To date, I've always planted out onion sets in the autumn for harvesting the following summer. Most years we've been lucky with our white onions and had really good results; the variety of late has been Shakespeare. However, with our red onions, which have always been Red Baron, it's been a different story. They have always bolted, which obviously is not the intention and is no good for long-term storage.
However, over the past few days I've been getting that little itch again of needing to sow some seeds... as us allotmenteers often do! I had a hunt in my seedbox and came across some Ailsa Craig onion seeds which had been free and enclosed with a magazine some months back. So yesterday, as I was popping down to the allotment to do our Christmas Day harvest, I decided to sow these whilst I was there and see how they do... though in fairness even if I had had nothing to do at the allotment I would have still gone... that itch being itchy and needing a scratch!
It's become somewhat of a tradition in the UK to sow onion seed on Boxing Day. I think it springs from those wanting to grow exhibition onions, like Kelsae, though may do me well too (even if I was a day early!). I guess this tradition really aligns more to sowing on the shortest day and harvesting on the longest; though nowadays after an extended family ridden Christmas Day I am sure many will want to escape for an hour or so on Boxing Day to potter at the allotment!
I've never done onions from seed before, though have over the last few years had a hankering to have a go. It'll be interesting to see how they compare to how we've grown our onions previously... as sets... planted in the autumn... as I have already said...
Apart from White Lisbon Spring Onions which I sowed a month or so ago - growing along with what Kelly from Kelly's Kitchen Garden is doing - I currently have no onions growing. You see, I'd already decided that this year we'd plant out sets in the spring, just like Vivi does. Hers always seem to do well and not bolt, so we'll follow the way of the Queen of the Gardens this growing year.
You may remember last year we tried planting our onion sets deeper, as dad used to do. Sadly, the result was pretty poor. All of the red onions bolted yet again; fourth year growing and fourth year bolting. With our white Shakespeare, which had done really well in previous years, they didn't seem to like being planted deeper than we normally do. Largely, the harvest had onions that had either rust or allium leaf miner. Of course one reason could have been the deeper than usual planting, especially as I now remember that the soil that dad had in Guernsey is much sandier than we have, which will have certainly helped with drainage. Additionally, I think the white rot took hold as the onion sets seemed to stay quite damp around the growing onion. I know I didn't weed them enough and let Mizuna germinate and grow to full-size plants; this itself will have kept moisture in the soil at the level that the onions were forming... not ideal growing conditions for a crop that likes its own space. A note to self to hand weed more often AND remove volunteer plants if I even think they may at some point do harm!
So, I think a combination of things rather than just one had resulted in last year's poor onion harvest, and I've taken responsibility for these errors, and learned from them; as all us allotmenteers must. We get to know our soil, our light, our weather, our watering regime, our composting techniques, our fertilisers and our ways of doing things, and learn more and adapt again each growing year.
So, the sowing of these Ailsa Craig is done. They've already had a night tucked up in the poly, and we'll see how these little hard balls of onion seeds get on over the next few months. How quickly, or slowly, will they germinate? Shall I thin to one strong seedling per module or allow them to clump? When will they need planting out? Should I buy Enviromesh and cover to reduce the risk of allium leaf miner? Do I need special fertiliser for them or will a top-dressing of chicken manure pellets suffice?
We will see how they do, and find these answers as we go along. Learning and adapting as we allotmenteers always do.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 20
29/12/2019 01:52:21 pm
I have just bought the seeds and compost for sowing my onions, celeriac and trying again with the garlic and broad beans which seem to have been got by a combination of too much rain and small hungry creatures. Fingers crossed that this time round they will survive.
2/1/2020 08:52:20 am
Izzy, good luck with your sowings. I think we will be doing celeriac again this year, maybe... 🤔 Yes, I think we will! Our late autumn harvesting broad beans suffered from the wet of the autumn, and were pulled out. They went in as plug plants in September I think.
31/12/2019 02:21:29 am
I wish you better luck with your onions in 2020 Paul, I'm thinking I may buy a few onion sets myself when they become available at the suppliers and give then a go for next year...I may just build another 4ft x 4ft bed to put them in, a friend has given some composted down horse manure, not a great amount but it all helps..
2/1/2020 08:55:05 am
Stephen, I too hope we have better luck with our onions this year. I will also be doing Jet Set white onions from sets. I must get on and order them! Good luck with your new bed, and it's always great to have a gift of manure. Here's to a good growing year for us all. 😊
15/1/2020 12:44:38 pm
I have always started my onions from seeds, and they start well. But there has only been one year that I had nice big onions, and I've tried many different varieties. This fall I found out I had been trying to grow long day onions in a short day area. I had no idea. I had already started two types to try again this spring, and luckily one of them happened to be short day. I'm hoping this will fix my onion issues once and for all. Fingers crossed.
Paul S Savident
15/1/2020 12:51:01 pm
Intrigued Sharon as I had not heard of 'long day' and 'short day' onions, though now I know I get the gist! Do you know the names of the varieties you are growing? I will check ours this afternoon to see if they have germinated. 😊
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