Alliums


Work, work, work

Right, that’s it. Seeds planted in Spring? Check. Watered and nurtured in early Summer? Check. Consumed with smug satisfaction from mid Summer onwards? Check. Vegetables die, are cleared away, feet put up for well-earned Winter rest? Che….huh?

Bloody hell, it never stops, does it? Just when I was thinking that my year’s work was done and I could take it easy for a bit, the seed and bulb catalogues start dropping through the letterbox, planning for next season needs to start. And some things need planting already!

It seems odd to write about it while we’re in the middle of harvest season, but already the seed packets are piling up in the greenhouse and I am drooling about next year’s new and improved vegetable growing. And as you can see from the pic, some of the garlic has already been planted.

This should give the bulbs a head start and ensure that they are even plumper even earlier next season. It didn’t quite work out that way this year, with all my winter-planted garlic producing marble-sized bulbs, many of which were split or mouldy.

I’m loath to name and shame the supplier just in case – I know, this is crazy talk – I did something wrong at my end, but this year the garlic comes from Seeds of Italy and The Organic Gardening Catalogue, both of which have served me well in the past.

But what I am doing wasting time telling you about it? I should be in the garden planting…

On the ipod while working hard: The Cure / Boys don’t cry. Obviously not. But surely every now and then they sniffle a little bit? All that weeding, planting, watering – it’s just a little overwhelming sometimes. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

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Shallots drying out

I always thought I’d make a good girl. Not bad at picking out dresses, pretty handy in the kitchen. You know, I think I’d be quite a catch for some lucky guy.

The great unknown, though, is the hair. Being as my hairline is receding rather quickly and I don’t live in the Sixties, a thick head of long wavy hair is something singularly missing from that old devil gazing adorably at me in the mirror in the mornings. This means that I am denied the opportunity to improve the hairstyling skills that would seal my claims for womanhood.

Happily the allotment, as well as providing hours of relaxation and food for the table, has somewhat unexpectedly come to the resuce in my bid to try out alternative gender roles.

As you can see from the pic above, the shallots (Longue de Bretagne) are starting to ripen and I’ve harvested the first lot. Much as I love the pungent devils though, I’m not going to eat quite that many at once, and one of the attractions of growing shallots is that they store so well and last for ages.

One of the most stylish ways to store them is to plait them and hang them up, thus turning a prosaic task – the storing of vegetables – into a work of art. And also giving Drooling a chance to demonstrate, through the medium of alliums, the ability to plait hair in a fashing that would truly merit the title “lady”. If I can do it with shallots, surely, then hair would be no problem?

So off we went. A quick tour of the internet suggested that plaiting the shallots before they dry is best – otherwise they become too brittle and less pliable. They can then dry out while tastefully dangling from the beams in your farmhouse kitchen. After that the instructions got a little vaguer and I found precious few useful diagrams or instructions. Still, how hard can it be for a wannabe woman?

Three shallots together. Cross the stem of the left over into the middle. Then the stem of the right, then repeat. Add in another three shallots and watch the plait start to take shape. Just tuck that shallot back in there….left stem over into the middle…might need a bit of string to keep that row nice and tidy…add another row of shallots…the rustic look is good, no need to make it too neat…bit more string…just need the scissors to snip off that little piece sticking out there…whooaah, what happened to that row? One more row to go…and there we are! Just tie that off at the top and see how it looks hanging up…

Imagine you saw a beautiful woman with hair plaited like this: Irresistible, no?

What do you mean? It’s all the rage this season! Haven’t you seen the plaits on the Paris catwalks – “tousled and unkempt” is the look of 2009. Philistines!

Still, probably best I don’t have to do this on a regular basis.

On the ipod while imagining what it would be like to have one of these dangling down the back of my neck: Blur / Boys and Girls

Failure. Tasty, but a failure.

Look at this photo. Tell me what you see. Do you see some tasty looking spring onions? Big, fat and bursting with flavour, deep red and beautiful? Do you? Is that what you see?

Well my friend, you are WRONG. I don’t mean to be rude, but you are looking at failure.

A couple of posts ago I eulogised the allium family, praising their versatility and beauty –providers not just of statuesque flowers, but also first rate herbs and vegetables. Unfortunately it appears that one particular member of said family let the praise go to their head and took their eye off the ball. You’re looking at the results above.

I planted a crop of red onion sets back in the spring and sat back waiting for rows of tennis ball-sized bulbs to push themselves up out of the soil. But then I made the mistake of prematurely congratulating them and they promptly stopped trying.

The bulbs were looking elegant in the raised bed and then I noticed the danger signs; little seed heads forming at the top of the tall green spikes. Instead of concentrating hard on growing the bulb at their base they had decided that was too much like hard work. No, being a vegetable was too good for my onions, it seems. They wanted to be flowers.

Such aspiration is bad news for the vegetable gardener. Once the flowers pop out the plant sees the home straight. Its job is done, it can die safe in the knowledge that it has produced seeds to spawn the next generation. And this in turn means that the bulb stops growing and starts slowly deteriorating.

So pretty flowers in the vegetable patch means no more onions. It’s not a disaster, because in their semi-grown state they do make rather grand spring onions, but it’s not quite the crop of daddy-sized onions I had planned.

There’s a moral in here somewhere. It seems that positive reinforcement and encouragement are not always the right approach. Some vegetables will let it go to their head. From now on when I talk to my plants in the greenhouse of an evening I shall be whispering veiled threats and waving bottles of industrial-strength weed killer. No more praise until they come up with the goods.

And then I shall pay them the greatest compliment I know. I shall eat them.

On the ipod while preaching tough love: Carly Simon / You’re so vain. Nuff said.

Very talented.

Allow me to introduce the Attenboroughs. Three very gifted siblings, all in the same family. (Bear with me on this, it is a gardening blog entry…) There’s Richard, the Oscar-winning actor and director, David, the naturalist who surely needs no further introduction and then there’s John.

I don’t know much about John but by all accounts he’s a big cheese in his chosen world, the motor industry, and for him to be a comparative failure would really screw up my analogy, so who am I to argue?

Three super-talented individuals, all slightly different but all with fundamentally the same genes and the  same family name.

Which brings us nicely to the Allium family, the Attenboroughs of the plant world. (See! Got there in the end!)

All of these heroes have a starring role in my garden and allotment. The onions, leeks and shallots are my absolute bankers in the eating stakes: dead easy to grow, practically impervious to bugs and slugs, staggeringly low maintenance and incredibly long lasting. In my book that makes for perfection, and I’ve got healthy looking crops of white and red onions, Musselburgh leeks and Shallots (Longue de Bretagne) doing very nicely thank you very much.

And happily now that the daffodils and the tulips have faded away, my alliums are taking pride of place in the flower bed. Purple Sensation and Globe Master are thriving right now, to be followed by my favourite, Sphaerocephalum, in a month or two.

Lastly there’s the littel chives in the pic at the top. They’ve sat there happily for years,dying down in the winter and then flowering and pushing up fat chives all year long. I don’t use them for much – pretty much just chopping them up and sprinkling over a potato salad – but they’re still a great thing to have to hand.

Masters of the herb, vegetable and flower worlds. Could you find another family whose members have so effortlessless dominated in their chosen careers? Apart from the Attenboroughs, of course…

On the ipod while…ahem…watching Britain’s Got Talent: The Beautiful South / Prettiest Eyes. Not you, Boyle.