Onions for 2021

Old photo of an onion I grew in 2014 (I think). I planted 2 entire bags of sets (over 200!!) that year and I think I ended up with maybe 5 decently bulbed onions. The rest were small and mostly they all bolted. This is my main motivation for growing from seed this year.

Its been a hot minute since I last posted anything here, but the season is slowly starting again now that we are in January.

Zebrune Shallots in 2020 before being cured

I have never really had successful onions growing from sets. They are small and not really suited to storing. (…and I never get many decent sized onions)… Which is fine if you just want a few onions for fresh eating, but my goals have shifted more to developing my skills in putting up food for the winter. Last year, I was able to braid up about 20 of my Zebrune Shallots last year and it has been fun using my own produce while its -20 and snowing outside. So this year, I decided to step up my onion game (or at least attempt to). I bought a few different varieties that are more suited to storage. Before I keep rambling on though, I’ll get to the varieties I will be (attempting) to grow this year.

  • Zebrune Shallots
    • 110 days to Maturity
    • Sowed January 17
    • Description from West Coast Seeds: “This french heirloom combines the ease and texture of an onion with the delicate gourmet flavour of a shallot. The long lasting bulbs have pinkish brown skins over crisp white interiors. The flesh is sweet and mild for gourmet cooking.”
    • Goals: to have 30-40 shallots to put up this winter.
  • Rossa di Milano
    • 110 days to Maturity
    • Sowed January 17
    • Description from West Coast Seeds: “This is an unusual Italian heirloom onion with a barrel-like shape, flat bottoms, and thin purple/red skins. Sweet and pungent in flavour, with very good storage. These onions look marvellous when braided for winter use.”
    • Goals: to have 15-20 of these braided to put up for the winter.
  • Rossa D’Inverno Rubino
    • 110 Days to Maturity
    • Sowed January 17
    • Description from West Coast Seeds: “This long day storage onion has a globe shape with deep red skins streaked with even deeper red longitudinal lines. Rossa d’Inverno is perfect for the home gardener or fresh market, its an excellent choice for late summer harvests.”
    • Goals: to have 15-20 of these braided to put up for the winter.
  • Ailsa Craig
    • 95 days to Maturity
    • Sowed January 17
    • Description from West Coast Seeds: “These huge, straw-yellow globes grow up to 20cm (8″) in diameter, with a firm texture and mild, sweet flesh. Ailsa Craig keeps fairly well, but is grown as a sweet, rather than a storage onion. Enjoy the fine flavour in soups and salads.”
    • Goals: to have around 10 onions for fresh use in late summer and fall.

Before I get back to the rambling, These seeds are all fresh this year, and are all Open Pollinated varieties. Also all are West Coast packets.

So Why am I trying so many different onions? Well, I want to find what works for me. I like trying new things. My goals are a stretch given my small sized garden, but I still hope that they will work out. I haven’t quite decided where they are all going to grow this year, but the top of the list right now is in containers.

How I’m starting these: I’ve put them in 4″ pots in seed starting mix to germinate and get started. The plan after they get some true leaves and a decent amount of roots is to put them into some plug trays that I have saved until its time for them to go out. Space is going to get to be an issue in April while we are waiting for warm weather to be able to put things out.

Why am I starting these in January???: They are slower growing and I want to put out some strong plants come spring time. Our average “days without frost” is only around 117 days. So the stronger plants I can have during that short amount of time, the better. I can stretch this with my micro-climate yard that is quite warm, and covering things while watching the forecasts. Second reason: I want to play in the dirt.

Other rambling: I’m covering the 4″ pots with some plastic wrap to keep the moisture/humidity up while the seeds germinate. As soon as they do germinate, the plastic wrap will come off and they’ll be able to grow on in the warm house til its warm enough for them to go outside.

One last note, I will also be growing some scallions, they just don’t need this much time to grow in the house. But to keep more organized in my notes here, I’ll throw the description here too.

  • Apache Scallions
    • 65 days to Maturity
    • Description from West Coast Seeds: “Mild flavour and crisp texture make Apache a great candidate for adding colour to salads. Apache grows just like all the other scallions, but forms a small bulb with a surprising purple/red skin and intensely red core.”
    • Goals: I mainly just want a few small clumps of these dotted around. I would love if they become a perennial in my garden like the other scallions I have. I mostly bought these to add some change. We don’t use a ton of spring onions, but occasionally they are a nice addition. I’m just not a huge raw onion fan, I like them for cooking with, but I don’t like them raw. However, these are gorgeous and I cant wait to see if they do good here. I’ll likely sow some in late march or early April for putting outside in mid-late May.

October 2020 Update

I have NOTHING written up and I am 10 days late getting this up. So, what I am going to do is do a quick breakdown of what I can remember what I’ve done in October… which honestly… its up in the air how much I can remember.

I harvested my carrots on Halloween. They were tiny. But still delicous.

I added in some cool perennials, so hopefully they all survive winter. Adding in all the flowers that I did last year seems to have improved most of my harvests.

I honestly can’t remember what else I did specifically this month. Mostly I put the garden to bed and covered everything with leaves. If I find some time and my memory of Octover, I will come back and add to this post, but if I put off writing this any longer, It will never happen.

Follow me on Instagram for updates in real time.

September 2020

HOW IS IT ALREADY OCTOBER????

I have nothing written for you. Work was busy and I was busy harvesting and putting things up and I don’t even know when or how or what. I honestly don’t know how it is already October or where all of September even went.

As I mentioned in my last update. I had to harvest tomatoes early in September or risk losing them to frost/snow again. And while it never really got as cold as the forecast said, and the snow was only in the upper elevations in the mountains, I wasn’t taking the risk of losing another tomato harvest to snow. I let all those green tomatoes sit in the kitchen for a few weeks and then finally last Saturday (September 26) I managed to make 2 rounds of Tomato sauce and can it. All together, I got 12 Pints of sauce… so around 6 L of my own homegrown tomato sauce for the Pantry. The left over sauce that wouldn’t fit in the canning jars, was boiled down even more and I have a nice jar of tomato paste in my fride (because I wasn’t about to heat the canner up for one tiny jar)… and the tomato skins, I have been dehydrating and I’ll pulse them up for a tomato powder to add an extra punch of tomato flavour to dishes over the winter…. And I am so very proud of it all, especially given that I grew every single tomato in those jars! I can’t wait to use it on a cold winter day and remember watching them grow all summer long.

I do still have some tomatoes left that are ripening still, and Even some still outside… in OCTOBER…. That is basically unheard of around here! and something I have never been able to do. Especially without covering them or having a greenhouse. We have actually been blessed with a beautiful fall here without a taste of winter and I am so grateful for that.

Next year I wont grow so much celery. But I will grow it. It hasn’t been great for fresh eating, but for adding to soups and sauces, it is fantastic. The problem is how much the slugs also love it, so I’ve mostly just been dehydrating the leaves and composting the slug-devoured stalks. The celery powder from the leaves is fantastic and adds a ton of flavour to whatever I use it in. This is what I will be growing it for next year. I am going to leave a few plants in the ground and see how they survive winter. Fingers crossed that they do and I can have my own saved seed from them next year.

I also made Applesauce with all the apples from my tree. I don’t remember if that was in August or September, but i did it! I didn’t follow any special safe-for-water-bath-canning recipe, so I ended up putting it in containers and freezing it.

My Mayflower beans are actually producing and I should get at least a handful of fully formed and dry pods to store for winter, and save for seed for next year. The Painted Lady runner beans didn’t get going until later in August and they are just out of warm enough weather to produce anything. They have been flowering though. The flowers alone are reason enough to grow them!

Strawflower are amazing and I hope I can add other colours to my seed collection. They have been so much fun and the bees and butterflies have adored them too.

I will try and get a proper update for you for October. No promises, because I have swapped rolls at work and it is basically learning a whole new job, so It has been a bit chaotic, given that I don’t know much about tropicals/house plants, and my brain has been in over-drive trying to soak up as much info about them as possible. That sentence should be proof enough how well my brain is working right now.

Also, sorry for no pictures… If I attempt to start adding them now, I will never get this posted… and I’m trying to stay consistent with the posting and I’ll get better at the actual content after I have some better consistency. Baby steps

August 2020

…So I’m a week late in getting this posted… I’m sorry. I for sure thought I hit publish from my phone, but I guess it didn’t work. My bad. Maybe I’ll get September’s update posted on time… But without anymore blabbering… here is the August 2020 update.

Wow. August is gone already??? Wasn’t it just May like 2 days ago?

I have been better about taking pictures this month (because it is much more fun taking harvest pictures), so I’ve tried to do a more photo heavy update post rather than a word heavy post. AND because work is slowing down a bit, I can catch up on a bunch of the posts I have wanted to get written all summer… Like tomato variety specific posts that I started early in the Spring.

August 1- harvested my Potatoes. The plants were starting to die back so I just gave in and dug them up before I lost them.
Zebrune Shallots. Harvested this batch on Aug 1. Left about half of them to keep growing.
Blue Cream Berries Tomato. So sweet and delicious! I’ll definitely be growing this one again next year.
Celery is jamming
Baby ‘Royal Burgundy’ Bush Beans!

I’ve been getting a decent amount of herbs dried and put away for using over the winter… and I’m chomping at the bit to get some tomatoes put up and do the whole canning thing… but now its the waiting for them to ripen before the snow falls game… This will end up being in the September update… However, I have had a few random ripe tomatoes…

  • Silvery Fir Tree – despite struggling to get these to grow for the last few years, these have been doing fantastic this year. My first tomato to ripen outside, They have been a decent size. I’ve harvested about 10 of them from 2 plants and I have plenty more green tomatoes still on the plants.
  • Blue Cream Berries- These are great. So sweet, and a real taste of summer. I have 4-6 plants and they are all covered in tomatoes. The sun-ripened ones are the best, but I’m sure I will be bringing plenty in to ripen inside. I don’t trust that Mother Nature will be kind to us and give us a nice long warm fall.
  • Tasmanian Chocolate – Much like the Silvery Fir, I have struggled to grow this one for the last few years, but this year they are performing fantastic. I have just the one plant and it has been covered in fruit. And they really are a chocolate toned red. One comment on my instagram (@thecraftycultivator) was “It looks like a painting of a tomato someone dreamed about”. Infact, this tomato has done so well this year that one branch full of fruit snapped partially, and it has just kept on growing with half the tomatoes upside-down. I havn’t tasted it just yet, but just looking at them is enough to make me try them again next year.
  • Chernobyl – I had one ripe one of these so far. Not quite as electric yellow as they are portrayed on the seed packet, but still a nice bright change in the garden. They went from green to orange and then to a bright yellow, and between 3 plants, I have at least a handful of tomatoes still to come.
  • Tiny Tim – these are just starting to ripen outside, and I’m kind of hoping that they will just all ripen all at the same time (across the 4 plants I have outside), so I can just roast them almost immediately after harvesting. (Saving a few to save seed from obviously)

Not that I grew them myself, but Peaches were on a really good sale, so I’ve been able to do a run of Peach Jam, and some sliced peaches in light syrup. I do still have some peaches to do something with, and may just end up making some food leather.

I harvested my garlic a little early… I wanted the space they were in for lettuce… which I would love to show you a picture now of my beautiful growing lettuce heads, but the slugs devoured them already. For the Garlic, I grew the 2 kinds… from Chesnok, I got 15 heads, and from the Purple Glazer, I got 13. Since they are quite small, I won’t save any of them for re-planting, but they will be wonderful for cooking with. I would like to try a few more types again as soon as we get them instock at work… I just need to find a spot to put them and get some decent soil going.

…September me again… I guess I didn’t hit publish because I ran out of words and pictures…. So let me give you a sneak peak into September: We had potential snow and frost in the forecast last night so I had to harvest all my tomatoes or risk losing them… So that was fun, but I did get a decent amount of tomatoes that should all ripen inside that I can make the sauce that I’ve been planning since March… I thought that once my rational brain took over, I would regret tripling my tomato growing, but I don’t. I’m glad I did, and I will not be reining my tomato-brain in come next March either. I have too much fun growing a bunch of different types of tomatoes and seeing how they cope with our weird weather. I still want a greenhouse though (just putting that out into the universe as much as possible)

July 2020

Usually I start these monthy update posts as a draft near the beginning of the month with all the intentions of documenting throughout the month. Then I panic-write a bunch of stuff right at the end of the month after not writing anything throughout the month. Not this time. This time, I blinked and its the end of July already. Wasn’t it just May like 2 weeks ago? So here we go with a basic run down of what has happened in July. I’m actually going to start with what has failed so far this year, and then we’ll move onto the more positive side of things.

Fails:

  • Butterfly peas- I didn’t start these properly.. OR early enough… so we’ll try again next year.
  • Blue Popcorn – I’m sure the slugs LOVED them… I had 9 strong plants, and they were gobbled up promptly. Next year hopefully.
  • Onions – Not a total fail… they are just small. I went with onion sets, but I think that next year I will just start some from seed. I get bigger onions that way, and they don’t try to go to seed.
  • Tomatoes- Again, not REALLY a fail. More a product of me starting them far too early, and then a cold wet spring.
  • Jelly Melon – I was too excited to try this one out that I started it WAY too early. I ran out of room under the grow light because of all the tomatoes, and I didn’t bother doing a second attempt.
  • Pumpkin – again, not a total fail. Its been a cold spring, and a cold wet start to summer. My strongest plant is just starting to have some female flowers start to form… so we might get something before winter hits, but I’m not holding my breath given how this year has gone.
  • Raspberries – No fault to them, since I did have to rip them out of the ground when the landlord built the new fence. I have had a handful of berries, but nothing like the harvest I was geared up to have after the work I put in last year.
  • Crookneck Squash – I was so excited to try this one this year. Again with the slugs. All 3 attempts of starting this one… the slugs took them all out.

Let me give you an example of how behind we are this year compared to 2 years ago: My poppy that I started from seed bloomed right around May 1st in 2018. This year, it bloomed around the beginning of July. But it still bloomed, so It counts as a win.

Wins (so far anyway)

  • Zebrune Shallots – I abused these. I didn’t have high hopes for them because I left them in little seedling cells WAY too long. I didn’t thin them out. They dried out a few times because of what a tiny space I had them in. But they have exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to harvest these.
  • All of my peppers (that survived being inside) are amazing. Probably the best year of peppers I’ve had for a while now.
  • Tomatoes- These still count as a win. I have tomatoes on nearly every plant that I have growing. The fail mention above is mainly due to the weather.
  • Strawflowers- I love these. I think I want to add a few other colours and grow more next year.
Strawflowers

HOW is it already August 1… Before I put off getting this posted any longer, I’m just going to go with…

Things are growing well for the most part. My strawflowers are amazing, the Tomatoes are all starting to produce and I even ate one of the Silvery Fir and a few of the Blue Cream berries already.

Silvery Fir Tree Tomato

I’ll try and be more on-top of the August update…. That one should be full of harvesting.

Oh! I also started some Corn Mache, Tatsoi and some Marvel of 4 Seasons lettuce. Hopefully we’ll get some fall greens going this way.

Garlic Scapes (shortly before I cut them and made some fresh from the garden Pesto with it)
Volunteer Pansy
Poppy!