Getting to know your onions
Shallots are just the right size when cooking for one and so are clumps of perennial bunching onions. If anyone ever offers to share their clump with you, jump at the chance as they can be hard to find. Kings Seeds has red and white bunching onions and two types of shallot seeds. Kahikatea Farm has pots of white Welsh bunching onions.
As they are not winter dormant, bunching onions are useful at all times of year and at all stages of development. New leaves can be used like chives; immature bulbs are like spring onions; mature bulbs of various sizes can be harvested for pickling onions, used whole in casseroles or diced and sliced for any other recipes calling for onions.
The clumps bulk up readily but never get invasive. Divide crowded clumps and replant in full sun in humus-rich soil. Keep evenly watered, as stressed plants seem to be more susceptible to aphid attacks.
Last month I wrote about the big storm damaging my roof. The roof wasn’t the only casualty. Broken roof tiles fell on a stacked pile of empty terracotta pots and smashed the lot. When life gives me a heap of pot shards, I start upcycling. Here are some ideas. 1. Plant labels. I’ve got a lot of bulbs and perennials that disappear in winter. These plant labels will stop me planting something new in what looks like an empty spot. I used tile nippers to shape the broken pieces and a permanent felt tip pen to write the plant names. 2. Mulch broken pots. Pot shards don’t blow away or get strewn about by birds. They reduce moisture loss and slow down weed invasion. During watering they stop soil splashing up onto the leaves which reduces the chance of disease transfer. The colour looks great too. 3. Best face forward. The biggest shards will disguise plastic pots if the break is turned towards the fence. 4. Plant protectors. Pot rims safeguard bulbs while they are dormant. 5. Miniature gardens. Alpines, mosses, succulents and other tiny plants look charming in tiny landscapes or fairy gardens. 6. Homes for wildlife. Make a lizard lounge or an insect hotel. 7. Storage shelf. A 60cm tall pot split vertically. I placed the pieces upsidedown against a wall and topped them with a wire shelf to hold dormant plants out of the way. 8. String dispenser. Flip a cracked pot upsidedown over a ball of string – pull out through the drainage hole. 9. Pellet cover. If you use slug bait, put it under a piece of broken pot to protect it from the rain and out of the way of birds and pets. 10. Spill pots. Let plants tumble out of the break or place pots on their side in the garden. Grow a ‘‘river’’ of groundcover plants that appears to flow out of the pot.
I won’t be using pot shards for drainage in containers. This is a garden myth that will not die in spite of 100 years of scientific tests. Intuitively it seems so plausible: roots need good drainage to get enough oxygen and water runs more freely through coarse material. So what’s the problem? Studies show that water does not move easily from layers of finertextured materials to coarsetextured ones. The bigger the difference in particle size the more difficult it is for water to move through the layers. The soil has to be saturated before it drains. So using shards increases the chance of waterlogging and reduces the soil volume in the container. Tidy up the strawberry patch. Cut off old tatty leaves and extra runners not needed for new plants. Weed the patch, being particularly careful to remove the entire tap root of perennial weeds like dandelions and docks.
Mulch thickly. I’ve used shreds from the cabbage trees I had removed but other organic mulches like straw, seaweed infused sphagnum moss, peastraw, post peelings or compost will keep down the This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz
weeds and break down to nourish the soil.
Punnets of strawberry seedlings are appearing in garden centres now. They are much cheaper than the largegrade plants laden with flowers and fruit that are so tempting in spring.
Plant several varieties to extend your harvest period.
Grow in full sun in rich, welldrained soil. Plant on slightly raised ridges or mounds if the bed is likely to get waterlogged over winter.
Allow space between plants for air movement. Mulch well.
Protect from snails and slugs. A dusting of diatomaceous earth from DENZ reduces the earwig population.