The Koanga Institute has three main growers for our Shallots and Egyptian Tree onions, Potato onions and garlic. Ourselves, plus Gail and Richard. We all wrote bits this year about what we were doing or seeing as part of our growouts and selection programs. We thought you might be interested......Every single seed line growout includes some sort of selection process, essential for keeping our seeds strong for the long haul.
This year at Koanga we had Henry's FloweringShallots growing in the same garden area as our Pukekohe Long keeper onions. The flowers cross...... both of them being allium cepa, so we had to take all the flowers off the shallots so we could keep the Pukekohe Long Keeper seed. The result was astounding.... the weight and size of the shallots we harvested was over double the same shallots in my home garden... with every else similar. The size of the shallots were unbelieveable, the biggest weighed .........gms. the only disadvantage I can see from always doing this is that you then have to keep your best shallots for seed each year rather than being able to eat them, because there are no aerial bulbils to grow from... food for thought!
Egyptian Tree Onions – Northland update (Gail Aiken)
Up here in the Far North we grow the Gerald de Koning Tree Onions for seed to sell and for ourselves to eat. I've written about them before (July 2010 catalogue) but I wanted to share the selection process we've been going through.
Tree onions grow in a clump a bit like shallots – you plant one onion and harvest a clump of onions. They also are supposed to produce a stalk with aerial bulbils on the end of it. They crop amazingly well up here and I've been really happy with both the amount we get and their keeping ability but was a little envious when Richard told me that his tree onions all produce bulbils. That was in sharp contrast to the Gerald de Koning strain which, when I started growing them, were giving bulbils on less than 10% of clumps.
The first year that I started keeping records the number of onions per clump ranged from 1 through to 9 but most clumps had around 3 good sized onions and it was unusual to have larger clumps.
So I decided to also start a selection process (different to the one Richard describes because our situation was different). Over the past 4 years I've been selecting for bulbil production and also for clump size, and bulb size. Basically that meant I took my seed onions from clumps that produced bulbils but, as that didn't give me enough seed to grow, I also selected for large clumps of large onions. The difference in a relatively short time has been amazing. I'm now getting bulbils on more than 90% of clumps, the bulbils are larger and the size of the onions and the clumps has also increased. Now its unusual to get a clump of less than 6 good sized onions and many are larger. Obviously nutrition has an effect too as we've been working on improving the beds but it appears that the selection process has been important.
There's still work to do. Now I get lots of bulbils but when I plant the bulbils they produce smaller clumps and those clumps don't produce bulbils in one year. I'll continue to select for the traits we want and maybe eventually we'll get 100% bulbil formation and bulbils that produce large clumps and more bulbils in one year.
For now though I'll continue to supply actual onions for seed in the back orders. These reliably produce good crops which keep really well (we ate our last ones in November with hardly any spoilage) and I highly recommend them. A ratio of maybe 9 onions for one planted seems a pretty good outcome! Certainly for us up in the Far North they seem more acclimatised to this region and produce better than Richard's tree onions. If you're interested in trying tree onions then its probably a good idea to get both types and see which do best in your bio-region.
Southland - Richard Watson
Been a person who has always thought outside the square it was only natural for me to think “why should Egyptian Tree Onions only be grown for a six month growing season?, What would happen if i sow early?” These were question that arose whenI first started growing this onion for Koanga, I looked at the plants growth habits and knew that both the ground based onions and the aerial bulbils both reach full grown size by late summer with the bulbil stems bending over enough that they sit close to the ground,so why shouldn't the bulbils be planted then?.So i started a system where i harvest the full grown onions/bulbils in February,i select for clumps made up of the largest onions which is not always from clumps that have great numbers,often there's no more than 5-6,then only if that clump has onions where the bulbil stem runs down the outside of the onion and not down the middle that i will take the largest of that clumps aerial bulbils for replanting. Once the entire crop is harvested the bed is cleared,compost is added,dug under and the bulbils sown back into the same bed,finally a layer of tussock mulch is added to stop weeds,the reason I use this is birds cant flick it around like they can with straw, compost etc,some people may think that they shouldn't go back into the same ground but i remember an old gardener years ago telling me that the onion is the only vegetable that grows better if its grown in the same ground year in,year out,so this is a system ive been following now for 7-8 years and during this time the onions/bulbils have steadily grown in size. Within 6 weeks of the bulbils been sown the first shoots start to show and these are marked so that the following February hopefully these may meet my selection requirements,this been i select for onions that grow the full 10-11 months,some dont even come up till near winter but these dont grow a large onion and are never selected.
This system may not work in other areas of NZ but the bulbils available soon after I harvest means people can try sowing early and see how they do.