Find out more about the onion family and how to grow onions, garlic and leeks.
By Jane Varkulevicius
It’s hard to imagine living without onions. If you’re like me, they are part of almost every savoury dish you make. What would salads be like without red onions, spring onions or their close relatives, chives?
Winter casseroles and soups would not be the same without brown and pungent white onions; and who wants to live without leeks?
Allowing your onion/leek plants to flower will damage the bulb, so harvest most of them before they come into flower and leave one or two to complete their life cycles. Not only do you get a vast amount of seed for nothing but the flowers themselves are beautiful. Leeks and their cousins, Elephant or Russian garlic, can hold their own in the most glamorous of ornamental summer gardens.
Garlic is grown not from seed but from bulbils that form in hard-neck or top-setting cultivars. Some say the formation of bulbils damages the head of cloves, while others maintain it improves their storage capacity. I suspect it varies from cultivar to cultivar, so all we can do is to experiment with the crop we have. Suck it and see.
The onion tribe is also great health food. Its members raise the level of good cholesterol, help fight infections and contain a wide range of B-group vitamins, plus fibre. The benefits of garlic in the diet are well known. Garlic helps blood flow freely to reduce the risk of stroke, it possesses antibiotic properties for fighting infections and it can lower blood sugar in response to food.
All these indispensible vegetables are easily grown from seed or bulbils and most of them are coming into flower now.
The flowers develop from a pale green snowball and progress to creamy beige.
Garlic bulbils can be removed and planted out, forming a new hand or head in two years. Alternatively, they can be used in salads or stirfries or their leaves can be harvested over the year for a sweeter garlic flavour.
Note: only seed from open-pollinated onions and leeks can be saved and resown. If your seed packet or punnet was labelled with the word “hybrid” or “F1”, the seed
will not be true to type and will produce mixed results. However, there are plenty of open-pollinated cultivars available.
These are just a few examples ...
Onions: Creamgold, Barletta, Long Red Florence, Pukekohe, Flat white, Australian brown, Welsh/spring onions, Borrettana, Red Wethersfield and many more.
Leeks: Giant Musselburgh, Prizetaker, Elephant, Jaune dPoitou.
1. When the flower head has turned from pale green to creamy beige it’s time to harvest the seed-head and place it upside-down in a paper bag to dry completely.
2. Place the seed-head in a labelled paper bag. The seed will just drop out from the seed-head when it is dry enough.
3. The flowers of onions and leek can grace the most ornamental garden