Bob
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Growing better onion plants

I have a small greenhouse and I like to grow my own onion plants, they always seem to do better than sets and the mature bulbs seem to keep longer in storage.

My problem is, my plants are always spindly in the greenhouse and when I transplant them to my garden, it’s like trying to plant blades of grass. I can’t seem to grow my plants stout and vigorously in my greenhouse, like the plants that I could order from the seed catalogs. I know those plants are field grown in the south and their hardiness is easily created by that method, but I was wondering if any of you have any experience with growing your own onion plants and getting stout and hardy plants.

Once my plants are in the garden, they do well and produce nicely, but I’d like to grow better plants for transplanting.

I keep the tops trimmed to a few inches tall, and this year I’m trying them sowed in deeper pots to allow for better depth for the roots. I’m also keeping the temperature low to about 50 degrees nighttime and around 70 degrees daytime. My plants are about two weeks old at present.

Is there a solution or other trick I could employ to ensure stouter hardier plants?

opabinia51
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It may be that your plants are not getting enough of the proper wavelengths of light. If you are in North America, it is winter still and the angle of incident radiation does block out certain wavelengths. Anyway, the solution is a grow light. I bought one for about 20 dollars at a local gardening place called Dig This.

Bob
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Thanks 51, I ordered a new plant light that’s supposed to deliver 95% the value of actual sun light. I should have it in a day or two.

I think you may be on to something there. I’ll try giving my onion plants some extra light every day, extending the light to at least 12 hours per-day.

opabinia51
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Hope it works. Also, what do you use for a growing medium for your seedlings?

A friend of mine uses screened compost and her seedlings always do amazing, I use potting mix combined with either mushroom or horse manure and my seedlings seem to do pretty good.

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The deeper and darker the soil the better the root veggie...

HG

Bob
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I’m using a mixture of Miracle Grow potting soil and cow manure.

I’ll be heading down to my farm and garden supply soon and I’m going to check with them to see if there’s possibly a liquid fertilizer or something that I could use on them also.

I have my grow light on them now for about 14 hours every day.

I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t be starting them in the fall, October or November indoors and grow them all winter for planting in the spring?

opabinia51
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I think that starting them in Fall might be a bit of an overkill. I've planted onion seed in may and had a tonne of onions come summer. Another idea is to buy the Onion sets and plant them. That's all I use now. Better germination.

Liquid fertilizer: Liquid Seaweed fertilizer is always a good idea. Though, when you are making your potting mix, you could also just add a handful or two of Kelp meal.

With Liquid Seaweed fertilizer, you apply it to the plants once a week.

Kelp meal is a slow release fertilizer so, you only need to add it once.

humble angel
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Onions

Wow, some great advice here guys; I'm taking notes! :D
I've never grown onions before, this will be my first attempt this year. So I need to pay attention to all the advice I can. I'm in Jersey, and usually don't get anything outside in the ground until late April early May. But we are ready to go with the seedlings and all inside. I read somewhere a good place to put them is on top of the fridge. We live in a real small place - not much room to spare at all. So I don't have any place I can really set up any shelves...

With the weather as warm as its been here, its really making me very anxious to get started.

humble angel

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opabinia51
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The top of the fridge is a good place for the onion seeds to germinate but, after they have germinated move them to a cooler spot or the onions (and other seedlings) will become spindly.

With tomatoes this isn't a big problem because tomatoe seedlings are very forgiving but, other seedlings are not.

(My fridge is an ancient relic and it gets pretty darn warm on the top, I"m not sure what it is like up there for the modern fridges).

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And there it is, not just the kick-off of the SuperBowl but the annual kick off of "Is it time yet?" Season! :o

Flag on the play; Humble has nearly broken the January barrier by trying to start seeds in the first week of Feb. Please look at the calendar folks. Awful early to even be thinking tomatoes. Could you be sprouting root sets or readying lettice or other cold crop, sure, but unless you have greenhouse space ready to captalize on an early start on softer projects, the top of the fridge is not a growing range, know what I mean?

I know dozens of people who, in their insatiable need to garden, regularly assign rank after rank of poor seedlings to march to their deaths against that unassailable fortress wall that is our frost date. Ours is May 15th; I suspect Humble is a month or so before that. Those are your setting out days for tomatoes and the like, so plan backwards from that point and that'e when to start. If you use tubes or waterbags or any other tricks, shave a little off accordingly. But Humble, you and the wave of folks behind you, please don't be fooled by this spring-like weather, it is still winter (You will believe me in a day or two, Humble). Ask the folks in Moscow who saw some of the coldest temperatures ever just a few weeks ago. Weather is getting whacky we gardener's remain the last bastion of turning atmosheric carbon (greenhouse gas) into stable beautiful forms (trees, shrubs and flowers) and food for them (compost and natural fertilizers) Plant a tree today!

Scott

opabinia51
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That interesting Scott, I've always started my tomatoes by the very latest of February. Of course, the climate is much milder over and up here. I also have the luxury of putting the seedlings outside in February.

humble angel
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Oinions

Wow, you totally misunderstood what I said Scott - I'm sorry I didn't come across better guys. I have never planted oinions before and wanted to try it this year. I mentioned I had everything ready to go - but I didn't mean I had begun. I won't begin for some time now, as I said I would not be able to put anything in the ground until late April or May. Just too cold here for that.

So you can take back the kick off, hee hee. I haven't and won't be starting any seeds anytime soon. :wink:


humble angel

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Look upon mine affliction and my pain;
and forgive all my sins.

opabinia51
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Hey Angel, I don't plant my plants in the soil until April or May either so, like I said: if you want to start tomatoes now, go ahead. Generally speaking most plants are started at the end of February

grandpasrose
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I don't start my tomatoes inside until mid March. I have done them earlier in other years, but found that the later ones just catch up anyway, so I have stayed with later in March. The only things that I start by seed indoors in February are Petunias and allysum, because they both have such a long germination time, and a long time to get started. :wink:

Val
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Humble, dear, not picking on you but the top of the fridge will be getting a bit shaggy by then if you are starting now. I was more getting at the need for outside measures (sunpit, cold frames etc.) if you are going to start stuff now. Opa has the luxury of nearly tropical weather and can get away with nearly magical things that we in the Northeast can only dream of. His advice is mostly sound, but sometimes tinged by the dreamy quality living in a land of milk and honey inspires :wink: :lol:.

Like I said, this is an all too common issue; I am doing the radio show on Saturday again and Len and I are already figuring the over/under on when the first tomatoe call comes in. I'm betting on this week... :roll:

Happy to hear you have more patience and sense than all that; good on ya! :D I'd think about those sets like Opa does; easiest and best way in my book...

Scott

grandpasrose
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Scott, that's why they call the southern part of our province where Opa lives "Lotus Land" or as some refer to it "LaLa Land" :lol: :lol:

My father always plants both onion seed, and onion sets. He does this so that he can have the large onions by the end of the season from the onion sets, but also gets those nice fresh green onions all summer long. They don't get to be near big enough by the end of summer for keeping. :wink:

Val
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opabinia51
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Down here (with respect to Val) or Up here (with respect to Scott, Roger, Newt and Grey) we are also referred to the Palm Springs of BC.

Oh and to (can't think of the word so, I'll say) explain (for lack of a better word) that when I typed: "Can move things outside." I meant: "move them into cold frames and greenhouses." It's still to cold at night for having things outside on their own.

But yes, the temperature (according to my room mate) today was about 50 to 60 degrees farenheit (10 to 15 Celsius).

Oh and Angel, yes Onion sets work great. No need to start them early, just put them in the soil in May.

Bob
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I thought it might be prudent to give y’all an up-date on my onion plants.

The advise to try a plant light in my greenhouse to extend the daily light availability seems to be the answer to more vigorous growth.

I’ve been guaranteeing my onion plants a good 14 hours of strong light each day now since I installed my new florescent plant light. The results in just a couple of weeks is amazing. They’re reaching for the stars and getting nice and stout while they’re at it. I have to keep the tops trimmed back to about 4 inches tall nearly every day, they want to grow all the way up to the light, which is about 12 to 14 inches above them.

Actually they’re in the best condition of any I’ve ever grown before and if it were April, I could almost easily plant them out in my garden now. The spindly weak plants I’ve usually had in the past were like trying to plant blades of grass, these will be much, much better, and by April, I’m sure they’ll be as thick as a pencil and vigorous.

The “tipâ€

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Take a bow Opa; another job well done... 8) :D

Trust me on the soil thing Bob; there is a valley in southern New York that grows the best onions north of Vidalia and I have seen the soil three to four feet deep of black bottom land soil and the onions are huge...

HG

opabinia51
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Well Bob, I am very happy for you. Enjoy your onions this year. Keep us posted as to their progress througout the spring and summer and keep posting gardening advice on the site as well.

Always welcome.

Oh and thanks for the accolade Scott. :wink:

Bob
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As soon as you posted the “lightâ€

grandpasrose
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Bob, have you ever tried growing Kelsae onions?

Val
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opabinia51
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Thanks for sharing Bob, your soil sounds absolutely scrumptious. Funny that you have better success with seeds than sets, for me it is the opposite. Oh well, different strokes for different folks (in diferrent localities)

Kelsae Onions Val? I am intrigued. Do tell.

grandpasrose
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They are an onion that has become quite popular here. You can plant from seed, or in our community, we have a local farmer who you can buy the starts from, and he sells thousands!!
They are the sweetest white onion I have ever tasted. And they are absolutely humongous! I have grown some that have ended up being 6 or 7 inches across.
They are not a very good winter keeper, although both my father, and my in laws have kept them through the winter. They are better equipped than I am to store them. So in the late fall, with what onions we have not already eaten, we chop up and freeze. They make the best French Onion Soup. I think it is because they are so sweet.
There is also a red variety, although it doesn't grow quite as big. We tried it, but prefer the white.
They are amazing to watch grow! :wink:

Val
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Hanging in old pantyhose (knotted in between) in a dry coolish spot (attic) is a good way to keep those testy winter keepers whole and dry...

HG

opabinia51
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Val, I am very intrigued with these onions, I've PM'ed you about a possible seed trade. Thanks for sharing.

Bob, looks like I get to follow some of the advice that I have given you, that is if Val is willing to trade for some seeds :wink:

Bob
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No Val, I’ve never even heard of that one before.

I’ll keep an eye out for it in my seed catalogs.

I’ve been working my garden plots now for over 40 years. Compost and good composted soil has been added nearly every year along with fresh manure in the fall every time I can round some up.

I try to minimize my usage of chemical fertilizers, and insecticides. That’s why there’s certain veggies I don’t bother to grow, because here in south Jersey stuff like potatoes and eggplants attract them nasty beetles in droves.

I even had to give up on growing my own corn because of the crows. I put brown paper bags on the ears, and they simply went up inside of the bags and stripped every ear. That’s when I said, “enough already!â€

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Use half rates or even less and then you need not worry; you will just be maintaining the soil rather than charging it up...

HG

Bob
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Good tip HG, I'll consider that.

opabinia51
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Well Bob, I'm going to give Val's onions a try. As a general rule, I don't used seeds anymore and just use sets but, Val's onions really intrigue me.

Bob
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Hey 51,

Anybody can grow an onion that’s already half grown. Part of the joy of gardening is starting from scratch. I never liked to buy plants of any kind or onion “sets.â€

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Good on ya, Bob, and thanks for sharing! :D

HG

grandpasrose
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Those are the three P's of gardening aren't they? That's what makes it a year round project!
Just a note Bob, when you are putting your plastic over your plants, make sure there is enough room for the plastic not to touch your plants. Plastic only acts as an insulator if there is air between it and the plant. If it is touching the plant, and cold or frost hits, it will freeze where the plastic touches it.
If it is frost and cold temperatures you are protecting from, a better suggestion would be remay cloth, a woven cloth, that lets the sun and the rain in, but insulates from the cold. Also if it touches your plants, they won't freeze. 8)
Just a thought. :wink:

Val
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opabinia51
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Good advice everyone, good advice.

Bob, given the fact that I have limited indoor space for seed starting, I can only start so many seeds indoors and when I plant onion seed directly into my garden, I have very low germination so, for that reason I have chosen to use sets. Though, this variety that Val has me hooked on (Chelsea) really intrigues me and when a plant reall intrigues me, I clear some books off one of my shelves and try growing it.

So we do what we can do.


Happy Gardening, I know that I am having fun, growing my seedlings, planting more fava beans, working the soil and so on.

Bob
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I have my cages Val, that I will be planting my tomatoes in. I plan on draping my plastic over the cages and spread out some at the ground. My cages are 20 inches in diameter and five feet tall. Hardly any chance of my plants touching the plastic. By the time they start to grow out of the sides of my cages, the weather will be warm and the plastic will come off.

I plan on using the black plastic as a ground cover. That should absorb the sun’s heat and warm the soil during the day.

Bob
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Hey folks,

Here’s the latest report on my onion plants. Thanks to y’all, I’ve been very successful in growing the best, stoutest and vigorous onion plants I’ve ever had this season.

Starting the seed in January indoors in deep flower pots was my good idea, and 51’s suggestion to put them under a good plant light, turned out to be the “ticketâ€

Bob
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All 5 of my onion varieties did well from seed this year. Some were better than others. The two best varieties so far are “Candyâ€

Amigatec
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I have a little mini greenhouse, and I have found that you need to keep a fan blowing blowing around inside, it helps to make the plants stronger, and they get used to growing in the wind.

I might add that the reason the vandalia onions are so sweet is because of the sulfur content of the soil around Vandalia Georgia. You can grow the same oinions as Vandalia but they will not be the same.
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DAnderson
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Amigatec wrote:I might add that the reason the vandalia onions are so sweet is because of the sulfur content of the soil around Vandalia Georgia.
I've always wondered why some onions were sweet & others were so hot you can't eat them. As a child, I remember eating onions like we eat apples. They were so sweet. Do the garden centers have sulfur that can be applied to the garden? I'd love to be able to grow sweet onions!

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