migrate to and camp out in for the duration during a party. I can’t express how happy I am now to have a counter that offers me the chance to spread out a little while I cook and can, as well as the space to perch and socialize when Davin is doing the work.
Now, on those books. I’m slowly making my way through the pile, savouring each one. I began first with two that feature South East Asian home cooking: Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid and Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. The first, “Burma,” is my favourite sort of cookbook, with as much put into telling personal stories and offering a small window into a culture through beautiful images as it is a manual for cooking good food. “Vietnamese Home Cooking” is not a travel journal, but it does have a personable element to it that includes beautiful photographs taken by photographer Eric Wolfinger. I have already used the advice in this book to successfully purchase my first set of cleavers and tightly wrap a proper spring roll.