Drying Onions

Home grown maincrop Onions ripening in wooden trays, UK, August - © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Home grown maincrop Onions ripening in wooden trays, UK, August – © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

If you have grown onions this year, you may be happily pulling them up about now and hopefully celebrating rather lamenting their size. When onions are ready for harvest, their stems and leaves flop to one side as below:

Allium cepa - Onions ready to harvest with fallen foliage - © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Allium cepa – Onions ready to harvest with fallen foliage – © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

However, just like garlic, there is an important step between harvest and storage, and that involves curing. Onions should be left to cure so that their outer layers of skin dry and they can be stored successfully. This can take a couple of weeks after harvest. Keep the leaves on the bulbs to dry post-harvest, as chopping them off now runs the risk of introducing bacteria to the onions, which might spoil your crop!

Freshly harvested onions laid out to dry - © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

Freshly harvested onions laid out to dry – © GAP Photos/Robert Mabic

There are different ways to store onions while they cure. If you are guaranteed dry weather, you can leave them on the ground where you have pulled them. This is the easy option, but you run the risk of them being eaten by animals, or them rotting on one side if they get damp.

Maincrop onions lifted and drying on wire frames - © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Maincrop onions lifted and drying on wire frames – © GAP Photos/Gary Smith

Onions are best dried in a cool, but not cold, dry area, with sufficient air circulation. You could store them outside if the weather is fine, out of direct sunlight, on makeshift racks of trellis or wire frames. This keeps them off the ground and the air flow moving. Alternatively, suspend a pole horizontally and hang bunches of onions from it. These options are cheap and relatively quick to prepare, and will not take up much space.

Drying onions in bunches on rail - © GAP Photos/Michael Howes

Drying onions in bunches on rail – © GAP Photos/Michael Howes

If you cannot guarantee that your crop will not get wet if left to cure outside, it is best to bring them undercover. Layer them over raised benches in a greenhouse or shed, or covered frame. These can prove a surprising efficient drying tool, as you can hang the onions upside down through the cracks in work benches and pallets. If you have old fashioned crates that stack on top of each other, these will also work well for drying multiple onions at a time.

Allium cepa 'Red Baron' - Harvested onions drying in a wooden rack in polytunnel - © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Allium cepa ‘Red Baron’ – Harvested onions drying in a wooden rack in polytunnel – © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Alternatively, if you are good with your hands, you might consider braiding the onions together in a bunch and hanging against a wall. This is a very attractive way of drying your onions, and once the curing is complete, you can easily harvest them from the braid as and when you need them.

Allium cepa 'Red Baron' - Plait of organic onions drying on shed door - © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Allium cepa ‘Red Baron’ – Plait of organic onions drying on shed door – © GAP Photos/Maxine Adcock

Happy curing!

Plants to Sow Now For Colour Next Year

Sowing hardy annuals in drills in a border outside - © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Sowing hardy annuals in drills in a border outside – © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Many people associate sowing seeds with the spring. However, there are certain plants that fare better when sown later in the summer and into early autumn, giving you stronger plants the following year, that will flower ahead of those started in spring. These tend to be hardy perennials and annuals which overwinter happily outside, although they may need a little protection from extreme weather.

As August and September are still light and the soil temperature is warm, seeds will germinate easily. By the end of September and beginning of October, as temperatures ease, seedlings can concentrate on growing and establishing root systems without having to battle against the strong sun levels. It is best to direct-sow seeds at this time of year; however, you can also get them started in pots, just don’t forget to keep them watered. Below we have listed some examples of seeds to sow now in preparation for ealier flowers next year.

Ammi majus – bullwort

Ammi majus 'Queen of Africa' and Verbena bonariensis - © GAP Photos/Christa Brand

Ammi majus ‘Queen of Africa’ and Verbena bonariensis – © GAP Photos/Christa Brand

You would be forgiven for mistaking this annual for Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), as it shares the same lacy umbels of delicate white flowers. Just like Cow Parsley, it gives a wild style to a border and the flowers can be used in arrangements.

Papaver somniferum – Opium Poppy

Papaver somniferum in June - Opium poppy - © GAP Photos/Dianna Jazwinski

Papaver somniferum in June – Opium poppy – © GAP Photos/Dianna Jazwinski

Most poppies do not take kindly to being disturbed, and so are best when sown in situ. Alternatively, sow them in biodegradable pots so you do not disturb their root systems when you plant them out. Poppies are great plants for low-maintenance gardens as they tend to self-seed freely around the garden, usually in little nooks and crannies. They attract pollinators and the seedpods which develop as the flower dies away, are also very ornamental.

Nigella damascena -Love -in-the-Mist

Nigella damascena - © GAP Photos/Dianna Jazwinski

Nigella damascena – © GAP Photos/Dianna Jazwinski

This seemingly delicate annual is actually more robust than it looks and is available in various shades of blue, pink, white and purple. It can be direct sown, or grown in a pot and transferred to the ground. Both the flowers and seed pods are highly ornamental, so are worth harvesting for floral arrangements. However, if you would rather not re-sow, leave the seedpods to open and scatter their seeds, giving this plant a chance to self-sow and naturalise.

Delphinium – Larkspur

Delphinium 'Guardian Lavender' - © GAP Photos/Pernilla Bergdahl

Delphinium ‘Guardian Lavender’ – © GAP Photos/Pernilla Bergdahl

Delphiniums are very popular plants; their upright spikes of soft flowers add vertical colour towards the back of the border, and pollinators love them. They are hardy, so can be started in the late summer for more established plants the following spring. However, it is worth noting that young delphinium leaves are irresistible to slugs, so consider protecting young delphiniums with cloches or copper rings, or grow in pots in a protected area and then plant out in the spring.

Cerinthe major – Honeywort

Cerinthe major - © GAP Photos/Pernilla Bergdahl

Cerinthe major – © GAP Photos/Pernilla Bergdahl

This is quite an unusual annual, with its silvery-green foliage and contrasting nodding, purple flowers. Attractive to pollinators, so great for a sunny border or near fruit and vegetable gardens. It also self-seeds quite easily.

Salvia viridis syn. S. horminum – Annual Sage

Salvia viridis syn. S. horminum - Annual Blue clary - © GAP Photos/Richard Bloom

Salvia viridis syn. S. horminum – Annual Blue clary – © GAP Photos/Richard Bloom

The sumptuous purple flower bracts of this annual really make it stand out in a border, which will give you colour from the early summer all the way into the autumn.

Scabiosa atropurpurea – Sweet scabious

Scabiosa atropurpurea 'Black Knight' - Scabious - © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Knight’ – Scabious – © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

With dark sultry flowers, this annual, or short-lived perennial will add some depth to your border. They have a sweet scent and will flower all summer long and into the autumn. They are an excellent choice for attracting pollinators into your garden.

Eschscholzia californica – California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica - Californian Poppies - June - Surrey - © GAP Photos/Tim Gainey

Eschscholzia californica – Californian Poppies – June – Surrey – © GAP Photos/Tim Gainey

This vibrant orange poppy will light up a border in the summer, especially in masse. They are particularly useful for areas with poor soil and cope well in coastal areas too. Although they are an annual, they self-seed and naturalise happily if the conditions are right.

Don’t be Afraid to Cut Back Alchemilla mollis – Lady’s Mantle

Flowering Alchemilla mollis spilling onto Yorkstone garden path - © GAP Photos/Paul Debois

Flowering Alchemilla mollis spilling onto Yorkstone garden path – © GAP Photos/Paul Debois

Alchemilla mollis, or Lady’s mantle as it is commonly known, is a very useful perennial due to its unfussy nature and attractive pale green leaves which look so pretty against other plants. It is a particularly proficient ground-cover plant, and along with its frothy yellow flowers, it looks lovely spilling over a pathway or softening the front of a border.

However, it can be quite invasive – often shading out other plants around it and growing at an alarming speed in the summer. It also self-seeds very freely, so expect to see seedlings pop up around the garden as the growing season progresses – which can then be dug up and moved to other parts of the garden as free plants.

The best way to deal with its speedy growth is just to cut it back midsummer, or when it looks unruly. Lady’s Mantle actually responds well to this, pushing up fresh new leaves very quickly during the growing season, and often a second flush of flowers.

Cutting back Alchemilla mollis - © GAP Photos

Cutting back Alchemilla mollis – © GAP Photos

You can be quite brutal with this perennial when you cut it back, cutting stems right to the base. Take as much back as required to leave space for other plants, as well as damaged and tired looking leaves.

As well as cutting back when required through the summer, you may want to do a final tidy up in the autumn, or cut back in the early spring as fresh growth starts to appear.

Cutting back Alchemilla mollis - lady's mantle -  after it has finished flowering - © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Cutting back Alchemilla mollis – lady’s mantle – after it has finished flowering – © GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

Happy snipping!