Backup System for Growing Onions

They say the first step to healing is to admit your failure so here it goes, “I’m an onion failure”. Don’t laugh. All honest gardeners have a crop or crops, (which is me), that give them fits. Right now one of them is beets. Once an easy peasy turned difficult in the soil in our new location. I’m addressing that this summer with fresh ideas.

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But onions, the locations hasn’t changed a thing. I can grow them from onion bulbs, and green plant starts, but growing my own from seed is where it gets pitiful. Volunteers raising their heads to grow seed is no problem as I seem to miss a few smaller bulb in the garden that form seed heads the following spring. For me the seed part is easy. It’s just when I try to sprout the seeds into nice thick starts that I run into problems. Mine look like anorexic giants with failure to thrive. Transplant them to the garden and they die. I tried letting the seed fall, hoping it would over winter to sprout come spring. No…pe that didn’t work even though I tried, tried, again. I even gave them a nice mulch blankie and nature gave them a three foot snow cover. None were appreciated.

My next move was to bargain shop for those little baby onion bulbs that you plant. Some of them will go directly to growing seeds and my selection is red, yellow, or white. Not Walla Walla, Cobra, Ebenezer or some other variety so you have no idea if they will store for the winter or not – most likely not. After all how many people grow a whole year’s worth at a time? We’re a small bunch. But I like the nice fussy feeling of having a laundry basket of my favorite vegetable to peek at every time I enter the pantry. If a few onions begin to go soft before we can eat them, I simply dry them.  I LOVE to cook with dried onions so I do some anyway even though they aren’t reaching their expiration date. It saves the rush at the end of the season and can be done at my leisure.

Benjamin Franklin supposedly said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” That sounds like him. That is why I have started for the first time to do some really serious planning for my gardens next summer, that includes increasing my abilities to keep my onions going from year to year. I just watched a video on growing onions from seed and I can see some areas I went wrong, like fertilizing. That makes them spindly. Also they need a trim a couple times to encourage them to thicken. Plus I put too many seeds in one pot. Armed with more information, I will try again this winter.  They say start seeds 8 to 10 weeks before planting which means more like closer to 12 for us since our house remains cooler than the recommended temperatures. Unless I can get my cover made for the grow light shelving. That would heat things up. Many use window sills I’m told but ours are next to Wyoming’s winter wonderland in early February; the coldest months of the year.

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  • That will be stage one, to grow onions starts from seed successfully under grow lights.

Stage one because there is only so much room under the grow lights and I need a lot of onions and grow lights cost to run.

  • Stage two is growing my own onion bulbs for full size onions the following  summer.

That makes me wonder about growing part of my next year’s crop in onion sets, the little bulb kind. I’ll have to figure out the timing but the principle is that you start your seeds much later and then grow them in the garden to the small bulb size. Then let the plant dry out, pluck the tiny bulbs from the ground, and store them for the winter like you do with a storage onion. That would mean no need for grow lights as I could use my window sills to start the plants from seed and then transplant to the garden. This approach certainly has its appeal.

If I have seed and bulbs, it will give me choices and a back up if one or the other fail. Keep in mind that onion seeds are only good for a short time. After the first year the germination rate drops in half. It is best to store them in the freezer.

For those of you who’ve never grown seeds, I’ll give you a close up view on the next post. Maybe it’s your bane too. It’s okay, we gardeners all have them.

4 thoughts on “Backup System for Growing Onions

    1. I have this thing with do-it-myself. I want to at least be capable. We are so sparely populated and so little vegetable agriculture is in our state that you have to ship from way out of state to get starts. That makes me uncomfortable as does the long distance fresh foods travel to come to our stores. The price reflects it. It all could be easily disrupted and we’d do without unless we do-it-ourselves. So as the world falls apart and I hear more and more of food shortages to come. I wonder is that why our stores were very noticeably short on meat this week? Very little pork. Is it a trend or an anomaly? Shortages are to start the end of this year and be progressive through the next. We will likely see it first since we are so small. It has caused me to reflect on what things I would miss most if I did not do it myself. The story would be different for you in a largely populated state with lots of vegetable production.

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      1. Well, we also have a huge population of those who expect resources to be constantly available. The recent electrical outages were a dreadful reminder of how delicate the system is here, and how reliant we are on resources that we do not produce. Even though it was not such a serious situation, people were furious, as if electricity is something that we all have an inalienable right to. So few people know how to grow anything or produce anything. To make matters worse, there are laws that make self reliance difficult. For example, Even in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I can not harvest timber from a crowded forest. New fireplaces or wood stoves are illegal, and so-called ‘environmentalists’ want to outlaw the use of old ones. We can not manage our own forests, which have not burned in a very long time (which is why the fires are so bad here now.) Even collecting rainwater from our own properties is illegal in many areas, and will get to me illegal in even more. Land is so extremely expensive that developers who want the farm are always blaming us for contaminating the creek with chemicals that we do not use. (They try to force the sale of the farm.) New agriculture is extremely difficult to establish, but there are so many incentives for pot growers, as if we need more people to be stoned. None of it makes sense. The lifestyle that I want is being outlawed.

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  1. Darla

    When you cut an onion. Leave about an inch on the root end of the plant. You can plant the onion & it will set out leaves & eventually give you seeds. You can also do this with carrots. I do this a lot to get seeds for my spring garden.

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