I Love Onions!
Text & Photo by Dale Odorizzi
Versatile, beneficial and aromatic vegetable gives distinctive flavour to any meal – plain or fancy
It is difficult to think of a main course dinner at my house without thinking about onions and garlic.
They are key ingredients in soups, sauces, salads and stir-fries – their beneficial sulfur compounds providing the distinctive flavour and aroma. Onions and garlic belong to the Allium family, derived from the Greek word for garlic. Shallots, leeks and chives are also members of this family as is the beautiful perennial, Giant Allium, which towers above your other flowers in early June.
Onions have been cultivated for thousands of years and originated in the Near East and Central Asia. They come in a variety of colours and flavours:
Yellow – Mild flavour and grows well in our region. They dry well and keep well over the winter.
Red – Dark red skin and the white ring have a red edge around them. They are very attractive in salads or any cold dishes and do well when lightly cooked in a stir-fry. Some red varieties do not store well.
White – Mild and sweet flavour, not recommended for long term storage.
Spanish – Quite large with a mild flavour, available in red or white.
Pearl – Very small and valued for their sweet, delicate flavour; tasty creamed, roasted or glazed and are often pickled (great garnish for your classic Martini).
Multiplier – Each bulb produces 5-8 green onions. Harvest one at a time from the centre of the clump and leave the rest to grow.
Scallions – Thought to be a type of onion, but are simply immature plants of any bulbing onion harvested before the bulb is fully formed.
ONIONS – All onions need a long growing season to mature from seed. Start seed in early February. By planting time in April/May, they will look like small grass blades. To simplify the planting process, start your seeds in cell packs with two to three seeds per cell then plant the whole cell. As the plants grow, thin them and use the thinnings as a garnish or green onion. Thin to 10 cm to allow space to grow.
Most home gardeners prefer to purchase and plant onion “sets” – which are immature onion bulbs. Plant these 10 cm apart.
To store onions, harvest them when about two-thirds of the leaves have fallen over. Let them dry for a few days until the skin becomes papery and the stems have died back. Store in a dark cool area at about two to five degrees centigrade.
GARLIC (Allium sativum) has the strongest flavour of all alliums. Its bulbs are made up of cloves. Plant in October for harvest in late summer – to give it time to dry prior to winter storage. Plant left over garlic in the spring to harvest “green garlic” a fresh spring taste. These may eventually form bulbs which should be used first, as they may not store well.
SHALLOTS (Allium ascalonium) like garlic, grows as bulbs made up of cloves. The flavour is described as a blend of sweet onion and garlic. They can be grown from seed or grown from sets much like onions. If grown from seed, start about 45 days earlier than your targeted transplant date. They store well at minus two degrees centigrade.
LEEKS (Allium ampeloprasum var porrum) can be grown in a wide range of soils but do best in deep topsoil. They look like giant Green Onions and do not form a bulb. There are four basic groups of leeks based on time of maturity – Summer, Autumn, Autumn-Winter and Winter. In Ontario, only the Summer and Autumn groups are viable. Summer leeks are started from seed in early March in the greenhouse and transplanted into the garden in late April. The Autumn leek group should be seeded directly outside in May to be sufficiently large enough to transplant in late June. Space your leeks 10-15 cm apart. To maintain the long, thick blanched stem, set your transplants in a trench that can be filled-in over the growing season. Maintain a weed-free crop. Leeks keep for about a month in the refrigerator and longer in the ground, mulched and dug as needed.
WILD LEEKS (Allium tricoccum) or Ramps are a spring delicacy in eastern Ontario. They are a native plant that grows wild in fresh to moist loamy hardwood stands. They have been over harvested, especially in Quebec where the sale of Ramps is now banned. You can order the bulbs to plant. If harvesting wild leeks, be sure to take no more than one-third of a clump and leave the rest to propagate.
CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum) are hardy perennials that flower early in May or June, a welcome source of nectar for pollinators. They add a mild onion flavour to baked potatoes, salads and soups. Simply clip off what you need and leave it to grow again. The flowers are also edible.
GARLIC CHIVES (Allium tubersosum) have a mild garlic flavour. They bloom later in the year. Their flowers are delicious.
Much healing folklore has grown up around onions. Egyptians believed they had strength producing properties. Alexander the Great felt they improved vitality. Chinese medicinal uses included treating angina, coughs and bacterial infections. Captain Cook used onions to treat scurvy. These healing tips may not be supported by science, but I still love onions!!
The Leek Moth
By Gerda Franssen
The Leek Moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella Zeller) is a small nocturnal moth that is a pest for alliums. When outdoor temperatures reach 12°C the adults mate and lay eggs on the garlic (host plant), the egg hatches and the larvae feed on the leaf.
There are two methods of controlling the leek moth in your allium crop – squishing the larvae and pupa or installing row covers in mid-April to create a barrier that prevents the moth from laying eggs on your crop. Remove covers during the day to weed and harvest scapes, but put them back in the evening, as the moth flies and lays its eggs at night.
There are three generations of leek moth per growing season:
- First generation feeds on the foliage – mid May – squish to control.
- Second generation – June to July. If you see a round pin hole, a larva has burrowed down the stem. Remove the stem 4 cm below the hole and discard the damaged portion by burning. The plant will continue to grow.
- Third generation – the larva burrows down to the bulb. When harvesting cut the stalk off 6 cm from the bulb and discard as above. Inspect your harvest while it is curing for frass (insect feces). Use damaged bulbs right away, as they will not keep.
Practice good housekeeping in your garlic patch. Discard all foliage rather than. Do not compost. Control the first generation and there will be very little damage done during the rest of the growing season.
Dale Odorizzi and Gerda Franssen grow their own onions and garlic and many other vegetables. Both contributors are volunteers with the Lanark County Master Gardeners.