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Growing Onions

the indispensable onion
Onions are without doubt our most important aromatic vegetable and I simply cannot imagine cooking without them. And for a nice supply of onions - all full of the complete spectrum of the 72+ ever so vitally important trace elements - here is the way to grow them.

Onions are definitely not as easy to grow as, say, carrots or beans, but not that much harder either. The whole secret of growing onions successfully is to understand a bit about them. The first bit to know is that onions are phototropic, which means that their leaf and bulb growing phases are governed by the length of days.

There are actually two kinds of onions; 'northern' onions, and 'southern' onions - and 'southern' onions don't grow well here because their leaf and bulb growing periods are the reverse to ours. The leaf growing period of northern, or 'our' onions occurs during the period when days get longer, and their bulb growing begins after the summer solstice, when days become shorter again. So, don't go and buy some exotic seeds for some kind of fabulous onion from southern seed companies. They won't work here, and can only be grown successfully in California and Texas. Because of this, it's best to stick with the Southport and Davers types for open pollinated storage onions, and to the Spartan and northern hybrids, such as Autumn Spice, which is a great favourite around here.

Since leaves are the food gathering factories for the growing of bulbs later on, it is essential that we promote the most rapid and vigorous leaf growth possible while our days get longer, and before summer solstice, for nice large bulbs. All storage onion types and the sweet Spanish types follow this pattern, although the Spanish types start their bulbing stage somewhat earlier than the storage types.

Fortunately, onions can be transplanted readily and easily, and this gives us the opportunity to start them indoors and get a solid head start on the growing season. Since onions are are also quite cold hardy, we can best start them right about now in the unheated greenhouse or a cool and bright equivalent indoor situation. For great leaf growth, the propagating soil should be well supplied with nitrogen-rich fertilizer - blood meal is excellent. And don't forget a good dose of any kind of sea-derived fertilizer, such as kelp meal, fish meal or dry seaweed fertilizer in your seedling beds - to prevent "damp off" disease, and for the vitally important full spectrum of the 72+ trace elements. Space the seeds at least one quarter inch apart in all directions for unhindered and vigorous growth. Watering with manure tea helps a great deal as well. Keep the height of the new leaves clipped to three or four inches to encourage dense, vigorous leaf growth, as each leaf is responsible later on for one layer of onion bulb.

Transplant onions outdoors from about mid-April to early May into well-fertilized beds in rows 12 inches apart and three to four inches apart in the row - so there will be ample room for big bulbs. Add a tablespoon of dry fish meal, kelp or seaweed fertilizer, lightly mixed into the soil, under each transplant - for the complete spectrum of the 72+ trace elements. Side dress with high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as chicken manure, blood meal or fish meal once per month, or water with manure tea at least once a week.

Supply ample moisture, if nature doesn't - sustained trickle irrigation and mulching, or both, work best. I have found that six layers of newspaper between the rows makes an excellent mulch which will discourage weeds and preserve moisture very nicely. Growing with weeds, as described earlier, didn't work with onions, as the necessary shearing of the weeds takes too heavy a toll on the slender onion leaves. But newspaper works really well, and when the newspaper finally rots into the soil, it adds its organic substance to the soil as well. Very, very nice.

The whole idea is to push the onions into the most rapid and sustained leaf growth possible before they go into the bulb-growing phase when days start to get shorter again. Extra bone meal or other phosphorus fertilizers are not recommended as this could encourage "bolting" or going to flower.

In September or thereabouts, the first tops should begin to topple over. When most of them have fallen over, bend over the remainder. A rake pulled upside down over the onions does a good quick job. About a week later, pull all onions and dry them for a week on a sunny porch. Leaving them to cure in the sun in the garden or on the ground does not work in our climate. At that time our nights are pretty cool already and we get sufficient dew in the morning to wet the onions, especially where they are in contact with the soil, to start them to rot. A well ventilated, sunny and dry situation is necessary for curing onions. Use all "bolters" immediately, and reserve the split ones for early consumption as these do not store well.

Braid and hang your onions in a dry cool place with good ventilation, or clip leaves about one-half to three-quarters of an inch above the onion and store in onion sacks under the same conditions. The onions with the smallest "neck" are the best keepers. Reserve these for longest storage. If you grow open pollinated onions for your own seed, select the largest ones with the smallest neck to be planted out again, next April, six inches apart. Give high-phosphorus fertilizer for flower and seed production. When the little black seeds become visible, harvest the whole top and dry completely indoors. To obtain pure seed it is necessary to separate different onion strains by several hundred feet to avoid cross pollination.

The whole secret to growing onions successfully is to encourage rapid and vigorous leaf growth during the lenghtening days period of the year, with ample nitrogen-rich fertilizers and constant moisture - which usually is no problem at all hereabouts - and all the rest follows naturally. That's all there is to it, really. Next, we'll get into seeding the early veggies, such as peas, radishes and early beets, outdoors.



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