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High Mowing Organic Seeds
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Onion Tips for Growers and Gardeners

Most everyone loves onions. They are a big crop for me, and I spend a fair amount of time and energy producing plants for sale and for the farm. My favorite yellow storage varieties are Cortland F1, Mustang F1, Prince F1 and Copra F1, in this order. Only Cortland F1 and Mustang F1 are available as organic seed. I also grow red onions and have always grown Mars F1 which remains one of my standards, being sweet and early. This past year I also grew organic Red Wing F1 and had good success. It was a bit longer to mature, but had really strong tops and could be used as a bunching onion too when bulbs were in mid-growth. For sweet onions I choose Alisa Craig and Walla Walla.

Growing OnionsWe begin our planting in the greenhouse in late march, and transplant in mid to late May. Onions will germinate at temperatures as low as 50 F, but the warmer it is the faster they will pop. Their optimal range is 75 F to 85 F. I try to barely cover the seeds with soil, so any sun we get will warm the top of the soil. Lots of growers plant the seeds in a 1020 flat filled with soil, and then transplant out the onions individually in the spring. The advantage of doing it this way is not much room is used to produce a lot of plants. It costs a fair amount to heat a greenhouse where we are in March, and it can be painful to watch empty flats for the time it takes for the seedlings to emerge. 

I plant all my storage onions in a 96 cell flat. I put two or three seeds in each cell, and then when I transplant them I put them out together. If I am spacing two plants at 8, it is the same as 1 plant every 4. They grow away from each other, and make good sized onions. While it does cost me more money to produce them this way, it saves me a lot of labor in the spring when time can be really tight. I used to battle onion maggot, and I would spray a predatory nematode on my onions in the field as a control. When I went to the plug system, I could water in the nematodes right in the plugs in the greenhouse, and then plant them out in the field, which was a lot easier.

I still plant my sweet onions as singles because they grow to such a large size and need the full 8 spacing per bulb, and I also start them in cells. I use a 128 tray, with one seed per cell. That size allows enough soil to grow a healthy seedling, and they are pretty big when it comes to transplanting time. With the help of my rolling dibbler, doing everything by hand, three of us can plant 6,000 onions in four hours. Onions do not compete with weeds very well, so I keep them as clean as I can. The spacing that I use allows me to hoe out pretty close to the plants and keeps hand weeding to a minimum.

In late summer, after the onions have finished bulbing, the tops will start to die back and fall over. Sometimes I have to walk the patch and help them by bending the tops over with my foot. This encourages them to finish up so I can get them out of the filed and into the greenhouse where I do my final curing. I spread them out on my benches so they can dry down, then I top them and put them into bins. I store them in bins in my cooler at 38F, ideally you want temperatures slightly above 32F with low humidity for best storage.

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