Based on the long running Sunday Times column and the book of the same name - The Plot 34 Blog is Mark Keenan's take on the ups and downs of growing food at his Dublin allotment, in his garden, his greenhouse and on his indoor window sills. For aspiring urban farmers who appreciate the lighter aspects of the plot.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Earwigs and Onions
I awoke from a weekend morning doze on the sofa to see something small and black moving on the cushion beside my face. Earwigs are one of the few insects that make my skin crawl and this particular example wasn’t helping matters by doing his wigging just a few inches away from my ear.
The old wives' tale says earwigs like nothing better than to crawl up into your ear canal. This little varmint was far too close to that destination for my liking. A quick earwig disposal later and I’m online, wondering in a sweat if it might have been a straggler in a group expedition. What if some of his mates have already got inside?
There's been a lot of them around lately because of the onion harvest, most of which has been hanging up or put in tubs in the kitchen for the last few months. the wigs hid themselves in the loose outer skins.
Our earwig mined onions, stored for the Winter
So a frantic browse online brought initial reassurance in the form of “load of nonsense” dismissals posted by doctors, entomologists and know-all punters writing in response to varied terrified queries by alarmed punters.
Some pointy heads surmised that the word earwig actually comes from the saxon for “ear wing” – named after the ear shape of their folded wings. Not then, what I believed – from “eare wigca” – meaning “ear insect,” in turn named by hut dwelling Saxon peasantry who knew these buggers like nothing better than a tootle up the old auditory canal for a bit of old burrowing with those pincers?
Sheer panic then when I discover reams of posts from victims worldwide who claim they have either pulled earwigs from their own ears or had to go to the doctor’s to have the little buggers removed by tweezers or syringes.
This is the third earwig I have nabbed in the house since the onions arrived - not something I've felt obliged to share with Her Outdoors given that ladies generally tend to be bit more squeamish than their men about crawly six legged matters with probisci and pincers.
All the gardening guides tell you to harvest your onions on a warm sunny day and leave them bask in full sun for a week to dry. This is fine if you're from Tuscon or Alicante, not if you're from Ireland where summer/autumn is now commonly known as "the monsoon" season.
After numerous attempts to dry this year’s onionsoutdoors (we’re taking three to four hundred onions here) on the gazebo, on the trellis and even pegged individually on the washing line, successive soakings lead me to take the bulk of them indoors.
Despite my attempts, many already have nasty black mould developing on their skins.I sit down reguarly to rescue them, peeling off the mouldy outer layers and drying them yet again near the radiator.
The constant peeling and the thiosulphinate gas resulting (it causes the creation of mild surphuric acid when it mixes with the salt water of the humaneye) means that there’s not a dry eye in the house.
Onions are supposed to keep for between three to six months. If they’re prepared properly and store well, this lot should last until February or March. I've been told dipping the whole lot in a mild solution of Milton Fluid (used for sterilising baby bottles) halts mould growth and helps them last longer.
Another storage suggestion is to use cut off legs of old discarded ladies tights. You pop in an onion and then tie string tight above it before dropping the next one in and then tying above it again. This enables you to simply cut them out one at a time with a scissors as you need them, leaving the rest intact.
An earwig yesterday
Last year I hung them in the shed but weeks later discovered the whole lot covered in mould because it was warm in there, and some damp had been getting in. Onions need to hang in a separated state to allow air flow around them.
As with their harvest instructions, gardening books lash out some more quasi impossible conditions for Irish onion storage. How many people in urban semi d land have a “root cellar” fergodsakes?
Apparently your onions must hang somewhere dark, cool and dry but with good air circulation. This rules out just about anywhere in Ireland. In my case the shed, the greenhouse, the kitchen and perhaps even the attic – which does get unfeasibly warm in the winter months when the heating is on.
Neither do Titchmarsh et al discusshow to deal with the accompanying earwigs. If there's any still in there, they’d better brace themselves for a severe Ipodding with the Eagles. That'll do for them...