When do I start onion seed?

wolverine1012January 5, 2013

OK, hoping the 3rd time's the charm, I'm going to try onions from seed again, but need some help. I've got several varieties: Courtland, Copra, and Gunnison. All are approx 100-105 days.

I've read that others start seed mid Jan to early Feb, but the 105 days would run out before the summer solstice when the onions begin the bulbing process. So, when to plant?

Also, as a related question, I've read that you subtract 10-15 days if using starts. Surely those are older than 10-15 days!! My onions made it 10-15 days in the past before they croaked, but they were only the size of blades of grass. What gives?

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bakerhardwoods(5b)

I'm no expert, but I start onions now (early January). Seedlings always seem very small when I set them out, so I'm trying to give them time to grow more. I've never had a problem with maturity -- they start to fall over about the 4th of July.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2013 at 7:45AM
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makalu_gw(z5b NY)

When I used to grow from seed, I'd plant the seeds right around the 15th of January. That gave them enough time to get established and start to thicken before I set them out in early April. I'd let them get to 3-4 inches tall inside in the flat and then give them a haircut to keep them at that height to keep them manageable.

I wouldn't worry too much on the days - the onions know when to bulb and I've never had them try to bulb early.

I've never had any luck at all from starts - I guess I got them too big or stressed them since they always bolted but they are definitely older than 15 days and I'd guess that the reason to say 10-15 days would be that the sets need a bunch of time to re-establish their roots before starting any top growth.

If your onions are coming up and only lasting a couple of weeks, I'd check your starting mix and moisture ... it sounds like they are damping off due to too much water.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2013 at 9:04AM
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wolverine1012

One more question: What does everyone use as a planting medium?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 9:34PM
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claydirt(5)

I never use domes or covers over any seeds that I start (to keep moisture in). I believe air circulation helps prevent the mold that causes damping off.

Wow, it's already Jan 13. So onion seed planting needs to be this weekend or next. Got to run and dust off the grow lights now! My 2013 seeds have arrived.

This year will be Candy and Ailsa Craig. I seem to have lost last year's left over Walla Walla seeds. They aren't in the refrigerator.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 7:30AM
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makalu_gw(z5b NY)

As a planting medium, I've used both the standard Miracle Grow seed starting mix and the bargain seed starting mix (which was mostly perlite / peat moss). Both worked ok though I found that the MG stuff grew taller seedlings and I had better control with the unfertilized stuff and feeding occasionally with dilute fish emulsion. Standard potting soil didn't work at all due to the coarseness of the mix (too much bark).

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 12:49PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I didn't see this post or would have answered before.
I do things similarly to the posting above as far as open flats and the haircut etc.

My seeding date is the beginning of February, never earlier. Onions planted out in the field earlier than April (transplant time) are susceptible to various diseases (mostly downy mildew) in case of a wet spring.

The planting medium I use is the same I use for everything I grow. Sifted compost, peat moss and sand.

Here is a pic of last years onions in the flats.

In the field

This post was edited by madroneb on Wed, Jan 16, 13 at 11:34

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 11:32AM
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claydirt(5)

Wow! Nice garden... I mean farm, madroneb. Very nice.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 6:43AM
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planatus(6)

I usually use Jiffy because that's what I can get in my tiny town. I think the important thing is to use a clean mix and plant the seeds a half inch deep. Too shallow and they don't have sufficient anchorage. When planting onion seeds more than a year old, I prime them by putting them in lightly dampened paper towels for a day or two.

I start bulb onion and shallot seeds through Jan, then break until March and start cippolinis and scallions. Japanese winter onions (which bulb in May) get direct-seeded in late August and stay under a row cover tunnel all winter.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 8:52AM
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qbush(6, NE MA)

Planatus: WHAT are Japanese winter onions???? I also live in Z6. Can they take New England winters? Do they need double tunnel protection? Where do you find seed/plants?

Madrondeb: How deep is the soil mix in your trays? Do you move them around? I would have to carry them in and out for best light, so stable planting trays are important here.
Love the handle. I saw Madrones on a trip to OR in 2008, lovely exfoliating bark.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 7:57AM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

QBush,
Madrone trees are quite amazing aren't they? They make great firewood also.
The trays I use are 3-4" deep and can be moved easily.

Planatus will likely offer more info on his onions but in the meantime you can type "overwintering onions" at the bottom of the page to search this forum and you'll get some info.

-Mark

This post was edited by madroneb on Thu, Feb 7, 13 at 12:24

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 11:51AM
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wolverine1012

The seeds are now planted. Being unable to find any trays at this time of the year, I made do with cut off gallon milk jugs, plastic bakery containers, and just about anything else I could find around the house that would give me a soil depth of at least 1". Keeping my fingers crossed...

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 1:04PM
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wolverine1012

Time to follow up. The seedlings survived this year. Yeah!! We planted them out the day before yesterday, but even after growing since Feb 7-over 10 weeks-most were still the size of blades of grass. All were planted. Now let's see how many survive.

What could I have done to make the plants a little more substantial? They got about 16 hours of light a day and about 4 doses of a liquid fertilizer (like Miraclegrow).

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 11:14AM
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Randy.Canada

Wolverine: I started my onions later than January (but I know farmers who start in January, with great results). I do not expect them to be much more than "blades of grass" by now. I just started a day or two ago to plant them out. I was not sure whether it was too early but it seems that this is the right time.

The picture is taken through a screen with a cell phone. That was maybe early April. They do not look much bigger now. They look the same as what I have bought at nurseries.

For starter mix, I use Gaia Green Living Soil with earthworm castings. I soak seeds in liquid seaweed and/or water them in with liquid seaweed in the water... most seeds sprout within a few days (the ones that take a few weeks still take a few weeks but the germination rates are typically very high). I lose almost nothing and the babies are all very strong.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 6:42PM
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wolverine1012

Well, at least some progress. My seedlings survived this year, but never "bulked up." I bought some plants and they were about twice the size of mine when I set them out. Most of the purchased ones are thriving, but the ones I started are not.

The seeds were planted mid January and got 16 hours of light a day. They were fed regularly with a liquid fertilizer (like Miraclegrow).

When they were planted out, mine only had a couple of leaves but had good root systems.

I really want to figure out how to make this work. Any great ideas?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 11:21AM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I think it's all about your soil. Check your ph, make sure the drainage is good, make sure you're watering enough, but not too much. Chemical fertilizer sometimes needs to be ph balanced before using. Consider using fish emulsion instead. Buy the best soil you can find or make your own.

Just a few ideas.

-Mark

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 10:37PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I think it's all about your soil. Check your ph, make sure the drainage is good, make sure you're watering enough, but not too much. Chemical fertilizer sometimes needs to be ph balanced before using. Consider using fish emulsion instead. Buy the best soil you can find or make your own.

Just a few ideas.

-Mark

    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 10:41AM
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