Growing onions from seed for the first time...need advice

eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)October 11, 2009

I live in se PA. (zone 6b)

I purchased a Yellow Spanish Onion and Red Burgandy Onion. The seeds will be here this week.

Is it better for me to plant them this fall (basically as soon as I get them), and allow them to overwinter and produce nice big bulbs (each are supposed to be 3-4 inches in diameter)?

OR, is it better to just start them indoors in late January, early Feb and move into the garden in March?

Any advice would be welcome!

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promethean_spark

Probably better to start indoors mid-winter, but if you have plenty of seed you might as well try both ways. I believe red burgundy is a short day onion, so it might be too cold where you are at the time of year when it wants to make a bulb. If the other is also a short day onion, I'd get some long day onion seed so you can see which does better for you.

The thing with onions is if you plant them too early they will bolt the next year, so there's an optimal time to plant them out. Ideally you don't want them to be more than 3/16" diameter before winter makes them go dormant, but they also have to be larger than 1/8" to be big enough to survive.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 3:06PM
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eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)

Thanks spark,

According to my source for purchasing the seeds, they are both long day. I will have 150 seeds of the red, and 300 seeds of the yellow. I guess I could start some yellow, but it seems as though the window of making sure they will survive is fairly narrow!

I bought long day, even though I am close to the border for long day/short day, because I am at 39.9N latitude.

Ultimately my goal is not to grow a fair winning onion, but just really flavorful onions, that store decently well!

Here are the descriptions of the seeds I just bought from heirloomseeds.com (A nice, little, family run company in PA who offer free seeds of similar plants based on your interest. They just come like a nice little surprise!)

***disclaimer*** I am only reporting a positive purchase experience with this company, and am in no way affiliated with them. I also wanted to make sure to mention the source of seeds, in case they are mislabeled long day.***end disclaimer***

4006 - YELLOW SWEET SPANISH 105-130 days - These large, globe shaped onions can weigh one pound or more! This onion is yellow-brown in color, with mild, creamy white flesh. A long day type recommended for northern growers. An excellent storage onion!

4008 - RED BURGUNDY ONION (Hamburger Onion) 95 days - These 4 inch onions have red-purple skin, white flesh tinged in red, and a delicious, pungent flavor! As the nickname implies, perfect on your hamburger! Long day type for northern gardens. A good keeper!

    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 10:53AM
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TJG911(z5b CT)

you are not close to the line at 40 degrees north you are definitely in the day long latitude, i think the line is at 28 or 30 degrees.

spanish yellow is not a great storage onion. i used to grow them but iirc they store about 3-4 months. the red one will store longer as i used to grow that one too. i now grow red wing and copra for long term storage which is about 8-9 months for red wing and 12+ months for copra assuming you cure them and store them correctly. red wing is a red and copra is a yellow. prince is another long storage onion but i forget if it's a red or yellow.

tom

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 12:33AM
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eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)

Thanks Tom,

I thought the line was at 36 degrees.

Thanks for the info on the spanish onions. I will be looking for new onions next year, since apparently the seeds don't stay viable for more than about a year.

Which should I do though, start the onions this fall (just a little nice weather left) or start them indoors this winter, and transplant them out around March?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 9:34PM
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TJG911(z5b CT)

you may be correct about 36 degrees north but even at that you are still well into day long country.

you are also correct about onion seed storage. i seeded some seed from the prior year about 2 years ago and got only about 60% germination. since i had hundreds of seeds (i forgot which variety but i am pretty sure it was ailsa craig exhibition) and since i needed only 64 plants i felt safe starting about 250 would give me enough plants. if you need 90% germination then i'd opt for fresh seed.

personally i would NOT seed any onions now. onions create seed in their 2nd year, winter will definitely kill any green growth and if the roots/bulb survive i'd expect the plant will view next spring as year 2 and bolt on you spoiling your ability to harvest and store onions. seeds are cheap, either start those seeds next year or buy new seed in the winter. you are not all that far south of me, i'm at 41 degrees north, i start my seeds in mid february. i used to start them the last week in february but i think that was a bit late. i may start them around 2/1 this season, it's better to have larger plants at transplanting and the extra growing time will provide that. you may get it by using fertilizer but i prefer to not use fertilizer more than 2 or 3 times on onion seedlings.

if you have the space to waste on an experiment then seed them now and expect them to bolt.

tom

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 1:32AM
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eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)

I really don't have the space to experiment beyond what I am already doing! Onions are an experiment in their own right for me. Thanks for the info!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 9:15AM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

I usually start mine the day after Christmas or right thereafter if I decide to go bargain shopping. I start them in the house to germinate, then put them outside into the cool greenhouse, night temp 50 to grow on. We get some nice sized transplants by April. Last year I did Utah sweet spanish, which I've found keeps really well as long as you keep it right above freezing, and candy.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 8:05AM
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TJG911(z5b CT)

sandy that's really early! when do you dig them, do they mature sooner being so large at transplant time?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 10:51PM
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cyrus_gardner(8)

I have planted some yellow onion seeds already.
This is an experiment for me. The seeds have germinated ans are 2-3 inches tall right now. I will mulch them lightly with oak fall leaves for the winter.
We will see what happens.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2009 at 7:03AM
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eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)

Ok....I am digging this thread up because I started some of my onion seeds last night.

I figure they will all be up in the next week give or take a few days. How long do I keep them indoors before I put them into my cold frame? I figure the sooner they go out, the hardier they will be, BUT I don't want to put them out too soon. We are expecting snow about 3 times in the next 2 weeks (great timing huh?!).

I also have a low tunnel I could put them into. I guess the questions are:

Does the temperature they experience matter as much as getting them protection from the wind, snow, etc.?
How cold is too cold for the seedlings?
When do you transplant to their final garden spot?
And ultimately, approximately when should I expect to be harvesting? Is it more dependent on the sun/time of year, or more related to the days from germination?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:29AM
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novelist(5A)

I live in SW PA and started Red Guardian, Red Beard and Red Baron on Jaan 15th in my grow room. They're 3 inches tall and thin now. I'm planting more this weekend, something yellow and white just not sure.

I'll keep them in my grow room until the end of Feb, then out to the greenhouse - which is unheated - to get the used to colder temps. I transplant March 15th

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 1:14PM
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cyrus_gardner(8)

On Oct. 28, 09 I had post here, when my onion seedlings in the garden were about 2-3 inches. It has been 3 months since then. In january we've had unseasonably cold weather down to 14F. Guess what? my onion seedling survived without any protection and now they are 4 -6 inches. Of course , it is very little growth in 3 months but what do you excpect ?
Now that they are used to all that freezing temperatures, are enjoying 40s and growing next to my lettuces.
So, the only reason you want to keep your onion seedling inside is to make them grow faster, not for the purpose of protecting them from frost or freez.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 4:13PM
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eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)

Thanks novelist! It's always nice to hear what others are doing. I'm in my first ever onion growing season!

Cyrus,

So, I should put them out into the cold frame as soon as possible?

I'm hoping to have the onions ready to go by around July. That way I can replant the area for the fall/winter. Is that reasonable if I put them outside, or should I keep them in until the outdoor temps rise?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 4:54PM
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cyrus_gardner(8)

eaglegarden, Cold Frame, if it can be say over 45F or so, should be fine. and as soon as you have no longer freezing nights and lows are generaly around 35 and highs in low 50s, I will just tranplant them in the garden. But harvesting onion bulbs around JULY??, in zone 6, maybe not. Maybe late July.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 9:39PM
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gladgrowing(6a)

Hi Eaglesgarden,
Each year, the last 8 years, i have started many alliums from seed. Anytime between Jan 15th later into Feb. Shallots, scallions, reds whites, yellows, Potato Onions, Leeks.....and i have plenty to dig before July is done. I start mine all indoors,too - but just set the packs into the cold SE basement windows. It is amazing how hardy they are, and can be moved out from under the lights and still fare well (with occasional "haircuts" until plant-out time. We get onions of all sizes in our beds...most started around the same time.
Will try the cold frame next year, with a soil-heating cable underneath for just in case!
Good luck toya!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:36PM
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eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)

cyrus,

well, those 45 degree temps are something I am DREAMING about right now! lol

We are expecting a foot to a foot and a half of snow tonight into tomorrow, and then there are murmurings of even more snow than that in the next week plus. The big issue for me is that this amount of snowfall hasn't been seen where I live in generations. We started the winter off with more snow than we average for the season in a single storm.

Anyway, it will be a few weeks before the temps are around 45 consistently. I guess I'll just have to keep them indoors until March or so, probably around the 15th, and then put them out. I should cut them so that the tops stay about 3 inches, correct? I have a light setup, and I can keep them in a cool room (about 55-60 degrees), so that must be my best option.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 10:08AM
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cyrus_gardner(8)

So, you should keep them inside for now.

about SNOW: If you have had some onions (or any cool crop) in your garden and temps went down into teens , they will be better off if had been covered with a foot of snow than being naked out there. So snow is not as big a problem as freezing wind blowing on veggies.Snow covered ground is warmer than open ground at the same temperatures.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 8:07PM
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eaglesgarden(6b - se PA)

Well, we got about 2 feet of snow yesterday! So much for a foot to 18 inches!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 9:51AM
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heirloomjunkie(5a)

Okay, now I'm confused...

I am in zone 5a, Indiana. I bought Evergreen long white bunching onions. The packet says they take 120 days to mature, and my frost date is about the end of May. When should I start the seeds?? How big should they be when I trasplant them? I'd like to start as soon as possible!
I did onions last year, but they were from sets.

Thanks! Kim

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 5:02PM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

Heirloom the UofMN says to start mine mid feb so I think you should be good to get going

It does get confusing with such a wide varity of climates

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 5:41PM
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heirloomjunkie(5a)

And with such a wide variety of onions...

I think I may throw in some bigger onions as well. Some Walla Wallas. These seeds were given to me so I don't have any info on them. Start them around the same time?

Thanks

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 11:10AM
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promethean_spark

That is a long time for bunching onions to mature. They may have used a generic onion maturation time on the packet. I checked a couple online seed vendors and they said 60 days and 75 days for evergreen white.

Usually bunching onions are planted densely and used many at a time. If you direct sow it will be much less work, and since bulb formation is irrelevant you can harvest them at any point in the season and their eating quality will be the same. If they aren't giant at the end of the season you can still eat them, or let them winter over and they'll be back bigger (and in larger numbers).

I overwintered about half a dozen of them that were planted last summer, a couple divided in two, and several are now in the process of flowering. I was hoping they'd split into 5 or 6 like shallots do, unless they divide several times per year they don't seem particularly 'bunching'.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 2:51PM
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heirloomjunkie(5a)

See, I thought that was a long time too. I planted green onions last year, and they didn't take long at all. But they were from sets.

Good thing a bazillion seeds come in a package. I can always direct sow if need be. :)

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 5:07PM
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