Onions are always the first seeds of the year to get sown in early February and this year, leeks joined the mid-winter party as well.
Four of the storage onion varieties I’m growing are repeats from last year – Copra, Rossa di Milano, Red Wing & Ailsa Craig. The Ailsa Craigs are a large, sweet(er) onion that only store for a couple of months so those are always used up by late fall. The other three, including Red Wing which was a new variety last year, are storing very well - I still have several bags & braids hanging in the basement. So far, only a couple..as in literally two...of the onions have sprouted/gone bad on me. Hurray for netting that kept out (most of) the onion flies last year!
|Every couple of weeks I refill the onion basket in the kitchen|
with a selection of onions from the basement
Each year, I also include shallots started from seed in the garden. Camelot, the variety that I normally grow, was backordered so I decided to try Conservor instead. I'll also be growing a new perennial bunching onion, White Welsh (aka Japanese bunching onion).
Onion and leek seeds are very short lived, so it’s usually best to purchase fresh seed every year. However, I found that rather wasteful, especially when it came to the leeks. I purchased 2 different varieties of leek last year and only used a dozen or so seeds altogether. It was my first time growing them and, as I wasn’t sure how successful I would be, I didn’t want to devote a lot of space to them. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the (practically full) packets of leftover seed, so decided to store them in the freezer.
When it was time to sow the leeks in February, I sprinkled a bunch of the old seeds from each variety into small, 2” pots. I wasn’t overly optimistic since I had previously tried to sprout year old onion seed (kept in airtight containers in the cold cellar) and those had very poor germination.
Well, this was the result of sowing those old seeds:
|Lancelot leek seedlings|
|Autumn Giant leek seedlings|
|Ahh...lots of breathing space|
For the past couple of years, I’ve been using 72 cell plug trays for the onions, sowing 3 seeds in each plug. This year, I'm growing them in the same way as the leeks, by sowed a scattering of seeds in large 2”x 4” cells. My goal was to squeeze all of my onion seedlings onto one tray instead of two, therefore saving space under the lights.
The onions & shallots were sown on February 8th and within a week they were up and growing. But a couple of weeks later, I started to see a few of the seedlings start to droop. Well, onion leaves are tall and thin, so I wasn’t too worried that some of them appeared a bit floppy. Until I noticed the base of the stems…they were pinched - a telltale sign of damping off. Yikes!
For the second sowing, I wanted to give the seedlings some extra insurance, so I doubled up on the damping off preventative measures. I gave the soil a dusting of cinnamon (which is supposed to be a natural fungicide) and, instead of sowing the seeds in the soil, I sowed them on top and covered them with vermiculite.
I had some big issues with damping off a few years ago which resulted in several changes in how I do things, including disinfecting all of the pots, cell packs & tools at the end of each season, purchasing new seed starting mix each year, topping the soil on new sowings with vermiculite, watering seedlings only from the bottom and running a fan to increase air circulation.
|Copra - the survivors|
And now I cross my fingers. Brassicas seem to be particularly susceptible to damping off and I have just sown a few cell packs of collards & kale. Hopefully I don’t have any further casualties.