Onions and shamrocks are perfect together! Experienced gardeners have their onions in the ground by St. Patrick’s Day. In order to get fat onion bulbs, you need to grow big healthy tops before the days get long. That’s when the plants switch from growing foliage to storing food in the bulbs, so planting too late means puny bulbs at harvest time.
Onion transplants grow the biggest sweet onions. We started offering them in our store several years ago, and each year we sell more. Onion plants come in bunches of about 60-70 plants, each the size of a pencil. They’re already growing, so they take off like crazy as soon as you plant them. Starting with onion transplants gives you a “head start”, insuring you’ll get the biggest, fattest onions within the growing season.
To plant, first mark your row with a dribble of 10-10-10 fertilizer and loosen the soil with a cultivator, mixing the fertilizer as you go. Cut the tops off the entire bunch before you take the rubber band off. This is very important because onions won’t grow past shriveled foliage. Press each plant into the soil about two inches deep and five inches apart, and firm the soil around the plant. Onions don’t mind being crowded, and later you can thin the weaker plants and have plenty of fresh scallions.
Onions need fertilizer three or four times before harvest. Use Espoma Garden Food or 10-10-10, sprinkling the fertilizer around the base of the plants (fertilizer dust can scorch the foliage). Super-phosphate and bone meal are good for onions too. Fertilize when plants reach 6 inches, and again 3 or 4 weeks later. The best way to fertilize onions is by “side dressing.” This means sprinkling fertilizer at the base of the plants, taking care not to get fertilizer dust on the stalks, where it can burn.
Thin every other plant, harvesting the weaker ones. Big, healthy tops mean big fat onions. Pinch off any seedpods, because if the plants set seed they won’t grow big bulbs. Once the days are long enough, healthy vigorous onion plants “shift gears” and energy from the big tops is transported down to make a bulb. Bulbs continue to grow until the tops wither and turn brown. That’s the best time to harvest.
If your garden is too gooey to plant, try making some fluffy dirt just in the onion rows: Sprinkle 10-10-10 fertilizer and a little superphosphate on the row and then spread three inches of peat moss. Till the row six inches deep, trying not to step on the freshly tilled dirt. Rake it smooth. Tuck in your onion sets or transplants, and tamp the soil gently. You’re done, and right on St. Patrick’s Day schedule!
Birdwatchers will want to register now for the Ohio Ornithological Society 10th Anniversary Celebration at Shawnee State Park, April 25 to 27 2014. This event will give you a chance to meet the first big wave of spring migration with the wonderful fellowship of a bunch of fun, avid birders at the Shawnee State Park lodge. Speakers include Brian Zwiebel (bird photography), Scott Albaugh (warblers), Matt Shumar (Ohio’s breeding birds), Jim McCormac (birding in 2014), Cheryl Harner (flora of Shawnee), John Howard (butterflies of Shawnee and Adams County) and Jenny Richards (passing it on for the future). Check out the field trip offerings (14 in all) on the registration page at www.ohiobirds.org.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located near Winchester, Ohio at 9736 Tri-County Highway. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.