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GARDENING: Winter Greens

It’s all go on the veg patch this month. Sow hardy winter greens and plant onions for a tasty crop next year.

Thin out seedlings, leaving 30cm spacings between plants. Mature plants will grow 30-40cm high. When harvesting, selectively pick a few of the largest leaves from every plant, leaving the smaller ones to help maintain vigorous growth.

As their name suggests, ‘Japanese’ onions were originally developed to withstand harsh winters in Japan. However, it’s not just about temperature. Onions usually require strong sunlight to thrive, but autumn-planting types also cope with low light conditions.

Onion and shallot ‘sets’ (small, immature onion bulblets) are available now. Senshyu is a deservedly popular variety, but there are lots to choose from, including Electric, with vivid red skins and flesh. 

Onions need an open site with well-drained soil. Fork the soil gently to loosen the surface. Plant bulblets (pointy end up!) with their tips just visible above the soil, spaced at 10cm intervals in rows 30cm apart.

Birds often pull at the onion tips (they won’t eat them – they’re just inquisitive) so place wire mesh over the area until roots develop. Water thoroughly – and that’s about it! They’ll be ready to crop from next spring.

If space is limited, plant the bulblets 5 cms apart. In confined conditions they won’t mature fully but will develop into monster-sized ‘spring onions’ with masses of succulent foliage – perfect for stir fries and salads.

Autumn is the best time to plant garlic. Supermarket garlic may look temptingly cheap, but it’s probably been grown overseas, so will not enjoy our damper climate.

Garlic bulbs grown for consumption can also harbour onion virus. Although perfectly safe to eat, the disease can persist in soil and infect other plants, so it’s best to purchase guaranteed virus-free bulbs from a reputable horticultural supplier.

Split the bulbs apart and plant individual cloves 3cm deep at the same spacing as for onions. You can expect a harvest next June/July.

The upright habit of garlic and onions gives sufficient space and light for a ‘companion’ crop of winter-hardy salad leaves to be sown between the rows (try rocket or lamb’s lettuce).

By the time the onions/garlic are ready for harvesting, the salad will be finished and running to seed, allowing the area to be quickly and easily cleared for new plantings.

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