onions from seed

marricgardensAugust 5, 2009

I was wondering if anyone had ever tried winter sowing onions from seed? Last year I grew them inside and they did great. Unfortunately when I transplanted them to the garden, most of them died. They were hardened off so I don't know what happened. I would like to plant them in a cold frame this time and leave them there. We're on a farm so room is not a problem. I also want to try tomatoes. I figure they grow in the compost right? The heirloom tomatoes I grew last year have reseeded very well and now are all over the garden. I pulled most of them but kept a few of the larger plants to see what I get from them. Marg

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I always direct sow green bunching onions in my garden in the fall and they do great. I don't bother wintersowing them any more since direct sowing works so well.

I don't have any luck with larger onion varieties here though. Someone else may be able to give you insight on those.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 11:00AM
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As an experiment I sowed some Spanish Onions from seed last winter/early spring. Planted them in a tray with drainage holes (no individual cells) - they grew well although the tops tend to become a tangled mess.

Anyway I finally set them out in May (in my area that's the earliest date), carefully separating them and they all survived. The only thing is they're not going to grow to maturity - as a matter of fact, by the end of this growing season they'll be about the same size as the onion bulbs I would have bought for Spring sowing.

So it's really not worth it - at least in my zone. But I'm still glad I tried it out.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2009 at 9:30PM
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Pudge 2b

Onion from seed needs to be started quite early, like February, so wintersowing wouldn't be an option. The big onions need to be potted up to individual 6-cells (or similar) to grow on until transplanting out in the garden. And for all onions from seed, the tops should be trimmed and kept at about 2-3" tall.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2009 at 10:26PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

My mom buys flats of them in spring and they mature in her garden to about 3-4" onions by fall. I don't bother, onions are cheap to buy in the grocery store. Same with turnips and cabbage, they're cheap and I can't be bothered.

Lettuce and tomatoes, now those are worth growing vs. paying supermarket prices. I also used to have heirloom tomatoes free range all over my garden. Tomatoes are easy to start indoors on a sunny windowsill or under lights in about March. Pinch out the tips to keep them bushy.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 9:09PM
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Thanks to all who answered.
Pudge: I did start mine in about Jan/Feb. It's after I transplanted to a bigger size pot and trimmed them that they died. Don't know what I did wrong. Guess I'll have to try again next year. To bad winter sowing is out. Thanks. Marg

    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 5:54PM
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I buy dutch sets for large onions. Really when you think of it it is just as cheap. I pay less than $5 for 3 pounds and seed is $2 to $3 a package plus the soil and bother of growing them.

Starting from seed takes too long and would only be good for the following year. Besides I have never had luck transplanting them and they die. If you want them for green onions I'd start them as soon as the weather cools a bit and direct sow them into the garden. They will survive over winter and show up again in the spring.

When we plant the sets we space them 6 inches apart and the rows about 8 inches apart. we just push them into the soil. Many times the onion is sitting mostly on top of the soil as it grows. Onions don't like to be crowded to grow big and they do much better close to the surface. We came by this way after quite a few years of experamenting and this is the way we get big onions.

Out of those 3 pounds of sets we usually end up with about 8-10 pound bags of onions. One year we even got 11

    Bookmark   August 10, 2009 at 10:50AM
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I have some walla walla seed to plant. I read where some people sow in the late fall and let them overwinter. The only issue I've read is they may possibly bolt if it is a warm winter.
I'm not sure if I want to try starting them indoors, direct sow in spring, or try the overwintering method. Thinking I may try starting half indoors and planting the other half this fall and see what outcome I have.

Here is a link that might be useful: DW's Blog

    Bookmark   January 11, 2013 at 7:56AM
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In zone 6b you may be able to overwinter onion seedlings, but here in zone 3 I cannot. Full grown onions that I missed during harvest will often survive the winter and sprout again in spring, but seedlings are far more sensitive and seem to get killed off below about -7C (20F) in my experience.

I start seeds indoors under lights, usually sometime in February, for transplant to the garden by mid-May. I find transplants started from seed end up much bigger by Fall than planting onion "sets" (small bulbs). Also, seedlings do not bolt during their first year of growth, whereas onion sets may bolt as it is really their second year of growth.

Walla walla onions are a "sweet" onion, with poor storage qualities. If you store the bulbs in a cool, well-ventilated area you may get 3-6 weeks storage out of them, a bit longer if you can store them in your fridge. So don't plant more than you intend to eat and/or give away within 6 weeks of harvest. I don't grow sweet onions anymore precisely because of the short storage period.

I grow "storage" or "cooking" onions... 120 or 150 plants (bulbs) lasts us all winter, from harvest in September through to April or May when any remaining onions tend to sprout or rot (usually there aren't many remaining).

To add some colour -- harvest time, September 2012:

From the 2010 harvest, onions in storage in the basement in January 2011 (the coin in the photo is 28mm or 1.1 inches in diameter):

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 2:31AM
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I believe I might know what happened. I once killed two flats of onion seedlings by trimming them back too hard. Cutting them from six-eight inches to two-three inches is pretty brutal, apparently. They died within days. The next year, I kept them consistently trimmed to three inches, cutting off no more than an inch at a time, then let them grow out to six or eight sturdy inches before transplant to give me something to hang on to. The onion clippings got used in the kitchen, so the additional work had immediate rewards, and I did actually get larger onions than I previously had from sets.

Also, I planted four seeds to a cell and trimmed the weakest. Saved space and didn't appreciably diminish the onion size. Also cut down transplanting time by a third. I used cells because it limited root damage at transplant and sped up transplant time. I think Throwback at Trapper Creek does something similar. Great blog if you haven't read it already.

Caveat--onions planted in wide rows have the problem that the onions in the middle don't get enough light to size up towards the end of the season. You can get around this by planting traditionally or by alternating onion rows with a shorter plant that can double as groundcover within the space of the wide row. The shorter plant should be one that benefits from shade at the end of its growing life--like lettuce that you cut early, or something like that.

Oops, sorry, that was a lot of stuff. Back to lurking.


PS: Northspruce--I understand the rational, but can't agree with it since it is price-based only. For me, cheap is good, but quality and a measure of independence is better. I like having onions and cabbage and all the things we can buy at the grocery store come from my garden. We raise chickens and turkeys too, for fertilizer, eggs, insect control, compost turning, and meat. By the way, I've been a lurker for a long time, and give you mad props. I love reading what you write.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 4:39PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

I love it when lurkers come out of the woodwork, welcome! I was just debating seed or sets this year. I usually do sets, but was thinking this year to try seeds, better variety. I'm thinking for storage, I had a lot that rotted this past year, had a wet fall. Had to buy onions at the store this past week, yuck. Maybe I should do both this year and see. Weather is always a factor here so it is hard to do a true comparison. Any good seed varieties for storage? Cheryl

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 11:40AM
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I usually buy seeds for both green onions and sweet Candy onions. This year I ordered seeds for Red Wing Hybrid Organic from William Dam seeds. It's supposed to be a good keeper. Anyone ever tried this one? Marg

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 1:02PM
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I use "Talon" from Veseys for storage onions (see photos above, those are Talon). I used to use "Norstar" -- it ripens a bit earlier but doesn't keep as well, stored Norstar sprout a month or two before Talon.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 1:54PM
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Thanks for the replies!

Based upon what I am reading, I think I will start some seed inside in February. It's always nice to get knowledge from others. It sure saves a lot time devoted to failures!

Here is a link that might be useful: DW's Blog

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 2:59PM
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Pudge 2b

Last year I grew Siera Blanca, a mild sweet onion (I like it raw in salad). I was quite pleased with it - truly mild. I didn't grow that many, some turned out kinda small (great thrown in stew) and those I brought in to store lasted until they got eaten, a couple months but they would have stored longer as there was no sign of deteriorating. I am growing them again this year.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 4:38PM
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Pudge, where did yuou get the Sierra Blanca seeds? I love raw sweet onion in a salad. Marg

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 8:47AM
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Pudge 2b

Marg, both Stokes and William Dam carry Sierra Blanca. They are day neutral which is a consideration for short seasons trying to grow white spanish onion.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 5:31PM
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Thanks Pudge. I've already ordered Candy onions for this year but I'll keep it in mind for next year. Marg

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 7:21PM
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Here in Minnesota I have not had much luck using sets. They only get to the size of a ping pong ball. I want a full on large onion so I'm taking some advice from the extension service and starting them inside next week. I had the same thoughts about winter sowing not allowing them enough time to reach maturity... Well, I wish you all luck please return the favor. Happy Sowing!

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardenfuss

    Bookmark   January 26, 2013 at 8:08PM
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