Plenty time yet to set the hardy boys

There’s still time to plant seeds, sets and tubers, writes Kitty Scully.

With March drawing to a close there really are only a few crops that should be in the ground.

Last week I was advocating the joys of March-sown early potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and shallots and this week it is time to examine two other hardy early sown crops. If you have missed any sowings in March, panic not, as all of these hardy seeds, sets and tubers can also be planted in April.

Broad Beans

Broad beans (Vicia faba) are a delicacy that rarely grace supermarkets be that for lack of demand or storability. However, the truth of the matter is that when cultivated and cooked right, of all the beans, broad beans are one of the easiest to grow and tastiest to eat.

They are an exceptionally hardy crop that will do well in the Irish climate and certain varieties such as Aquadulce Claudia even tolerate overwintering outside. Most other broad beans prefer to be sown in spring and this year in Airfield we are growing a dwarf variety the Sutton in the hope it will withstand the occasional battering by wind.

Another compact variety is the heirloom broad bean crimson flowered which are not only a very decorative addition to the plot but also wind tolerant and delicious tasting.

Broad beans work best when grown in blocks and a general guide is to sow seeds directly in the ground 5cm deep with about 25cm spacing between seeds in each direction.

Soaking seeds overnight before sowing will help speed up germination. It pays to sow a few extra seeds closely spaced at the end of a row to cater for any misses that will cause gaps.

Standard broad beans will not grow as tall as runner or French beans so do not require a trellis or wigwam supports to cling to.

However, they can grow tall enough to warrant some kind of support so it is worth putting a few stakes at each corner of the bed or row end and a few intermittent stakes in between with strings run around to keep plants supported and upright.

Onions

Onions are a staple crop which granted are readily available and cheap to buy organically, but there is also immense satisfaction from sowing, growing, harvesting, drying and storing your own.

Onions require a rather long growing period if they are to mature into good-sized bulbs and once the days get shorter after June 21 they are increasingly likely to go to seed, so it’s best advised to get them going early in the year. They are a cinch to grow from sets and are a crops scarcely bothered by wind, low temperatures or slugs.

By sowing spring and autumn varieties of onions in any given year and using good storage techniques, it is possible to have your own supply of homegrown organic onions, year round.

Due to their upright vertical leaves, an onion’s arch nemesis is weeds, so once you keep the hoe moving while crops are establishing, they are a super straightforward crop. Again there are lots of spring-sown onion varieties to choose from and white onion sturon and Stuttgart giant’ are two reliables.

If you haven’t bought your onion sets yet, get cracking to ensure best quality. Red onion sets usually come in to stock later and are generally planted in April. Sets are readily available and are simply small immature onions that increase in size when planted.

They usually are available to buy in a red and white variety and ensure that you only select the best firm sets to plant. Avoid very large sets or those with shoots and roots sprouting. Remember a good set equals a good onion.

Onions do best when planted in free-draining, weed-free soil and it could pay to plant through a ground fabric such as mypex or use a mulch if weeding time is going to be an issue.

As onions are members of the allium family, ensure to follow a crop rotation and do not plant it in a bed where leeks have been harvested. If your soil is very heavy, incorporate organic matter or plant in a raised bed.

As a rule, rows should be 30cm apart with sets planted at about 10cm to 15cm in the row to allow for good-sized bulbs. The smaller the spacing the smaller the onion, which might be desirable depending on the volume of onions you use at any given mealtime.

To prevent birds pulling out sets, cover them with a fleece, which should be removed when the first shoots appear or use other scare methods, such as CDs on a string.


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