ONIONS are one of those crops which leave a nasty taste in my mouth — whenever I visit the grocer’s and see how cheap they are.

They are a must-have cooking ingredient but, really, if cost was the only consideration, they are simply not worth growing yourself.

I would, however, still do it — not just because I always have and tend to run along Scalextric tracks these days — but you can get great taste varieties which are not readily available in shops.

This year I am experimenting in my embryonic veg patch.

A couple of months after the onion harvest, we have given the patch a quick fork over incorporating plenty of well-rotted manure and nitrogen-rich chicken pellets because onions love that element.

There is also the magic ingredient, one which I have never discovered why it works — beech leaves.

In France, the home of some great onions, farmers have grown the crop in the same fields for decades, so I thought, why not follow spring planted allium sativum with some autumn-planted heat-treated varieties?

I’ve tried autumn planting before with good results and it means you can harvest as early as the following July which gives you perhaps a better chance of getting some sunshine to ripen them off.

One handy tip is, after the sets have got a flying autumn and winter start to, in spring, apply a nitrogen-rich fertiliser to give them a further boost.

Another hint is to plant through a weed-resistant mat which makes the usually incredibly fiddly weeding a doddle — although it does not look particularly attractive.

This time I am trialing DT Brown’s mail order autumn planting collection which includes 250g each of three varieties — but, of course, heat-treated sets are readily available from Island garden centres too.

The collection is made up of Radar which puts up with the worst of the weather much better than many older varieties. It has a mild flavour and crisp texture.

There is also Electric, a flash red of an onion which brings life to the salad bowl.

Don’t forget that small, left-over red onions make great pink pickled onions too — perfect for gracing your favourite cheeseboard.

White skinned and mild-flavoured Snowball completes the threesome and it is said the bulbs keep well — hopefully better than this year’s spring-sown Snowballs, many of which melted away to rot.

There is also a super-saver collection of three packs (six bulbs) of garlic which can also go in now.

I will pop out to the Garlic Farm because I only want a couple of bulbs, but the Brown collection includes three Wight varieties, Caulk Wight — the spiciest hardneck yet — the Early Purple Wight softneck and my favourite softneck, Garlic Solent Wight, which is a great keeper.

Don’t be tempted to scrimp and plant supermarket cloves — the results will probably be less than perfect.