Vegetable garden plans for 2019: onions

Onions (Allium cepa)
Patterson yellow storage onions from 2018 harvest August 17, 2018

For the first time, in planning my 2019 vegetable garden, I did not order field-grown onion plants from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I’m growing onions exclusively from seeds this year. Onion plants were easier but cost more. Each bunch of 50-60 plants costs $16.79. They arrive by mail the end of March. Pop them into prepared beds, and you’ve got an instant onion garden–although it does take them a few weeks to establish roots and start to grow. So, will I congratulate myself on saving money this year with $4.35 seed packets, or will I end up feeling penny-wise but pound-foolish. If my onion crop from seed fails, I will be buying onions all summer and fall instead of pulling luscious yellow and red onions from my vegetable garden for salads, salsa, sausages with peppers and onions, and other dishes. No store-bought onion is as good as one pulled that day from the garden, or even stored for a short time. Gardening is a gamble.

Last year, the daily harvest on July 12 included green frying peppers and a few yellow Havasu peppers, along with Red Wing onions, Patterson yellow onions, and a few little Red Marble cipollini onions, as seen in the top photo above. Sautéing peppers and onions, as seen in the photo at bottom above, happens pretty regularly during the summer months, producing some for eating right away, and some for freezing. Today is a wintry February day, and we will be enjoying sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions from the freezer for lunch.

Salsa ingredients from daily harvest August 12, 2018

Salsa from the freezer is another daily staple during these winter months. It is good on tacos, burritos, chips, or just about anything else. Garden ingredients for salsa can be seen above–Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes, fresh garden garlic, cilantro, red-ripe peppers–frying peppers, cayennes, and pepperoncinis–with a few yellow Havasus, Patterson yellow onions, and a lime. All ingredients except the lime are from my vegetable garden. Many of the garden onions went into salsa last summer. Of course, many were used in salads and daily summer cooking. A few dozen were stored in the basement in brown paper bags, but they were used up before the end of the year.

Yellow summer squash, green cayenne peppers, and a Patterson yellow onion July 21, 2018

Yellow squash casserole with peppers, onions, and lots of oregano–maybe some tomatoes and feta cheese too, is a favorite summer dish.

Well, enough dreaming about what was last summer. My challenge this year of 2019 is to grow enough onions from seed to match or surpass last summer’s bounty. My seed choices are simple. Five in all. A yellow–New York Early, to replace Patterson. A red–Redwing. A sweet onion–Yellow Spanish Sweet Onion from Seeds of Change. A red cipollini–Red Marble, and a white cipollini–Gold Coin. Cipollini onions are small and flat. All seed varieties but one were purchased from Johnny’s.

According to Johnny’s catalog, onions seeds can be started indoors in late February to mid-March. I am planting long-day onion seeds. At a latitude of around 41°N here in northern New Jersey, these onions could be direct seeded into the garden in April or early May. I’ve never had much luck with that, so I will try transplanting this year. I like to use a seed-starting mix like Johnny’s 512 mix, a blend of peat mosses, compost, and perlite. Of course, I have to pay shipping charges for that. Espoma seed-starting mix is good as well, and it’s available from my local nursery. Both are organic.

Space is one problem with starting vegetables and flowers indoors. The onions will commandeer our round oak table until they sprout and can be placed under grow lights or out into cold frames. Weather will have some say in this, but as Eliot Coleman points out, day length is always dependable. With days getting longer–10 hours and 55 minutes as of today, February 20–and the sun getting stronger, cold frames may be an option for the tender onion plants until it’s time to transplant into the garden in April.

Onion seed planted indoors February 20, 2019

I’m worried if temps are warm enough indoors for germination without heat pads. Johnny’s has a germination guide for onions, starting at about 50°F. and peaking at 86°F. Our indoor temp is pretty steady at 68°F. That should be good enough. I have heat pads, which are essential for starting peppers and tomatoes indoors, but they are difficult to set up on this table.

Plastic domes on flats until seeds sprout February 20, 2019

Again following directions in Johnny’s catalog, I sowed 5 seeds per cell in the flats seen above. New York Early yellow onions–24 cells. Redwing red onions–18 cells. Yellow Spanish Sweet Onion–18 cells. Red Marble cipollini–6 cells. Gold Coin cipollini–6 cells. The flats can be watered from the bottom. Clear plastic domes cover the tops. Thin to 3 plants per cell, which can then be transplanted out without disturbing the roots. In well-prepared beds with loose, friable soil, 3 onion plants can push themselves apart and grow to a nice size.

That’s it for the moment. When the onions sprout, I will remove the clear plastic domes and make sure they are adequately watered. I hope to update this post to show the progress of this onion crop, so check back if you are interested.

Young onion plants in garden on May 29, 2018

2 Comments on “Vegetable garden plans for 2019: onions

  1. You know, in all my years, I have NEVER grown onions from seed. They are just too easy to grow from sets. I know it is sort of cheating, but it is one of the few cheats in my garden, so I can live with it. I suppose that someday, I should grow them fro seed. That is how my great grandparents did it.

    • Onion sets are small, dry bulbs that were grown the previous year. Larger sets are best used for green onions. Smaller ones can be left in the ground to produce a bulb. Onion plants, on the other hand, are grown from seed in the year they are planted in the garden. Ones that you buy will be dormant but will soon green up and continue their growth. Of course, those you plant indoors yourself and transplant out do not go through the dormant stage. Otherwise they are the same.

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