Saturday, 25 June 2011

Winter Solstice Garden - Onions

I look forward to the Winter Solstice every year, not just because the days will start getting longer again or the Winter Magic Festival, but because I can start planting more things in the garden. One of these things is onions. But hang on a minute, I can hear you saying, onions should have been sown or planted already right? That's what it says on the back of my seed packet! Well, yes and no! It depends on the type of onion, and its use, as well as your climate zone. Directions on the back of seed packets should only ever be a rough guide. You will need to consider the climate of your local area, as well as the microclimate created in your own garden (more on that at a later date). If like myself, you are in a cool or temperate climate growing onions for the bulb, and plan on storing them, you need an onion that will store well. I had such a good crop from last years planting, I haven't had to buy onions since January! Onions are day length sensitive plants. If you sow in late summer or autumn, although they will certainly sprout, and you will get bulbs, they will not grow as large or store as well. This is because basically, the plant gets confused. It starts to grow, and then as the days get shorter it thinks it has hit the dormant period and slows down. Then as the days get longer again it starts to put more effort into the shoots (the tops) than the bulbs, resulting in smaller onions. If you are growing onions for the green part, by all means plant anytime you like, or if you are growing them for early small spring onions this is of no concern. But for storing onions, plant after the solstice and you will be rewarded with bigger, long storing onions.

To prepare an area for growing onions, carefully rake over and remove as many weeds as possible. It will be difficult to weed until the onions seedlings are high enough to easily recognise.The area should be well draining, and not heavily fertilised, as the bulbs will not cure properly if over fed.  Create shallow furrows approximately 25cm apart. To sow onion seeds, mix a packet in with clean river sand. This makes it easier to sow and space out the seeds, as well as being easier to see where you have sown! 

You can then either gently pour out of the container you mixed in, or put into a brown paper bag and snip off a bit of corner (think of it like piping icing), letting it trickle out of the hole. Using the back of the rake, gently pull across the top of the furrows, which will cover the seeds, and water in, even if the soil is damp.

Onion seeds are slow to germinate, it may take two or more weeks for them to sprout, and they take about 6 months to grow to maturity. Before the days of iPhone calendars and applications that told you everything (I wonder if there is an application for sowing?), people used to sow seed on the shortest day of the year, and traditionally harvest on the longest! You will need to thin when the seedlings are about 5-10 cm high so that each seedling is approximately 10cm apart. I prepare a second bed for onions when I am going to heavily thin out, and transplant the stronger ones. These transplants will mature at least a couple of weeks later than those left in the original location, but you will waste far less seed! I'll post at a later date on harvest and storage, but for now, get those onions in!

1 comment:

  1. Gardenate! Website that tells you what to sow, and has an app companion :). Though as with the packets, take with a grain of salt and a smidgen of common sense.