Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Crying Over Onions

I put in my order for seed week ago. Though it didn't quite go through like I planned, the seeds are on their way. For most gardeners this is a very early order. We love to ponder our choices. What would January be without a hot cup of tea and and a seed catalog in hand? Why would I deny myself the great pleasure of catalog gardening?

It is because I've planned to start seeds in January and they must be on my doorstep before my chart says it is time to start onions. This year my chart says January 17th, in just 11 more days. Eeekk. I'm used to starting in April, or March if I'm putting in my peas at the right time, which in the past was very, very unlikely. But this year I'm trying to grow almost everything by seed. So early it is. Sniff. I'll miss my seed porn (as Burbanmom was calling it yesterday over at the Green Phone Booth).

I actually think of the end of January as the perfect time to start onions. It is what I'd done in the ancient past, but I have an issue with my new light setup. It has one and only one light - well 225 itty bitty lights, but only one ON switch. My old setup had different shelves and if one veggie needed 12 hours of light and another 16 hours, all was good with the world - well ok I would use too much electricity and it would cost me, but I could do it. This year it is just one light and all the seedlings must put up with it.

This is an issue because I'm growing onions. Onions are strange things. They live by how many hours of light they get. When the day length reaches a critical level, they quit putting on vegetative growth and start to bulb. Premature bulbing means tiny little bulbs.

Onions come in different types according to the length of day that they start to bulb. I live in the north, so I need long day onions. Long day onions bulb when the plants get 14-16 hours of light each day. I will have to keep the the artificial light on for no longer than 12 hours each day. Copra should be fine with that. The other onion I'm growing is Tropea, which is an intermediate to long day onion. I'm hoping it can handle 12 hours.

Will my new light be bright enough for my other plants with just 12 hours of operation? I really think they need more like 14 or 15 hours, so I'm pushing my onions up a bit. I'm going to take them out of house on 3/13 to start hardening them off. They will live for a week on my kitchen windowsill or outside, then they will be planted on March 20th which is 6 weeks before my last frost date. This is really, really early. It is the time we plant peas around here if the ground is workable. I haven't heard anything bad about planting onions in the cold. In slightly warmer climes they plant them in the fall and over winter them. So I'm hoping they work. I'll put a row cover on them to help out a bit.

I need to get them out by March 13th because that is the date I'm starting the majority of my other plants. A few plants like my extra early lettuce and my leeks will have to live with the low light for a few days.


  1. I don’t relate, gardening in my zone 10 is so different, some times I am envy of northern gardeners, they get a break in winter, here is a 12/7 job and weeds don’t take vacations

  2. Wow, you are really planning this so carefully! I hope it all works out. I have never really tried onions, except green ones. Seems like a lot of work! But maybe the payoff is worth it. Hope so!

  3. You're my hero Daphne. I want to be able to start everything from seed, too, but I don't know. Question. Since I'm in zone 10b, good old balmy south Florida, do I really have to start seeds under a light or can I start them outside still in trays? Or is it the "climate control" part of the seed starting that I need the light for? I put Bluelake snap bean seeds directly into the bed and they start within 4-7 days. I'm thinking as long as the lids are on the trays so the seedlings don't get whipped in the wind ....

  4. Rusty, the grass is always greener isn't it. Here I am being envious of all the beautiful sunflowers near you. I do love reading the Florida garden blogs this time of year. They remind me of spring.

    Karen, it is a lot more work than just buying them, or buying starts, but it is fun too. It will give me something to do in during the winter.

    Ara, I actually do some starts over the summer too, when I could be starting them outdoors. I do this for three reasons:

    You can control the temperature a little. I start lettuce indoors in the summer since they don't grow very well in the heat. It gives them a head start. If you start them in flats outside they would just bake. Flats heat up much more than just putting seed in the ground.

    The second reason is insects. If I started lettuce outside in the summer, when they came up they would disappear almost instantly. I keep trying to start lemon basil by seeding it in the garden. Never again. I never get more than seed leaves before they are gone. The slugs must love them.

    The last is really about just starting them in flats over direct seeding. You save garden space. I always did my Asian greens last year as seedlings because I never had the room to put in the seeds. I'd sow a 12 pack of the greens and grow them for just 2-3 weeks. I'd put them in when I had cleared a spot. It gave me a couple of week jump on growing them.

    That being said, in the past I have done lettuce direct seeded in the spring. It does well then. The slugs haven't taken over and the lettuce loves that time of year (well here not sure about your Florida garden).

  5. I'm pretty much matching your onion planting date. I am also in the same situation with having the wait for my seed to arrive.

    I am trying Prince (F1) from Johnny's this season and I am going to try to grow some massive onions.

    Good luck with your crop Daphne!