Growing Great Onions

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • Tree collards are delicious winter vegetables. Set out plants now.
    • Start seeds of perennial flowers like columbine, coreopsis and echinacea.
    • FREE Fruit Tree Pruning Class this Sunday, January 25, from 10 AM to 2 PM at Sanhedrin Nursery, 1094 Locust St., Willits.

Growing Great Onions

Onions seem like they would be one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but raising good onions can be more complicated that it first appears. As vegetables they are interesting plants to grow because they are very dependent upon day length and temperature to form bulbs.

Onions are typically seeded in fall through early spring, harvested in early summer and used fresh or stored for winter. But as many experienced gardeners know, the crop is not always successful, and many times the bulbs produce flower heads, which is known as “bolting”.

To grow onions successfully, you must know a little about them. Onions are biennials, which means that they grow one year and makes flowers and seeds the second year. The first year the onion plant begins its growth by putting out its green top leaves in cool weather. It stores energy in those leaves until the weather gets warmer and the days get longer. Then it begins storing energy in the bulb underground. When the bulb is mature, the leaves turn yellow and die and the onion is ready to harvest.

Given a certain set of environmental conditions, onions can be tricked into believing they have gone through two growing cycles during their first year. Instead of finishing with a well-cured bulb, ready to harvest, a seed stalk can develop prematurely, causing onions to be unmarketable.

Fall seeded crops are susceptible to bolting the following spring if warm fall temperatures, allowing excessive growth, are followed by low winter temperatures and slowed growth. The most successful onions may come from transplants set out in early spring.

Occasionally other factors, such as damage by cultivation or excessive stress, may cause bolting. That’s why only a few plants may bolt in an entire plot. Should this occur, the onion will still be perfectly edible; however, as the seed-stem gets bigger, the ring inside the onion will become pithy and inedible. If left to maturity, this ring will rot quickly and cause the entire onion to rot as well. It’s best to eat the onion as soon as you see the seed-stem. Don’t bend or break the top; the leaf is hollow, and breaking it will allow water to go right into the center of the onion and cause it to rot.

Onion sets (the small dry bulbs) have a bad habit of bolting and producing a flower stem. It is actually better to plant first-year seedling onions. These come two ways: as nursery-grown seedlings in small pots, and in bunches of larger seedlings that have been grown in fields and dug-up. The latter are available now in a limited number of varieties, and the former will be available soon with other spring vegetable starts.

Onions are characterized by day length: “long-day” onion varieties will quit forming tops and begin to form bulbs when the day length reaches 14 to 16 hours while “short-day” onions will start making bulbs much earlier in the year when there are only 10 to 12 hours of daylight. As a general rule, “long-day” onions do better in north of 36 degrees latitude while “short-day” onions do better south of that line. Willits and Ukiah are at about 39 degrees.

Our long summer days make the intermediate to long-day onions good for our climate and latitude. These include Red Zeppelin, Walla Walla, and Copra, Ruby, Candy, the Southport Globe onions, and Yellow and White Sweet Spanish.

For keeping qualities, the strong-flavored, yellow ones, like Copra, Yellow Spanish and Yellow Globe are the best. The milder onions don’t develop the really firm outer skin needed for long storage.

Onions aren’t bothered by frost, so early spring is the best time to get them planted. Then they have plenty of time to store up energy in the leaves before bulb-making time. The more green growth, the bigger the bulbs will be. So get started with onions, now.

Plant a Great Garden!

Saturday, June 18th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Roses bloom all summer with their abundant flowers in so many different colors. Choose some now when you can see their lovely flowers.
    • Feed rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with an acid plant food to encourage lush growth. Pinch or prune to promote full, dense growth.
    • Fertilize container plants every 10 to 14 days with a liquid fertilizer. Pinch off faded blossoms and they will keep blooming all summer for you.
    • Red, white and blue petunias, verbena or combinations of these with lobelia, geraniums, impatiens and salvia will make a nice display for the Fourth of July.

Plant a Great Garden!

It’s not too late to plant a great garden. If the weather and circumstances have prevented you from getting your summer garden planted, take heart: there’s still time to do that.
 While it is true that fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants need to be set out now, many summer vegetables will grow even more quickly from seed planted in early summer when the soil has warmed up and is teeming with life. You’ll be surprised how fast seeds will germinate and explode with growth when planted now.

Plant seeds of beans to grow up a teepee; plant a hill of summer squash or cucumbers by poking half a dozen seeds in a circle; and plant a row of beets, radishes or carrots. Start a crop of salad greens in a spot with bright light but out of the full, hot sun. You’ll get a variety of lettuces and other tasty greens to spice up summer salads.

You can plant heat- and sun-loving herbs like basil, oregano, thyme and sage from seed but keep the seed beds well moistened as they germinate and begin to grow. Plant cilantro and parsley where they get shade from the hot sun. You can also set out starts of many kinds of herbs.
 Even if you already have beans, squash, chard, carrots and basil in the ground, June is a fine time to start a second crop to have ready for a late summer harvest when the first crops of these staples have finished up.

In July you can start seeds for fall crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage. Toward the end of summer, start seeds of spinach, Swiss chard, lettuces, radishes and Asian greens like pak choi.

You still have time to plant flowers, too! Petunias, marigolds, cosmos, impatiens, zinnias and dianthus are just beginning to bloom and will continue through the long hot days of summer. Alyssum, lobelia and moss rose are attractive border plants that bloom continuously up to frost. They all grow very quickly in warm weather, so there’s still plenty of time to fill up your flower beds and containers with colorful summer annuals.

June and July are also good times to start seeds or set out plants of perennials to bloom next spring. Most perennials need to establish themselves for a season before they are ready to bloom. By planting lupines, Shasta daisies, Iberis, blanket flowers and forget-me-nots this summer, you’ll be able to enjoy their lovely flowers next spring and summer.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re getting a late start this year. The ground is warm now and it’s time to plant a great garden!

Starting from Seed

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Gladiolus bulbs come in every color of the rainbow. Plant them this month for summer flowers.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply fish emulsion or commercial fertilizers.
    • New rose bushes may have been damaged by the cold weather this week. Prune back dead shoots and new growth will come out to replace it soon.
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now. Start your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce spinach and chard. It pays to grow your own!
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, should be planted right away. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.

Growing from Seeds

When spring arrives, it’s time to plant some seeds. There’s something very rewarding about following the whole life cycle of your plants from start to finish, and trying different varieties from the usual ones you can find at the nursery.

Seed racks at local nurseries, are full of new types of flowers, vegetables and herbs. For a very small investment, you can grow a whole garden of different varieties.

The essential elements for growing from seed are bright light, bottom heat and moisture. Many seeds will germinate without light, but they must be moved into bright light as soon as they are up. Bottom heat is not essential, but it speeds up the process. Moisture is important, especially for seeds which are germinated on top of the soil. A plastic dome over the flat, or strips of plastic wrap will keep the moisture content just right.

There are two ways to plant the seeds, depending on whether you want to transplant the tiny seedlings or not. You can plant 10 or 15 seeds in a single cell of a cell-pak and then transplant each plant into its own pot in about two weeks. Or you can put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell and remove all but the strongest one after they germinate. It may depend on how large your germinating area is.

Plants can be grown on the windowsill, but you will get stockier, stronger plants if you use fluorescent lights suspended about 4 inches above the pots. They can be left on 24 hours a day or at least 12 hours a day.

Most perennials do best when planted on top of the soil. Sprinkle them over the moistened seeding mix, spray with water, then cover with plastic wrap. Place under the lights and most seeds will germinate in 5-10 days. In about two weeks, you can remove the plastic wrap then water as needed. Growing plants need good ventilation. If necessary, set up a small fan to keep the air moving.

It is important that your pots and propagation area are clean and sterile. Soak pots briefly in a 10% solution of clorox and water before filling them with bagged seeding mix. Clean pots and moving air will usually prevent “damping off”, a disease that causes young plants to keel over.

When should you start your seeds? Tomatoes and peppers should be started right away, along with sunflowers and marigolds. Squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and basil can wait until mid-April or May along with zinnias.

The last thing to remember is not to plant them outside without hardening them off first. It’s best to get them acclimated to it gradually. Some people take them out a little longer every day, starting with an hour the first day. Or you can put them out in a cold frame for a few weeks, lifting the plastic for a few hours a day.

If this is your first try at seed starting, it might be better to start small. Remember, there is always next year when it comes to gardening!