These tasty members of the onion family are ideal for small gardens and provide year-round flavour.
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There are two types of chive: Onion chives have hollow leaves, lilac-coloured pom-pom flowers and a mild onion flavour. Garlic chives have flat, mildly garlic-flavoured leaves and white flowers.
Growing tips: Chives are easily grown from seed and seedlings. They prefer full sun and moist soil, but can handle dry weather. Every couple of years, divide chives in spring by lifting and splitting them into new plants. When harvesting, don’t cut the tops as if you’re giving them a hair trim as this will just weaken the plant. Harvest by snipping off leaves 2cm above the base with a pair of scissors.
Green onions (also called scallions) are simply large onions that are harvested early, before the bulb has fully formed.
Growing tips: Transplant onion seedlings closer together than normal, about 5cm apart, in fertile well-drained soil. Maintain regular moisture and they’ll be ready for harvesting after about eight to 10 weeks, when they are at least 1,5cm thick and about 20–25cm tall. Loosen the soil around their base and pull them up. They don’t keep well, so only harvest what you plan to eat. The longer they stay in the ground, the stronger their flavour becomes. Both the green stalk and the white stem are edible.
Shallots produce clusters of smaller bulbs. They have a deliciously mild oniony flavour (with a touch of garlic), without the sharp bite of an onion. Seeds of the Matador shallot are available here.
Growing tips: Sow the seeds in seed trays from May to August. Transplant when six weeks old into well-drained fertile soil. Position the base about 1cm below the surface and press the soil down firmly. Once established, mulch well to control weeds and maintain moisture, but keep the tops of the bulbs clear of earth or mulch. Water during dry spells and break off any flower stems as soon as they pop up. When the bulbs have formed, loosen the soil around them to expose them to the sun. In about 90 days, the foliage will begin to die back and they’ll be ready to harvest once the leaves turn yellow and flop over.
These are bunching onions that don’t form big bulbs.
Growing tips: Sow them directly in situ, or in seed trays and then transplant, all year round, except for the hottest midsummer and the coldest mid-winter months. They like full sun, fertile soil and regular moisture. Harvest when young for the best flavour. If you leave a few to go to seed, they produce white flower heads that bees and butterflies love and will happily seed themselves. Look out for seeds of red varieties, such as Red Rum, to add interest to your salads.
Perennial Egyptian walking onions are unusual in that they produce clusters of small bulbs (top-sets) where the onion flower normally would be. These reach up to 90cm, become top heavy, fall over and then root themselves a short distance from the mother plant – hence their name ‘walking onions’.
Growing tips: These onions be planted in full sun from autumn through to late spring in fertile, well-drained soil. Four to five months after planting, the clusters of what look like miniature onions at the top of each stalk will have matured. Each plant will produce anything from one up to 30 bulblets, which range in size from 3–5cm. At the base of the plant underground, there is a shallot-like swelling. The underground bulb, leaves and top-sets are all edible, with the leaves having a flavour similar to spring onions. The underground bulb has a mild flavour like a shallot. In their first year, they might not produce top-sets. If the plant is left in the ground, it will continue to produce bigger and more prolific top-sets every year.
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Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening by Jane Griffiths (Sunbird Publishers, jonathanball.co.za) janesdeliciousgarden.com Talborne USEFUL WEBSITES Livingseeds livingseeds.co.za Mountain Herb Estate herbgarden.co.za Seeds for Africa seedsforafrica.co.za Sought After Seedlings soughtafterseedlings.co.za