Sunday, January 18, 2015

An Allium For Every Season

Cortland yellow storage onions and Redwing red storage onions

Some gardeners geek out about heirloom tomatoes; I geek out about onions, potatoes, and winter squash.  The staples to get ya through the winter.  These vegetables seem so ordinary, but in the depths of winter, when everything is gray, the warmth and color of butternut squash soup does wonders for the soul.  And homegrown, they have wonderful flavor and texture!

But, I digress.  Back to onions and other alliums.  I love to grow them, and I definitely have my favorite varieties that have done very well for me in zone 6 Pittsburgh in clay soils.

Yellow: Copra or Cortland.  Excellent storage onion with great pungency for cooking.
Red: Redwing.  Excellent storage onion with brilliant burgundy coloring

As far as other alliums go, I have had good luck with Conservor hybrid shallots, but this year I am trying Zebrune shallots, French banana shallots from Seed Saver's exchange.  I'm also trying some other fun onion types: Cipollini (the flattened disk type onions that store well) and Red of Tropea, beautiful red torpedo-shaped onions for fresh use as they don't store well.

Leeks are a must have as well.  They take their sweet time to mature, but they are easy to grow and hardy as heck.  We are still pulling leeks that have frozen and thawed many times in the garden under straw and they are perfectly fine.  Leeks benefit from planting in a trench and burying as they grow or mulching most of the plant, in order to blanch and elongate the white section of the stalk.  My favorite leeks?

Mainseason (planted in spring but also decent at overwintering) Tadorna, Pandora, or Lancelot
Overwintering (planted in June/July) Bleu de Solaize whose foliage tinges with purple with frost, and Bandit (ugly, thick stalks with bulbs that will weather any weather and come out on top).

Lets not forget bunching onions.  Hardy Evergreen is my favorite variety of these since I tuck them in corners of the garden and then forget about them.  These overwinter well with a bit of straw mulch, and have minimum mushiness as opposed to less-hardy varieties.

My final allium wish?  To make a small bed of Egyptian Walking Onions, perennial onions who reproduce from small bulbs in the flowerhead that fall to earth and take root.  Yes please.

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