Get­ting to know your onions

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - WHAT’S ON - BAR­BARA SMITH

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: get­grow­

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.

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