Roots 'n' Shoots: April 2015

Monday, 27 April 2015

Common Garden/Globe Onion: How to Grow - Vegetable of the Month

Onion stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
5/5 – Very easy (plant and leave)
Water:
1-2/5 – Weekly to twice weekly
Sun:
4/5 – Full sun & shade tolerant
Training:
1/5 – None
Fertilise/Feeding:
4/5 – Every two weeks
Time to Harvest:
5/5 – Forever (+5 months)
Frost Hardiness:
4/4 – Very Hardy (can’t take black frost)


Uses
Culinary, pest control, beneficial insect attracting
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Usually pest free, some problems with onion fly & rotting
Container Plant:
Most definitely

Common garden globe onion
Allium cepa var cepa 
Herb Book (1914) Panel 9
Kurt Stuber Online Library 

Quick Intro

Onions are very easy to grow, but take a long time to mature. They virtually have no nutritional value and are mostly used to add flavour to meals. Planted between other vegetables, they act as pest deterrent, especially for aphids – but beware an ailing onion is just as likely to attract aphids!

History

The origin of the onion is obscure, but historians agree that it has been cultivated since ancient times. Although some wild relatives are found in Central Asia, taxonomists believe these to be ‘feral derivatives’ of the cultivated crops. The Romans transported the onion throughout Europe, whereas Columbus took the onion across the seas to America. The ancient Egyptians were known to place onions in the eye sockets of mummies before burial as the onion’s rings represented eternal life.

Science Stuff

The common or bulb onion, Allium cepa, belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family which includes several showy flowering bulbs such as the amaryllis lilies, agapanthus and daffodils.

The common onions have two groups, specifically;
Allium cepa var. cepa = the onions we all know, large single fleshy spherical bulb
Allium cepa var. aggregatum = shallots and potato onions.

Common onions come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes making for interesting additions to food dishes.

Common garden globe onion cultivars
Allium cepa var cepa 
Growing Onions

Common onions are very easy to grow, but to require a large amount of patience as they take 6-8 months to mature. They prefer hot and dry climates, therefore watering should be kept to a minimum especially in winter, whereas in very hot weather - a watering twice weekly should be ample.

Common garden globe onion Seedlings
Allium cepa var cepa 
Onions are easily raised from shallow planted seed or alternatively from onion sets (small immature bulbs). Seedlings will require a bit more frequent watering until they become established. It is best to start onion seeds during the autumn months (March/April), since during the winter a large amount of garden space is available for the long-standing onions. This also allows the onions to grow whist daylight hours are at minimum and when spring/summer arrives, the longer daylight hours stimulate bulb development (at which time a little added potassium will assist with bulb swelling). Bulbs start to mature once the leaves bend over, then arrange the leaves to allow maximum sunlight exposure for each bulb to aid the maturing process.

Other Onion Tips

Onion beds require regular weeding.

Once the foliage falls over, expose a bit of the bulb to the sunlight by brushing off some soil to assist with the maturation process.

Common garden globe onion
Allium cepa var cepa 

Mature bulbs have a good papery layer around them and non-green flesh.

Harvesting & Storing

Bulbs are ready to harvest two weeks after the leaves fall over or when the leaves turn brown. Correct bulb storage is of the utmost importance as we lost an entire harvest due to rotting bulbs! Bulbs should preferably be strung up either by braiding their foliage, tied and hung up with string or hung up in stockings/net bags - a lot of air should be allowed to flow around the bulbs to ensure they do not rot. Fresh onions should keep for up to a month in a cool, dark place – if longer storage is required it is best to leave them in the soil and harvest as required.

Common garden globe onion drying 
Allium cepa var cepa 

Seed Collection & Storage

Onions flower in their second summer after exposure to cold winter temperatures. Some rogue onions may bolt before this and seed should not be saved from these. Onions have light purple or white perfect umbels that are insect pollinated. Although, they are good at attracting many beneficial insects, such as bees, bumble bees and hover flies, chives would be more suited to plant for this purpose. Common onions will cross-pollinate with other cultivars as well as spring onions, but will not cross with leeks or chives.

Common garden globe onion Flower
 Allium cepa var cepa 
Carefully remove the dried umbel stalk and shake off any seeds through a sieve or rinse quickly with water (viable seeds will sink, all other materials will float). If the stalks require further drying, place them in a brown paper bag – this will also catch any falling seeds.

Onion seeds do not keep well, only 1-2 years so it is best to use them up every season and save new seeds every year (from two year old onions). The optimum germination temperature is 10 to 35oC (50-95oF).

My Onions:

Starke Ayres Red creole: Medium sized red onion with a mild flavour. Quicker to mature than the larger white ones.

Here the onions and roses are growing happily together. The onions
keep rose aphids away from the rose and as you can see the onions
 grow very well in the 'ears' of the pot, where all other plants die
 because of the low amount of soil and water there... the onions
are a bit tricky to get out once set J



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Saturday, 11 April 2015

Glut and Famine: Dealing with Excess and Lean Months

Times of plenty and starvation dominates Nature's cycles - where spring brings new life, summer marks a time of abundance, autumn starts winding down and the winter months are nearly barren...

End of season butternut harvest ready for winter storage

So too does the vegetable garden flux between these two extremes - in summer we are overloaded with produce especially of the tomato and zucchini kind. Tomatoes are easy enough to deal with, but the zucchinis are a proper challenge! Here I am going to post a few recipes and methods for preserving summer bounty for the winter lean months. We have tried a few methods and recipes and these represent some of our favourites. Most of these methods are electricity efficient (as far as possible!) and therefore does not include bottling or canning methods unfortunately.

Please Note: To prevent any plagiarism of recipes I have provided links directly to the source for several of the recipes below.

Let's start off with the two biggest culprits: Tomatoes and Zucchinis



Tomatoes

How to Grow? Please see the Tomato post.

Main preserving methods include;
Sauce
Jams
Drying (Freezing)

Tomato Sauce:

This is by far the easiest method and works wonders for stew additions as well as pasta sauces. This recipe is from Pick 'n' Pay Fresh Living Magazine, August 2012.

Frozen tomato sauce

As in Magazine:

"Tomato treats
Take one pot of Italian-style tomato sauce, freeze it in batches, and amaze your family with flavour-packed meals at the drop of a hat - it's easy on the wallet, too!

Recipes and styling: Jules Mercer, Photos: Dawie Verwey

Under R30
Ultimate Tomato Sauce
Form the base for all the following dishes.

4kg tomatoes, halved
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
3tsp (15 ml) sugar
2 garlic heads, halved
2 onions, finely chopped
Bunch each fresh basil, thyme and oreganum
3 Tbsp (45 ml) red wine vinegar
Salt and milled pepper

Makes 3 Litres
Preheat oven to 200oC (392oF). Arrange tomatoes on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and 1 tsp (5ml) sugar. Roast for 30 minutes. Add garlic and cook for further 20 minutes. Fry onions in a pan with a glug of olive oil. Add roast tomatoes, garlic cloves (squeezed out of their skins), herbs, remaining sugar, vinegar and seasoning. Simmer for 20-25 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Divide into three 1-litre freezer bags and freeze until needed."

Tomato Jam:

Homemade tomato jam

Very easy and delicious stuff. Pulverise large tomatoes and strain excess water through a sieve, alternatively you can halve mini tomatoes, but cooking time need to be extended to remove excess water. Then add equal amounts of sugar and tomatoes (cups or grams) to a pot and boil off excess water until the mixture sets. Add jam to containers and seal. These will be safe to consume as long a no mould has spoiled the contents.

[Sterilise glass jars: Lids are sterilised by boiling for 2 minutes and left in the hot water until contents are added to jars. Jars are sterilised by adding 50 ml of water inside and microwaving on high power for 3 minutes. The jars are placed upside down on a paper towel to dry and contents are added to jars when both are still hot. Seal, let cool and store.]


Drying (Freezing) Tomatoes:

The main recipe is from: Local Foods Expert, Molly Watson, Oven Dried Tomatoes

A few notes:
200oF = 93oC

After step 4 you can dip the tomatoes in red wine vinegar, let them dry and pack into containers.

In the fridge the tomatoes should last about two weeks, without oil. They will last a bit longer when stored under oil given that the oil is topped up to keep the tomatoes covered. If the oil becomes murky or smells off then dispose both the oil and tomatoes. Tomatoes can be stored with and without oil in the freezer and should keep for at least 6 months.

[Sterilise glass jars: Lids are sterilised by boiling for 2 minutes and left in the hot water until contents are added to jars. Jars are sterilised by adding 50 ml of water inside and microwaving on high power for 3 minutes. The jars are placed upside down on a paper towel to dry and contents are added to jars when both are still hot. Seal, let cool and store.]

Zucchinis

How to Grow? Please see Squash and Pumpkin post.

Main Preserving methods include;
Cake
Bread

Zucchinis are a problem as they become absolutely sloppy when frozen and we do not enjoy any pickled or vinegar based preserving methods. Therefore the only way for us to deal with them is by making cake - it sounds a bit strange but the following recipes are delicious and you can freeze the cake in portions to eat at a later stage!


Chocolate Zucchini Cake:

This is a recipe by From Scratch Magazine August-September 2013 edition, page 91. An added bonus is that you can bake this cake and freeze away portions in wax paper - ready to eat after a defrost!


Spiced Zucchini Cake:

This is a modified carrot cake recipe, where the grated carrots have been replaced with grated zucchini and it is fantastic! Again portions can be frozen away and will keep for a few months.

Original reference: Lynn Bedford Hall, Best of Cooking in South Africa, Struik Publishers, 1993.

"3 eggs
375 ml sugar
250 ml oil
250 ml each white flour and brown flour
5 ml bicarbonate of soda
10 ml baking powder
7 ml ground cinnamon
5 ml ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
4 medium zucchinis grated
250 ml seedless raisins (or cranberries)
125 ml walnuts (or almonds)

Beat eggs and sugar until pale, then beat in oil. Sift dry ingredients and add. Mix well, then add zucchinis, cranberries and almonds. Line base with 18 x 18 cm square tin with greaseproof paper and oil lightly. Pour in cake mixture, which will be thickish and tacky. Spread evenly, and make a small depression in the centre. Bake at 160oC (320oF) for 1 hour 15 minutes or until firm and brown. Stand for 5 minutes before turning out onto cake rack. Cut into squares and serve."



Root Vegetables: Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

How to Grow? Please see Potato and Sweet Potato posts.

Main preserving methods include,
Soups
Dark container storage


Soups:

You can add other vegetables to these or combine with the pumpkins for an easy freezable storage solution. Simply cut the sweet potatoes and potatoes into large pieces then steam or boil until cooked. You add them to a pot with water and other spices/amendments then later pulverise to preferred thickness and serve. Soups are easily frozen away to quickly re-heat on cold winter nights. Soups will keep for at least 6 months.


Dark container storage:

Potatoes and sweet potatoes in packing peanuts


This is the preferred method as you do not use up freezer space. We get a constant influx of packing peanuts due to business packages and decided to put them to good use for root veg storage. This method is generally used with clean, damp river sand, but the peanuts work a charm! Clean you potatoes with soapy water and dry. Get some boxes and add layers of alternating potatoes/sweet potatoes and packing peanuts. Make sure the individual vegetables do not touch one another as this limits spoilage. Store in the coldest room of the house in a dark place. They will keep for the whole winter like this, but check on them weekly to ensure no rotting members will spoil the whole harvest.



Peppers: Bells and Paprikas

How to Grow? Please see Peppers post.

Main preserving methods include,
Frozen
Drying (Freezing)


Freezing Peppers: Roasted


Roasted peppers (capsicums) in oil
This calls for an open flame as you want to roast the peppers at a very high heat. Roast peppers until their skins are completely black then stuff the hot peppers into a plastic bag. This will make them sweat so that you can peel off their skins and scrape out most of the seeds. After which you can dip them into red wine vinegar, let them dry and store in a glass jar. You add oil to the peppers until covered and they will store in the fridge for at least 2 weeks, whereas freezer storage will allow them to keep for at least six months. If the oil becomes murky or smells off then dispose both the oil and peppers. Please note that the roasting of paprikas leads to an increase in hotness and they will have quite a bite to them.

[Sterilise glass jars: Lids are sterilised by boiling for 2 minutes and left in the hot water until contents are added to jars. Jars are sterilised by adding 50 ml of water inside and microwaving on high power for 3 minutes. The jars are placed upside down on a paper towel to dry and contents are added to jars when both are still hot. Seal, let cool and store.]

Drying (Freezing) Peppers:

You simply take the recipe for Drying Tomatoes and replace with peppers/paprikas. The main recipe is from: Local Foods Expert, Molly Watson, Oven Dried Tomatoes.

A few notes:
200oF = 93oC

After step 4 you can dip the tomatoes in red wine vinegar, let them dry and pack into containers.

In the fridge the peppers should last about two weeks, without oil. They will last a bit longer when stored under oil given that the oil is topped up to keep the peppers covered. If the oil becomes murky or smells off then dispose both the oil and peppers. Peppers can be stored with and without oil in the freezer and should keep for at least 6 months.


Air dry peppers (capsicums)
Alternatively you can simply string the pepper/paprikas up by their stems in a warm, dry area and let them dry naturally. These can be stored as is in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.



Pumpkins & Winter Squash

How to Grow? Please see Squash and Pumpkin post.

Main preserving methods include,
Dark cupboard storage
Soups
Frozen
No-bake cookies


Dark cupboard storage:

Butternuts in packing peanuts

You can follow the exact sample method as the potato/sweet potato storage for pumpkins and butternuts. This is the preferred method as you do not use up freezer space. We get a constant influx of packing peanuts due to business packages and decided to put them to good use for squash/pumpkin storage. After harvesting your pumpkins leave them in the sun for a week to harden off the skin (some squash require this treatment too, please see my How to Grow Post for a complete guide). Clean your pumpkins/squash with soapy water and dry. Get some boxes and add layers of alternating squash and packing peanuts. Make sure the individual fruits do not touch one another as this limits spoilage. Store in the coldest room of the house in a dark place. They will keep for the whole winter like this, but check on them weekly to ensure no rotting members will spoil the whole harvest.


Squash and Pumpkin dark storage
Another storage option doesn't require packing peanuts and cleaned pumpkins/squash can be stored as is in a dark cold cupboard. Make sure the individual fruits do not touch one another as this limits spoilage. Pumpkins and squash are susceptible to mould and surface skin problems during storage - so check on them weekly. If a fruit has a skin conditions (poor fella!) then remove from storage and consume - they are completely safe to eat as the skin problem is only on the surface and doesn't affect the quality of the flesh.

Butternut storage problem,
suspected fungal growth

Soups:

Very simple way of turning excess pumpkins into easily freezable storage. Simply cut the pumpkins into large pieces then steam or boil until cooked. You add them to a pot with water and other spices/amendments then later pulverise to preferred thickness and serve. Soups are easily frozen away to quickly re-heat on cold winter nights. Soups will keep for at least 6 months.


Frozen: Cubes

This is very straight forward, just cube the pumpkins, pack into bags and store in the freezer. No blanching required as this only leads to soggy pumpkins. They will keep for at least 6 months.


No-bake cookies:

These are fantastic and you can add just about any spices to them - cinnamon, cocoa, anise etc. Also they are waist-friendly and the original link event includes the nutritional information of each serving: Chocolate-covered Katie, No-bake Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.



o0o


End of season large potato harvest

Considering that the seasons are changing now (April) and the summer vegetables are ready for harvesting means that it is an excellent time to do some winter preparations and get all the excess into storage in order to enjoy the summer bounty during winter as well.

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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆
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