By Alan on Sep 14 in Blog tagged bulb onion, bulbs, curing, Dennis Adamson, egyptian, Growing onions, master gardner, onion, pearl, salsa, seeds, shallots, storage, why cry | Comments Off
Week 36 Growing Onions
Onions have been eaten for millennia. Traces of onions have been found in excavations of Bronze Age villages from 5000 B.C. Whether these were wild or cultivated is not known, but they have certainly been cultivated since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. (see this weeks scripture) The common or bulb onion is the Alium cepa. They come in three colors: brown, red and yellow.
Scallions often called salad or green onions come from either the Welsh onions, A. fistulosum, or from young A. cepa. They look similar, but the foliage of the A. fistulosum is circular and the A. cepa is flat. They are both used the same way.
Shallots, A. cepa var. aggregatum, are onions that form more like a garlic. They are milder in flavor and are used like the common onion.
The Egyptian onion, once thought to be A. cepa var. proliferum, is now known to be a hybrid of the fistulosum. It is also called the tree onion. It forms bulblets in the place of flowers at the end of the stalk. These bulblets are usually treated as sets and are planted the next year. They are very hardy and they can be eaten as green onions or the bulblets can be used in recipes like pearl onions.
.I’ll let you look up pearl onions, leeks and other specialized varieties. Onions are used by nearly every culture around the world.
Last year I decided to grow onions for the first time. We had found a good fresh salsa recipe and I wanted to grow everything fresh myself for the recipe. I went out and bought onion sets at a local nursery.
They didn’t have labels on any of the sets and the person at the counter had no idea which were which. I picked out a few (not knowing what to look for) and proceeded to plant them. They came up wonderfully and then quickly flowered. I kept looking for large round onions and never got them. I did get lots of seeds, but didn’t know what to do with these. I was very disappointed and decided not to grow them this year.
In last week’s article on Farmer Mel he explained about the onion being biennial. This means they grow vegetatively the first year and then flower the second year. He always stars them from seed so that he gets the first year vegetative growth. He then proceeded to pick one out of his garden. It was just what I had wanted to grow. In that article I also quoted Beth Jarvis, writing on onions in Yard & Garden where she said the same thing that Mel did. “Though planting onion sets is the most popular way to grow them, you’ll have better results transplanting seedlings you start indoors ahead of time.”
Another site put out by the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners said, “seed for home grown transplants allows for the greatest variety for the home gardener and has less chance of bolting prematurely than sets”.
I then went to a favorite gardening site, About.com’s Gardening section, and found a lot of information in an article: Onion Growing Tips, ‘Growing Great, Problem Free Onions in Your Garden’ by Marie Iannotti. She says that if you are going to plant them from seed start 8-12 weeks before you plan to transplant them outdoors. Plant them 1/4-1/2” deep. The transplants need to be hardened off and shouldn’t be planted until after the last frost day in the Spring. Plant them on the surface of the soil about 4” apart. She recommends that as they grow, keep the tops trimmed to 4”. They need regular watering to make the bulbs swell. If you don’t have the facilities to start them from seed then you can get transplants from your local nursery. If you want to do them from sets you need to pick out those that are about the size of a marble, firm, healthy looking and with no green sprouts.
Sets are tiny onion bulbs that were grown from seed the year before.
If you plan on direct seeding them you need to know the growing season in your area. This is where the knowledge of which types you are planting. Most articles talk about short and long day varieties, but there are also some that list medium day varieties. If you are talking about just short and long day varieties, you can decide which you should plant by drawing a line between Washington, D. C. and San Francisco. If you are north of that line you will want to plant long day varieties because you get longer days in the summer. South of the line, plant short day varieties. If you are near the line then plant medium day varieties or hedge your bet like Farmer Mel and plant all 3. If you go to www.dixondalefarms.com/category/onion_plants you will find an excellent map on where the 3 day length varieties grow best and a comparison chart below the map on each variety. You can also click on the left side panel for each type to get a more detailed description as well as the names of varieties in each category. A synopsis of the types from their site is as follows:
The short-day varieties are best planted when the daylight length is 10-12 hours. They take about 110 days to mature in the south and just 75 days in the north. The earlier you plant them, the larger they get, but they won’t get very big in the northern states.
- Intermediate-day varieties require 12-14 hours of sunlight before beginning to form bulbs. Unless you live in far south Florida or south Texas you should have enough daytime hours for nice-sized bulbs. When planted at the proper time, all varieties mature in approximately 100 days.
- Long-day sweet and storage varieties need between 14-16 hours of daylight. Sweet varieties generally mature a few weeks before storage varieties and will keep from one to four months. These varieties will do best from the Midwest to the Canadian border. If planted early, they will do well in the northern half of the intermediate-day areas.
When to plant
This is going to be quite variable depending on where you live. Mother Earth News gives a good overall description of when to plant: In late winter, start seeds of all types of onions, bulb onions, leeks, scallions and shallots, indoors under bright fluorescent lights. Don’t do additional sowings until early spring.
Set out bulb onion seedlings three weeks before your last frost, and set out seedlings of non-bulbing onions six weeks before your last frost. In spring you can also plant sets. In fall, short-day varieties can be planted in many mild winter areas. Seedlings should be ready to set out in mid-October.
While looking at this site I also came across a great resource on when to start other types of plants and when to plant based on each area of the US and southern Canada at: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/What-To-Plant-Now.aspx
Where to plant
They need to be in a sunny place with well drained soil prepared to 12”. A good 1” layer of rich compost will be beneficial. They should be planted 3-6” apart depending on the size of the mature onion. Water well until they are getting near the time of harvesting.
When to harvest the bulb types
Most state that when 1/2 of the tops have bent over. Some will then bend the rest of them over gently, so as not to break the neck and wait until the foliage starts to yellow. It is not uncommon for onion farms to roll a barrel over the tops at this time. The process is called barreling. Harvest them gently, some say like they are eggs, by pulling them up from the neck if your soil is loose or by digging them. Gently shake off additional soil then prepare them for curing by air drying them in a warm sunny place.
At this point they can be cleaned up better to facilitate the curing process. Some like to leave the tops on and others cut them off. If you cut the tops off make sure that you leave at least 1” from the top of the bulb so the neck can dry out, otherwise the bulb may rot during storage. It will be beneficial to rotate the onions to ensure uniform drying during this time.
Curing the onions
Cure only the ones that you are going to store long term. If they are soft, thick necked or young ones they should be used first. They need to cured out of direct sunlight in a warm dry area where they will get air circulation. If you don’t have a covered porch or other shady area, you can cover them with a cotton sheet. Don’t use a tarp or plastic as moisture will be retained underneath them. Keep the onions separate and rotate them a few times during the curing period. Onions often need up to a month to cure. You will know when they are cured if the skins rattle and the the roots are dry and wiry. Generally the longer you cure them the longer they will store.
Storage of onions
Once cured it is often best to put them in a mesh bag or old panty hose and let them dry some more in your garage, if you have one, before placing them in a root cellar or a cool dark dry room. If you leave the tops on and let them dry you can also use an old technique of braiding the onion leaves.
A trick to use when you store them in panty hose is to put one in the leg and tie it off and then put another one in and continue to tie them off. When you need an onion just cut below the knot of the lowest one. The ideal storage temperature is between 40 and 50F. If the onion begins to sprout you can still use them. Just cut into the onion and remove the green part and the sprout. Never use one that is discolored or slimy.
Lastly, what you have just been dying to know.
Why do I cry when cutting onions?
When onions are cut the cell walls are broken and enzymes break down the amino acids and the process eventually forms a gas called onion lachrymatory factor. This volatile gas stimulates sensory neurons in the eye that irritates it. This in turn stimulates the tear glands to produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritating gas.
I was interested by this picture posted by Erica about her attempt to stop the crying. Since it direct contact of the irritant with the eyes, and not inhaling the vapors through the nose that causes the tearing, stuffing tissues up your nostrils won’t work. There are reported ways to minimize the effect. Use a sharp knife to minimize the crushing of the cells, chill the onion in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes prior to cutting (said to be the most effective by the TV show Food Detectives) and cut near a fume hood or fan.
Some of the unusual tips were:
wear contacts (does anyone out there have some that I could borrow?),
cut the onion underwater or near steam from a boiling kettle,
wear a gas mask (I’m sure that a nearby Army facility would be glad to lend you one),
stick your tongue out and breathe through your mouth,
light a candle near the onion,
put vinegar on the chopping board,
soak the onion in salt water
and lastly chew bread or gum while cutting the onion.
I learned another little know fact this week. Last Saturday I taught a couple of classes at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, UT. One of the power point presentations starts with the picture of me posed like the farmer in the painting American Gothic. A teaching assistant there asked me if I knew what the profession of the male model in the painting was. I told her no. She said that she learned, from the game show Jeopardy, that he was a dentist. She laughed when I told her I was aretired Oral Surgeon!
“We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.” Num. 11: 5
Next week: A visit to an Advanced Master Gardener’s farm.
email@example.com = Send Dennis any of your questions!
For The Family
By Alan Osmond on Jan 24 in Blog, Videos tagged beans, bone, brain, carrot, celery, doctor, drugs, earth, female, food, God, health, herbs, kidney, male, medical, natural, onion, organs, pharmacy, potato, vegetables | Comments Off
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God’s Pharmacy – presented by Dr. Christopher’s Herbal Legacy.
1 And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass
; the herb
yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness upon the earth; and it was so, even as they ordered.
12 And the Gods organized the earth
to bring forth grass from its own seed, and the herb
to bring forth herb
from its own seed, yielding seed after his kind; and the earth to bring forth the tree from its own seed, yielding fruit, whose seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed.
29 And the Gods said: Behold, we will give them every herb
bearing seed that shall come upon the face of all the earth, and every tree which shall have fruit upon it; yea, the fruit of the tree yielding seed to them we will give it; it shall be for their meat
. Abr. 4: 11-12, 29-30
8 And again, tobacco is not for the abody
, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb
for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome aherbs
God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— D&C 89: 8, 10-11