Cover crop for onions in '13

qbush(6, NE MA)September 15, 2012

What Cover Crop to plant for next year's onions?

Onions are a new crop for me. I grew about ten pounds from Home Depot sets this year, and they won't last the month, (DH LOVES onions) so next year's goal is 100 lbs of onions.

I have three beds earmarked for onions:

A: had Zuchinni, now supports snap peas, Daikon and Turnip Hakurei

B: has beets, Lima beans, and Fennel just starting to crop

C: just had Beans Goldenrod

I am working on turning in the beans, which fed us and three other families until we NEEDED something else to eat. The only problem I encountered was some Japanese beetle damage.

I have read that cabbage is a bad crop to precede onions, and that lettuce, melons and squash are good. WHY? Do lettuce etc make such light demands on the soil that onions are more likely to be satisfied with remains? Or do these crops add something to the soil unique to their growth? I have lettuce seed available, but I also have winter pea seed that I had purchased as fall cover crop. Since I have already begun digging in the beans, and fresh grass clippings which cover crop would work best? Peas that I don't crop, or lettuce? I am assuming both will winterkill this year.

Onions look like a root to me, but... So would horse manure and lime be a useful addition. It is mid September, and I only have 4-6 weeks to cover this bed, so thanks for any help!!

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wolverine1012

No horse manure!! And, unless you've had your soil tested, no lime. Legumes (beans, peas, etc.) fix nitrogen from the air into the soil so they would be good for onions because onions are heavy feeders.

Next year, if you like onions, you might want to forgo the sets in favor of plants. Your yield will be much greater. If you're looking for a source, try http://www.dixondalefarms.com/

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 1:46PM
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qbush(6, NE MA)

Oooops! Expecting rain today so I dug in manure, with light lime yesterday. Planted field peas for fall cover, hopefully to add N, suppress weeds, and winter kill. Am planning soil test in spring. The weeds I saw growing, plantain, and sorrel indicated soil moving to the acidic side. Given the spring treatments this would make sense.

Wolverine: Thanks for info and link. I had planned seed starting in Jan/Feb. Have plants worked better than seed for you? Have plants from Texas survived shipping, and grown well in your area? Why no horse manure? I am still working out beds, so I could switch to another that gets no manure this year...

Off to plant more peas. And look into soil testing.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 9:03AM
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wolverine1012

Qbush- Up until about five years ago, I strictly planted onion sets. No plants and no seeds. Then, wanting to try different varieties of onions, I tried direct seeding. That worked OK, but I never got the size that I wanted so I shifted to plants and got beautiful onions. For the last two years, we've tried starting seeds earlier indoors and the results have been disastrous. Dixondale was my answer both years. In addition, their website has some great information that might be of help to you.

One of the things that I learned, and maybe this contributed to my dissatisfaction with sets is that you have to choose a variety with a daylength that is appropriate for your area. You, for example, would want long day varieties.

I don't use manure on my onions for two reasons. First, horse manure brings undigested weed seeds and onions do not like to compete with weeds. Secondly, you should not feed onions too heavily or they will bolt. Digging in manure in advance, as you have done, should allow the manure to break down before planting time.

Gardening is an "experiencing" activity-- the fun of trying new things and the joy if you succeed, as well as the agony if you don't. But the good thing is that, the Lord willing, you get another chance next year. Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 6:31AM
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qbush(6, NE MA)

Wolverine - TenQ!!

I grew cippolini onions from seed about 13 years ago and DH raved about them, so now that I am more serious about veggies ( I have a 12 year old son who EATS) I decided onions were a good goal. Cippolini have not worked out since then, I think I just miss the optimal seed in soil window, so I tried sets for the first time this year. I started with low expectations, so I am pleased by my ten lbs of small, but very flavorful onions. But I thrive on higher goals :)

Thanks for the Dixondale reference, I have asked to be on their mailing list, and will try seeds, and plants next spring. And yes I Agree, horse manure brings weed seeds. So I am experimenting with a cover crop of field peas, hoping it is cold enough to winter kill them this year. Last year might not have been, but last year was weird. Hoping that the peas will smother weeds, and I can go notill in spring. Now I am hoping that this doesn't constitute overfeeding. Horse manure is more variable than I initially understood, and breakdown can vary a lot. Well aged is a very subjective term, so YES I am "experiencing" a lot! And it is fun!

Oh, I have also started some seeds for onion Bridger, to plant in my cold house, and a double tunnel. Just an experiment to see if scallions might work in our kitchen, onions can be overwintered, and where I can make it work. I'll let you know. So I will have more chances this fall, winter...

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 2:29PM
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wolverine1012

If you think 12 year old boys can eat, just wait until he gets to be 14 or 15, especially if he's playing competitive sports!! My son, at that age, said that he never got full, he just got tired of chewing. LOL I thought I was going to have to take out a second mortgage.

I tried direct seeding Bridger onions last fall and maybe expected too much. The germination was spotty and, given the mild winter that we had, there just wasn't much yield. I hope you have better luck.

I'm not doing that this year. Half of my garden area has been planted in alfalfa, which I hope to still be able to till in this fall. The last time I tried a cover crop I let it overwinter and it held the moisture so well that I couldn't till until June (and we gardeners need to get at it a lot sooner than that in the spring.)

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 8:58PM
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qbush(6, NE MA)

Wolverine
Yikes!! How long did it take for him to get tired of chewing? Maybe I should get a job at the local mega mart. Wonder if they have an employee discount?

I seeded Red Baron into my greenhouse about Aug 1, very low germination, and mostly they disappeared. So Bridger went into peat pellets, beginning Sept, and 30 October, since it was still standing, into the GH. Definitely an experiment, but I am hoping for some scallions, and maybe some early onions. Mostly I am looking to see if the Coleman double cover technique will provide enough cover. I can watch them easier in the GH.

The field peas are about 5" tall, and so far the low temps are not bothering them. But Sandy is expected to bring us some cold this weekend, so I will be watching them.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 11:25PM
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wolverine1012

Interesting experiments with your onions. We've still got lettuce and cole crops, peas, and (believe it or not)tomatoes and green peppers. Weather sure is unpredictable. Because of some family committments I still haven't been able to get my garlic planted yet. I had planted a cover crop of alfalfa in that area and with all the rain we've gotten, it's just too wet to till and probably too late to plant the garlic.

My son played three sports a year in high school and his body continually called for nourishment. When he went away to college he stopped the sports and the freshman 15 got him. Sophomore year he started to exercise more and also began to watch what he ate. Now, approaching 30, he is very careful of what he eats. I wish I could be that disciplined.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 9:22AM
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qbush(6, NE MA)

My cole crop is also still standing, even a second wave of Broccoli! My first success with succession planting! Shade from trees and building are a challenge for this garden activity. I still have summer turnips, cabbage, leeks and parsnips waiting for the first hard frost.

I also started some seeds for Red Baron indoors in a flat. I know it is way to late, but Japanese beetles got into the GH, and I have been waiting for cold nights to kill them before I planted another crop for them to eat. The 3rd wave of broccoli went in on 30 Oct.

So Red Baron will go out whenever it looks big enough to transplant, and I will start Copra, and Alison just after Christmas. Lots of onion experiments!

My son's sport of choice is Boy Scouts, and that is keeping him busy with camping and starting to hike. So I am working up a list of nutritious carry along foods. I wonder if turnips dry well...

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 9:21PM
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