Know your onions and reap the rewards

By Richard Wright

Friday, March 28, 2014


Know your onions and reap the rewards

Richard Wright’s onion plot. Picture by Bella Wright.


IS IT just me that gets attached to everyday inanimate objects?

And, no, that’s not a cue for a Les Dawson mother-in-law joke.

My plastic planting membrane has served me very well for over a decade now but it is now holier than Vatican City and I reckon this will be its last year.

As readers will know, I am a great fan of this long-lasting material, especially for onions, which are the very devil to weed and which are badly affected by weed competition.

There are various schools of thought about using onion beds repeatedly over the years but I must say I have used the same patch for the entire life of the membrane — because it fits the space so well — and I have experienced no disease problems at all.

There are, in fact, onion beds on the Continent that have been used by generations of farmers year-on-year with no problem.

One good idea is to dig in well-rotted manure after harvest, in prepration for a spring planting, which means any bacteria is, hopefully, killed off in the winter. Fresh muck will encourage root rot.

But, if your soil is in good heart and not in need of the conditioning that manure will provide, a fork over now to remove any perennial weeds that infiltrated my planting mat and a good handful of chicken manure pellets (which always seem to be on special offer at this time of year) per square yard and it will be good to give the mat its last outing and plant the sets in a couple of weeks’ time.

Even with little room it is worthwhile planting just a few onions, combined with some shallots, which are an essential in my patch for pickling and entering the annual Pickle Wars competition.

The Royal Horticultural Society provides the best planting advice with which I wholly concur. Onions need a sunny, sheltered site in well-drained soil. They are best suited for growing in the open ground but you could grow a short row or two in large, deep containers or raised beds. They are not suitable for growbags.

Plant onion sets 10cm (4ins) apart in rows 30cm (12ins) apart from mid-March to mid-April. Gently push the sets into soft, well-worked soil so the tip is just showing and firm the soil around them.

Birds can be a problem lifting the sets, so carefully remove the loose skin at the top before planting.

I just hope my onions do not become afflicted by one of the nasties highlighted by the RHS — onion white rot.

This fungus causes the leaves to wilt and turn yellow. Under wet conditions, the plants may not wilt but will become loose in the soil. If you lift the plants, you will see a white fluffy growth on the bulbs.

There is only one remedy because there is no effective chemical control — dispose of the infected bulbs. And do not grow leeks, onions or garlic in that spot again for at least eight years.

Leek rust is a fungal disease causing bright yellow spots on the leaves. It is often worse in long, wet, spells.

Mild attacks of rust won’t harm the plant but serious infections may cause leaves to shrivel and affect yield.

There is no control for rust once you have the infection. Make sure you don’t crowd plants because this increases humidity and the likelihood of infection.

Dispose of any badly affected plant material and don’t grow garlic, leeks or onions in the same spot for three years.

Onion downy mildew is a serious disease causing greyish-green, fuzzy patches on leaves. It is worse in wet weather. Remove and destroy affected leaves as soon as you see them. This may prevent the spread of this disease.

The secret of a lush green lawn

IN THE wake of the Great Flood, I’ve been deluged with information from companies about lawn care.

Lawn experts at Hayter/Toro tell me a well-fed and properly managed lawn is remarkably able to resist the stresses of extreme weather conditions.

But they also tell me the same story as several readers about the great moss invasion.

Moss clogs the grass and must be eradicated to restore the lawn to its former glory.

Now is the time to treat it with a ferrous sulphate-based moss control medium. Once the moss is black and dead rake it out together with all the dead grass, which will have formed a dense 'thatch’ on the lawn surface.

The surface should be scarified and spiked because air is essential for good growth.

If your soil is heavy, spread a large bucketful of sharp sand per square metre and work it into the holes with the back of a steel rake.

If the sward is poor, treat it with a lawn dressing comprising a mix of sterilised loam, sand, peat and Perlite, which stimulates strong growth and improves drainage.

If it becomes necessary to water your lawn (seems unbelievable, but it will), do so effectively — in the early morning, late evening or, using a timer, at night, to minimise wasteful evaporation.

Mow regularly — weekly in late spring — keeping grass about 2.5cm high. Avoid cutting lower than 13mm as this weakens growth.

Mowing removes a lot of nutrients, so you need to replace these nutrients with a lawn feed and granular feeds are best at this time of year, as they will feed the lawn for several weeks.

New EverGreen Extreme Green will start to green up the grass in just three days, and where weeds and moss are a problem EverGreen Complete 4in1 will feed and deal with both of these problems at the same time.

If your lawn is looking thin, patchy or has bare areas, now is the time to do something about it to ensure a lovely lush, green lawn for summer.

Lightly fork over the soil in any bare areas and mix in some compost. Then lightly scatter grass seed over the soil at a rate of 25g to 30g per sq m (¾oz to 1oz per sq yard).

Lightly rake in the seed and water well with a watering can fitted with a fine rose. Or, to make this job simpler, just use Miracle-Gro Patch Magic.

If the overall grass cover is thin, then you can dramatically improve your lawn by overseeding — simply scattering seed over the whole lawn at the rate of 15g to 25g per sq m (½oz to ¾oz per sq yard), working it into the soil.

This is how greenkeepers ensure quality greens and pitches.

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