I remember the first season I worked soil at the community garden. An older and more experienced gardener told me it was time to plant onions, IN JANUARY!!!! I thought he was a nut biscuit. That is my family’s gentle way of saying , well, that the person referenced needs a break from life in a padded cell all their own. After a little research I did discover that he was perfectly sane, well as sane as an urban gardener can be. I announced to my family that it was time to plant onions, pulled up my big girl pants, put on my coat and hat and gloves and scarf, earmuffs, boots and knee warmers. I even pilfered some toe warmers from my boy scouts to slip in my boots for good measure. Note to self; Toe warmers and rubber gardening boots is not really a good combination. Think a mix of walking on hot coals and a sauna for your feet. I know you northerners are calling me a sissy, but let me just say that in the summer in Texas, you would be on your knees begging me for an ice cube and a fan. In fact you would pay HUGE amounts of money for the fore mentioned items. I may be a sissy winter gardener, but I CAN take the heat! Any hoo, back to onions. I managed to locate some onion seeds and took great care to space them accordingly. However when I went back to check to see if my onion sprouts were coming up, I couldn’t help but notice that EVERYONE BUT ME had planted baby onions, NOT SEEDS. I now know that these are called sets and you can conveniently buy them at your garden center or feed store. Right about the same time I was having my baby onion plant, NOT a seed epiphany ,one of my fellow gardeners sauntered up and commented that it looked like I had my garden bed all ready to plant my onion sets. Without batting an eye, I said “Yes, all ready to plant those onion sets.” While under my breath I muttered “Over achieving,dirty,low down, know it all, master gardener!”
I have to say, just as an excuse here, that at that time in my life I was breastfeeding an infant while at the same time teaching Algebra to my high school student. So perhaps It was I who needed that break in a padded cell? God sure does have a sense of humor, doesn’t he? Seriously, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for my best garden helper!
As I trudged home to head out to buy my sets of onions I recalled that a fellow gardener had tried to tell me about my set vs seed error. You have to remember at the community garden there is a wide range of ethnicities and therefore a lot of heavy accents going on there. When my gardening friend( I would tell you his name if I could pronounce it) talked to me about sets it sounded something like this; “You go to store, get all set!” To which I replied, “Yes I went to the garden center and got all set.” Set as in all ready to go, not set as in onions. I wondered at his dogged determination that I would be all set for the gardening season ahead. To which I just as adamantly assured him that I was indeed all set and ready to plant. Later after my onion bulbs were swelling in the ground this same gardener slapped me firmly on the back sending me forward a few steps. He was smiling and saying loudly; “Good, good!! Now you get all set!” The whole exchange is not really the same without his accent, but you get the idea.
After I had purchased these sets(a bunch of about 30 baby onion plants) I came up with an ingenious way of making sure they were planted at the right spacing of 4 inches apart. I placed holes in a cardboard pizza box in a hexagonal pattern to facilitate proper onion spacing. I don’t know where this side of me came from, because I am usually a fly by the seat of your pants, willy nilly planter. I guess after the whole onion debacle, I just wanted to get something right and show those master gardeners that I could plant efficiently if nothing else. A secret and added benefit to gardening at a community garden is that, if you are competitive, it gives you great incentive to garden well! Not a proud statement, but the truth is, everyone there, if they admit it or not, is competing for the best damn gardener ever. No, as you can tell, I am NOT competitive at all. Perish the thought. I am all about encouraging others, unless you have a bed at the community garden right next to mine. Then all bets are off and garden gloves too! Kidding, kind of.
Don’t worry, just as you are ready to plant for Spring(early to mid May in Dallas) your onions will be done and ready to harvest. You might notice some of your onions developing a long stem with a pretty tear shaped pod on the top. This is your onion setting seed. You might think, as I did, yippee some onion seed. It turns out onions are VERY hard to grow from seed in North Texas. I would encourage you to leave it to the experts to get those onions to sprout and then get them to go dormant to sell as “sets.”The problem with growing onions from seeds in North Dallas is; First you have to start in early Fall. Second is that our weather is so crazy, that instead of growing an onion they bolt to seed. Then you don’t have onions at all , but lots more seed, which sadly you cannot eat. I guess you could eat it, but it would hardly make a satisfying meal at all. One day I will try to grow onions by seed , but not when I have 3 teenage boys to feed! Right now, I just need onions and a lot of them.
Here was the big question at the garden; Do you cut off this seed pod when you see it developing. The answer is yes, but keep in mind that this onion, that has already developed a seed pod, will NOT store well. It will rot into a big stinky mess in the bottom of your onion basket! Trust me, I know! So when you see a onion developing a seed pod, pull it out of the ground and eat it right away saving yourself gobs of stinky mess in your future. Let’s face it, life is messy and stinky enough with out the extra addition of rotting onion. Store your onions in a cool dry place(basket under my hutch for me) or if you are related to Martha Stewart braid them together and hang them from your rafters. I will post more about curing and storing onions in May when it is harvest time.
I hope I have given all the newbies a leg up on all those master gardeners out there, at least where onions are concerned. Happy gardening, IN JANUARY! May the best gardener win!