Why average ≠ normal

OnionsWell, everything’s about a month behind. These onions would normally have gone in mid-March. By now, they’d be at least a foot high and the bulbs would be starting to swell.

Obviously this year that’s a way ahead. Not a single potato has shown a leaf above ground yet. Five years ago, I harvested my first potatoes on May 21.

I’ve not even sown any root vegetables yet. No point: Soil is still too cold. I may risk sowing some carrots tomorrow, but I’m not optimistic they will work. What a helluva winter it’s been.

The marvellous thing about being a gardener is that every year is different. Every year you see things you’ve not witnessed before. This is undoubtedly the latest spring I’ve ever seen, but records are there to be broken: £1,000 says I’ll see a colder and later one before I die.

Being a gardener also helps you understand the concept of ‘average’. You see with your own eyes, every year, that the seasons are wildly different. So many folks think ‘average’ means ‘normal’. There is no such thing as ‘normal’. There are only anomalies – sometimes extreme ones – that cancel each other out into a mean when you do the maths.

This year, we’re merely seeing the kind of weather that stops my May 21 potato harvest being ‘normal’.

Posted on 27th April 2013
Under: Winter | 2 Comments »

Onions in, stress out

drying onionsI’ve got the relieved feeling that comes at this time of year when I’m gathering a harvest. After five months of non-stop rain, it’s a miracle that anything’s done well.

And some things have. These onions, for example. I wouldn’t have put any money on a good outcome in May. But they toughed out the shit weather and put on some solid growth.

Ditto the infamous sweetcorn. I would have sworn – and almost did – that it was going to be an outright failure. The cobs aren’t terribly sweet, it’s true. But I have lots of them and they’re a good size. Who’d-a-thunk it?

I’ve been growing veg for quite a while now, and I’ll freely admit to utter bafflement as to cause/effect/reason. Most of the time, it’s a fucking mystery.

But for me, I think that’s part of the attraction. Watching a tiny seed grow into something 100s of times the size is magical. The whole process is utterly mysterious and quasi-religious.

So when some things work and others don’t – and I haven’t a clue why – it’s a humbling reminder of how primitive, pre-literate mankind must have felt most of the time. Correction: All of the time.

In matters of life and death, that must have been terrifying. For me, in gardening, it’s a mystical experience in the 21st century.

Posted on 18th August 2012
Under: Alliums | 7 Comments »

Onion sets are away

onion setsI always find this effect vaguely amusing. As onion sets start to sprout, the outer skin often detaches itself and ends up sitting on the new shoot like a bishop’s mitre.

The onions are loving the deluge; this time last year I was frantically watering them – daily – to ensure they rooted. This year they’re drowning.

PS Many thanks to all for kind words in response to last post. I’ve pulled myself together and will try not to moan so much…

PPS Looks like a good year to test my theory about downy mildew on onions. I reckon cold, damp weather in early season is the cause. So 2012 should be a bumper mildew year.


Posted on 23rd April 2012
Under: Alliums | 6 Comments »

All work, no play

onionsSummer time, and the living is shitty.

So much to do: I spent an hour (well, 54 minutes) after work last night harvesting these onions. They’re flawless and huge – one of my best ever crops – but time is always against me.

I love being at my plot on a warm evening. It’s one of my favourite places to be. But the pleasure is always diluted by the paranoid clock-watching.

I should just give up and get my eyeballs glued permanently to the face of my watch. Then if I have another arm grafted on to my torso, I may be better equipped for the modern world.

Posted on 2nd August 2011
Under: Alliums | 4 Comments »

How to dry and store onions for winter

onions dryingThe unpatented Soilman Onion Preservation Process, in  steps:

1. Pull up onions. Leaving the stems on, pile them in a heap under glass/plastic for about 10 days
2. When the stems have dried and shrunk, cut them off about three inches above the bulb proper
3. Leave onions for another month or so, until fully dry
4. Peel off the loosest papery skin and store in mesh bags, suspended from the ceiling in a cool, dark place

Works for me.

Posted on 22nd July 2011
Under: Alliums | 6 Comments »

Downy mildew: NOT just for cool, wet seasons

Downy mildewDowny mildew is a bugger. “A disease of cool, damp seasons,” opines Dr Hessayon, my usual consultant on these matters.

Utter bollocks, sadly (though Hessayon’s rarely wrong). We’re having one of the hottest, driest summers ever – and I’ve still got mildew.

Last year we had one of the wettest summers ever, and I had the best onions I’ve ever grown. Row upon row of flawless whoppers… which stored perfectly. In fact, we’re still eating them.

My theory is that mildew is caused not by damp and cold in summer, but in early Spring. We had dream Spring weather last year, and I reaped the rewards.

Not so 2010, which is turning out to be pretty dire for vegetable growers – at least, round my way. I’ve never had such a lousy crop of almost everything.

How are you doing?

Posted on 7th July 2010
Under: Alliums, Diseases | 14 Comments »

Planting the first earlies… at last

Planting first early potatoesI’ve waited for this for what feels like a year. I’ve been desperate to get the bloody potatoes in, but Life has conspired against me for weeks.

It was a lovely afternoon, but Nature is slow to bestir Herself this year. I saw my first daffodil on Wednesday (a pretty mangy specimen), but of Spring there is still barely a sign. No Forsythia, no Camellias, nothing. Have you seen any?

Folks keep saying a hot summer follows a cold winter. But the summer of 1963, following the ‘Great Freeze’ of 62/63, was apparently unremarkable… so I’m not holding my breath. This Global Warming thingamajig ain’t all it’s cracked up to be – in the UK, at any rate.

Posted on 21st March 2010
Under: Potatoes | 11 Comments »

New Soilman: Real work for the weekend

Right, it’s all change. No more non-gardening, non-blogging and non-doing.

This weekend, a multitude of jobs WILL get done:

  • Planting raspberries (maybe even staking them and rigging wiring for support)
  • Planting First Early potatoes
  • Planting onion sets
  • Digging up remaining Jerusalem artichokes and replanting a new row
  • Digging over roots bed
  • Weeding
  • Hoeing
  • Saving the planet and getting the girl

All in a day’s work for New Soilman (it’s like New Labour: full of promises and relaunches, but always the same old bollocks).

Posted on 19th March 2010
Under: Alliums, Fruit, Potatoes | 14 Comments »

Onions, douze points. Garlic, nul points

Onions drying after harvestProbably my best ever crop of onions. They’re nearly all big and sound; only had to eat two in a hurry (they had a bit of mildew and wouldn’t store).

The garlic, on the other hand, has been my worst ever crop. A total rust disaster.

Tiny garlic bulbsThese are the biggest bulbs I could harvest – only a dozen from two 15ft rows. I’m a bit gutted, but it’s hardly a surprise. The garlic has been getting more and more badly affected by rust every year.

So, albeit with a heavy heart, I’m making a Big Decision: I’m giving up on garlic. I’m a big believer in the WC Fields axiom: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then give up. No point making a damn fool of yourself.”

Posted on 6th August 2009
Under: Alliums | 12 Comments »

Soilman: Knows his onions. Er, mostly

Drying onions“That Soilman, he knows his onions.”

Unfortunately I didn’t overhear this, and in the wider sense it IS bollocks. If you want proof, consider my shitty leeks. Failures? You bet.

But insofar as we’re talking about onions, I do pride myself on having the knack of growing good ones. My ‘secret’: Lots of humus, not too much nitrogen and not too much water (ie don’t water them too much, even in hot weather. They like a bit of drought).

All academic, of course, when there’s downy mildew about; two years ago, my crop was all but destroyed by it.

Moral: Even when you know what you’re doing, you can still cock it right up.

Posted on 21st July 2009
Under: Alliums | 4 Comments »