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Onions Making Me Cry: (or rather) The Lack Of Them!

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That is a fact! For 5 years I had been unsuccessful at getting a harvest more than the my fingers and thumbs put together, and THIS dismal harvest was making me weep. Whether it be overwinter Set (e.g Senshyu) or Spring variety (e.g Sturon). They always resulted in bolting (premature production of flowerhead).

I had enough of these disappointments, final straw was the harvest of 2016. Only 10 good onions harvested, (out of 60 sets planted), to store overwinter. As for the rest of the harvest, it had to be consumed faster, as bolted onions do not last long).

Not having this disappointment on my watch again, decided to look into growing Onions from seed. Best decision I made in the Summer of 2016.

Spring Sowing:

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‘Hardening off’ Bedfordshire Champion Seedlings  early April 2017

Bought a packet of Bedfordshire Champion seeds in August 2016; read on the back of the seed packet, best to start them in January (indoors), pot them on 6 weeks after germination and final planting out around April time. Looks pretty simple and straight forward with a little bit of fiddly work, but I certainly won’t mind that as long as the final result is a harvest more than my fingers, thumbs and toes put together!

As per instruction come Mid January 17, started the seeds indoors and soon enough I was following the instructions one by one. When it came to potting on, plug trays were moved into the greenhouse. A few weeks after that, in order to harden off  (acclimatise the seedling to the outdoor environment) the seedlings, moved the trays into the Cold Frame, with the final 2 weeks prior to planting out, left the Seedling trays outside on a table by the Greenhouse.

With this 2 week window of Seedlings hardening off, the over winter green manure, Caliente Mustard, was turned in and raked the soil to a workable tilth in readiness for planting out the Seedlings.

Started planting out the Seedlings, at this point, I started having my doubts, will these little seedlings take to the soil? With careful spacing of 10cm between seedlings and 30cm between rows, these seedlings took to the soil like duck to water. Like a Mother Duck, I nurtured these Seedlings in their early days, not allowing the soil to dry out, during the hotter days and was amazed at how quickly these seedlings put on growth.

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Bedfordshire Champion July 2017

By July, these Onions were putting on growth week on week, with no signs of bolting or disease on any of the plants. On our allotment site, these Onions certainly raised a few eyebrows, when I told fellow plot holders that the Onions were started from Seed and not Sets.

Feed:

These Onion plants were not fed any further nutrients. It is best to lightly manure few months before the Seedlings or Sets are to be planted or as had done plant Green Manure over winter.

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August 2017

By the end of August, the crop was ready to harvest, as some of the Onions necks had started to topple over, a sure sign to start harvesting. On a dry day, carefully dug them out, shaking off as much of the soil as possible. All they now need is time to dry out.

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Bedfordshire Champion Late August 17

Brought all the harvest home and laid them out to dry in the sun, for the next few weeks. If rain was imminent, a plastic sheet was thrown over the drying onions. Once harvested the onions should not get wet whilst drying out.

Because the harvest was laid out on tables, I could inspect the Onions for any Bolted, White Rot or any other disorder the harvest may have presented.

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Drying out process begins.

With this harvest I was very surprised, having had White Rot (fluffy white mould appears on the base of the bulbs) on some of the harvests in the past. Incredibly only 1 Onion Bulb, in the whole harvest had it. White Rot can affect Leeks and Garlic too. It is a serious fungal disease and can live in the soil for about 8 years.  If found do not throw plants on the compost heap, best to burn, to stop the spread of this soil bourne fungus.

On inspection, noticed 2 Onion bulbs had Saddleback (term used to describe when the Onion starts to ‘split’ at the base). This is associated with watering after a prolonged period of drought. Such an onion is still edible but will not store well.

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Saddleback and White Rot
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‘Bolting’ is when plant shoots of a thick flower stalk.

Drying time all depends on the size of the onions. Some of the bulbs in the harvest were quite large and therefore took longer to dry out. Since my mini greenhouse was empty, I decided to hang the bulbs upside down to carry on drying out, until I noticed the leaves had wilted and completely dried out.

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Drying out until leaves have wilted and dried out.

When ready to store removed as much of the root of the bulbs as possible and gave each bulb’s dried leaves a twist around its neck and store them in Wicker baskets (main pic), stored in a cooler section in the Garage.

It is now end of January 2018 and we are slowly going through them in our meals. Happy to say these bulbs have all kept well so far. This variety, Bedfordshire Champion, has impressed me so much, that I shall be growing it again this year together with trialling other varieties. Please send me your suggestions.

Overwinter Sowing:

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Over Summer 2017, watching this wondering crop of Bedfordshire Champion unfold from seed, I decided to try the overwinter varieties from seed too. The Seeds can be started, mid August, straight in the ground, but because my plot is prone to water logging, they have been started in pots. Bought Senshyu Onion seeds, a Japanese variety, known to overwinter well. Again Sets in this variety did not work well on my plot, (will see if seeds work better on the plot). Another hardy variety chosen for this year is Augusta, and from the Heritage Seed Library I had received Rosham Park Hero.

Rekha, being the adventurous person, also decided to sow Sturon Onion seeds and a Red Onion variety called Carmen (both mainly Spring sown) just to see if they will overwinter well. Sadly they didn’t. Therefore just wait until Spring 18, when they can be sown again.

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Early October 17, once the Seedlings were strong enough to be handled, were split and potted on into plug trays. These trays have and will remain outdoors, and to my surprise taken all manners of weather thrown at them. These are truly winter hardy varieties.

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December 2017

As Spring 2018 approaches, the plot will be prepared by turning in the green manure (Caliente Mustard and Phacelia), raking the soil to a suitable tilth, prior to the Seedlings final planting position.

Something I should have done in the past years to the overwintering Sets, was to net them. This year, Seedlings will be ‘netted’ for a few weeks until established; as Spring not only bring sunshine and warmth but hungry Birds as well, which peck at the Seedlings, thinking they are worms and grubs, that have come to the surface in the Spring sunshine.

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Augusta and Senshyu Seedlings (Jan. 18)

Like clockwork, it’s January, the Spring sowing 2018 has begun. This year I have added a few more varieties to try out. Will report later in the year how all overwinter and spring sown varieties have performed. Hopefully luck is still on my side and I get another bumper harvest.

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Which do you prefer, grow your own Onions from: Seeds or Sets? Will be very interesting to find out how different varieties perform around the country. Send me your comments and thoughts: here on the Blog, or connect on my Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter.

Happy Gardening,

Rekha

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