This is the last article of the calendar year but in reality we are merely halfway through our productive vegetable growing season. In many ways we are at a beginning. The winter solstice occurs on 22nd December and from that date on our days will be lengthening instead of decreasing. This is very important to the home gardener because more hours of light mean healthier and more productive plants. If you are not happy with your garden so far then now is the time to renew your efforts.
It is time to plant several vegetables that will complete the season’s menu and number one is onions. Inspect your seed package very carefully because the onions we must grow in Abaco are those called short day. In the central and northern States gardeners must use long day onions. If we try to grow these the onions will end up looking more like leeks and will not bulb out to the plump adult plants we expect. There is also a category called day-neutral onions and they are fine for our purposes but tend to be smaller varieties.
Onions demand lengthening days in order to bulb properly so they should be the number one priority during December. Sow the seeds in trays and transplant to the ground in blocks with individual plants about 4 inches apart. The young onions – or sets – should be planted so the green part is buried 3 inches below the surface. This allows the onion bulbs to develop mostly underground instead of on the surface where sunscald can affect your crop.
Onions are not fussy about soil types and need only moderate applications of fertilizer. They do not like to get dry while growing but once they approach maturity the water should be decreased or even stopped. You will know when your onions are ready to pull because the greenery dies. Remove your onions from the ground in dry weather and cut away the roots with scissors. Onions can be hung from hooks after plaiting – or tying with string – the tough dry foliage. If you are not hanging your onions you should cut away the dead foliage leaving about 2 inches attaches. The top part of the onion bulb is the last part to dry and if your cut the foliage too close you will encourage infection and disease. Once an onion is fully cured the remaining foliage can be trimmed closely and will then look like a supermarket offering.
Some onions are good keepers while others need to be used quite soon after curing. If you do not hang your onions you may wish to keep them in an onion bag and hang that. Onion bags allow air to circulate and all you need to do is massage the bag every few days to move the onions around.
Temperatures are now cool enough to plant Irish potatoes. These are propagated by cutting wedges from a healthy supermarket potato that contain an ‘eye’ or growth point. If you have three or more eyes on your wedges use your thumbnail or a knife to remove the excess. Dip your cut surface into a weak solution of bleach and water – about one part bleach to six parts water – and then allow the chunks to dry for two or three days.
A potato plant sends down roots and new potatoes are produced above the main root mass. This means we have to bury the eyed sections about five inches deep and gradually fill in the hole as the stem grows. Once the stem has broken ground we should mound soil around the base to stop light reaching our precious crop. Light turns potatoes green and green potatoes are poisonous.