Aah...the weather. Never a dull moment lately, it seems. While we haven't seen the huge amount of snow being experienced in the Northeastern US (although we've had our fair share), we have had another record breaking year. For us, however, it's not about the snow but the temperatures. This is only the 2nd time in recorded history where the temperatures in February have stayed below the freezing mark for the entire month (the last time being 1978). We have also, once again, had several record breaking lows, with temperatures in the -20's (< -4F) and wind chills in the -30 to -40C range (-22 to -40F). Just another nail in the coffin for my dreams of actually getting some fruit from my trees this year...sigh.
But even though it's a frozen tundra outside at the moment, inside I'm busy starting seeds and dreaming of spring. You know, I think that people that wait until May & go to the nursery to pick up all of their planting stock are really missing out...nothing lifts a gardeners spirits more than a bit of soil, seed & green in February.
I started my onions on February 19th. I'm growing all of the same varieties I grew last year plus a few new ones.
|Onion Seeds for 2015|
Beside each variety I’ve listed its average size & source. New varieties are marked with an asterisk (*).
Ailsa Craig (large; Pinetree)
|Ailsa Craig Onions|
Since these do not store for more than a couple of months, they were used up first. I didn’t make a note, but I’m pretty sure they were done by early November & they kept fairly well up until then.
I consider their large size a novelty but I actually prefer smaller, medium sized onions as that's what I use most often in the kitchen...constantly having to store pieces of larger onions would be a bit of a pain. The Ailsa Craigs were milder than the storage onions, but not by much - I still found them to be a fairly sharp onion.
Copra (mid-sized; Pinetree)
Rossa di Milano (mid-sized; High Mowing)
|Rossa di Milano Onions|
Camelot Shallot (small; William Dam)
This year, I have started approximately the same number as last year. If they do end up being the longest keepers, I will likely juggle things around next year and grow more of these while reducing the quantity of the other storage varieties.
*Red Wing (mid-sized; Pinetree)
|Photo Source: Pinetree|
When I spoke about my experience (so far) with storing the various varieties, it should be noted that I did have issues with leek moths* last year, so a good chunk of the harvest was frozen – essentially those onions with visible damage (probably around 35% of the harvest). The rest were braided or placed in mesh bags and hung in my basement which is relatively cool, at 18C (64F).
Perennial Bunching Onions
As the name implies, these onions are supposed to overwinter, forming multiplying clumps where you harvest the scallions as needed, leaving the rest in the ground to continue to multiply. The goal is to sow them once, and then have green onions in perpetuity.
I grew He-Shi-Ko last year (which is currently under a few inches of straw), but found that the onions didn’t start multiplying until they were quite thick – about 1” or so. They also didn't multiply very quickly, with each "parent" forming only 2 or 3 "children" (although this may be because it was their first year). I would prefer smaller scallions which, ideally, multiply at a faster rate, so this year I’m testing a couple of new varieties.
*Evergreen Hardy Bunching (High Mowing)
|Photo Source: High Mowing Organic Seeds|
*Evergreen Long White Nebuka (William Dam)
|Photo Source: William Dam Seeds|
This variety is described in the William Dam catalogue as having “long, slim white stems” and being “very hardy for overwintering”. I actually forgot to purchase the seeds for this one and didn’t realize this until I was going through my packets last week. I'll have to pick up a packet when I go there to get those backordered basil seeds that I've been waiting for.
It’s interesting to note that all of the website & seed packet photos I've seen for these types of onions show very slender onions. The He-Shi-Ko onions I grew last year were no exception:
|Photo Source: The Cottage Gardener|
Freshly harvested from the garden
You can clearly see the size difference from the website photo above
Last year was my first year growing onions & it was incredibly fun. My method for starting the onions is a bit more labour intensive than what most people do, which generally involves scattering seed in a container or flat, topping with a bit of soil, watering - done.
My priority right now is increasing my chance for success, so I don’t mind doing a bit of extra work to achieve that, especially at this time of year where any gardening related task is especially appreciated.
I use 2 large 72-plug trays for the onions & I sow 3 seeds per plug (4 seeds for the bunching onions). I go one step further, however, and I pre-germinate the seeds before sowing them. This gives me the most assurance that each plug will actually have 3 seedlings & I don’t have to contend with thinning or sow "extras" that take up valuable room under the grow lights.
Also, some of the seed packets contain almost exactly the amount of seed that I need, so pre-germinating means I use all of the viable seeds without overcrowding them.
|Germinated Onion Seeds|
|The vermiculite helps to prevent damping off and |
is also an easy way of identifying those cells that have been sown.
According to my schedule, I’m supposed to start onions on February 1st. Last year, however, I didn’t get around to starting them until March 1st. Since I ended up with such a great crop, I don’t want to deviate too much from what I did…starting plants too early can be just as detrimental as starting them too late. So I decided to push back the sowing date for the onions by only 2 weeks, to mid-February, instead of the full month. I’m hoping that this will either give me an earlier harvest or larger onions. If I find that they perform more or less the same as last year (or worse), I’ll probably just go back to the March 1st sowing.
Some seeds are particularly fast germinators - most of the Copra and some of the Red Wing took one day! As of two days ago, only 5 days after I started the seeds, every cell was sown with the exception of one row that is reserved for the Nebuka perennial bunching onion seeds that I have yet to purchase.
And lastly, after reading Mark's recent post on sowing leeks, I think I may give these a go this year. I have a vague recollection of growing leeks in my first garden many years ago and being less than successful. But I do have so many onions growing already, I can't see the harm in devoting one little square to a leek experiment. I'll have to look at William Dam's offerings and pick up a packet when I'm there. Since leeks do need a LONG time to mature, I had better plan a visit sooner rather than later.
Till next time…
*I originally thought that the alliums were being attacked by onion maggots but have subsequently realized that, in fact, I was dealing with leek moths so have adjusted this post accordingly.