Starting onion seeds indoors

gjcoreFebruary 16, 2012

I'm wanting to start onions from seed but not real sure what is the best or easiest way to proceed. I suppose I could go with little square containers, place 3 seeds and thin to one. Or could I use one flat of seed starter soil and plant 5 rows or so and then prick them out to transplant?

It's too early to put any seed outdoors in the ground as it is frozen and may be for another month yet.

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david52_gw

This is my setup. These are 4" x 4" x 3 feet long containers, filled with normal potting soil. I use a finger to make some furrows, then sprinkle the seeds, then water them in. They sprout with a week or so. On the left are 75ish Candy onions, on the right are the results of planting fresh seed from 'evergreen bunching onion' which will need to be thinned.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 2:42PM
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gjcore

David, how long can you leave them in those trays? What is your transplanting method?

Greg

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 5:05PM
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david52_gw

They'll be in there until mid-late april, hopefully hitting the diameter of a Bic pen. They'll need a hair cut now and again, which seems to sturdy up the plant. I fertilize with miracle grow, couple - three times.

About 3 days before transplanting, give them a hair cut. On the big day, I pull out a whole clump of potting soil / onion plant, and swish the mess around in a bucket, all the soil washes off leaving the onion plants and the entire root structure, which is pretty impressive. They're very easy to pull apart when they're wet.

Thats the big reason for growing onion from seed - you can set out beautiful, fresh plants with a very well developed, 3 inch dia root structure - and they take off immediately once they get into the garden.

Plus, its really cheap. I bought 5,000 seeds for Candy Onion for $8, and this is my 3rd year on the same packet. I keep them in the freezer. Thats the same cost as one bundle of the same things from Dixondale.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 5:25PM
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gjcore

David thanks for the advice. Just finished setting up my tray and set it on top of the refrigerator.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 6:18PM
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elkwc(6b)

I plant mine very similar to David. The size of the container depends on how many you want to plant of a variety. I buy the plastic containers at Wal Mart you find in the houseware dept for 2-3 dollars. I drill holes in the bottom of mine so the soil mix won't get too water logged. I lay Saran wrap over the top just like I do the 1020 trays and then remove it when I see germination. That way the top of the mix stays moist. The nice thing about starting your own is you have a wider choice of what varieties to choose from and you can grow varieties developed for your general area. I'm growing Burrell's Yellow Valencia( an AAS winner developed by Burrell Seeds of Rocky Ford), Colorado Sweet Spanish #6, Red Cabernet, Bronze D' Amposta and Sweet Yellow Utah Spanish. Dixondale's has gradually eliminated varieties that did well here and replaced them with either extreme long or short day varieties. Also I plan to start selling at a local farmer's market. In order to sell as organic the onions can never be sprayed with a post emergent like Dixondales does. I had alway put off starting my own but decided I really didn't have much choice. And it is real easy. Jay

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 10:45PM
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billie_ladybug(5b)

David,
How often to you give them their haircut? Once a week, month, or when the get to a certain height?
Billie

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 5:03PM
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david52_gw

Billie, I cut them when they start to fall over - early on, thats around six inches, cut them back to 3-4. Later, when they're bigger and growing faster, I'll wait until they're 8-10 inches, cut them back to 4.

I was just out looking at them today, and they'll need a trim here shortly.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 11:28AM
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elkwc(6b)

I've had mine under the light shelves so have to give them a trim every 1-2 days. If I can get the ventilation fan and louvers installed in the lean to this weekend I will move them out there and then won't have to trim them back as often. Another 10-14 days and I'll be setting them out. Jay

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 12:07AM
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david52_gw

One thing I haven't tried yet but several neighbors have told me that it works pretty well - direct sow onion seed in early March, even broadcast on the snow if need be.

I should also again mention the 'Evergreen' bunching onion, I originally tried it on the catalog blurb that it will over-winter. It sure does, going to seed the next spring. It's a great tasting onion, reasonably mild for salads, and grows very well.

The way to do this is to pull up all but about 10 plants in the fall, and let those 10 over-winter and go to seed the next spring, then save the seed and pull the parent plants out. Re-seed for the next crop. That fresh seed is amazing, they all germinate. And will keep you in green onions for a while.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 10:47AM
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gltrap54

When thinning onion seedlings, how far apart do they need to be?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 12:41PM
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elkwc(6b)

Handsome do you mean in the ground or in flats when you start them indoors? I personally transplant mine 3 inches apart or would thin to that the first time I thinned them if they were in the garden. I then pull every other one as a green onion which leaves them 6 inches apart which allows the bulbs to size up nice. Mine in the trays I just thin where they have plenty of room to size up to the size of a bic pen. You can leave them fairly thick in the flats as they won't be there when they start bulbing up. Jay

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 6:32PM
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gltrap54

Thanks Jay! Sorry, I wasn't very clear in my post, but yes I meant in the flats. This is my first attempt at starting onions indoors, so I'm destined to mess something up!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 10:26AM
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david52_gw

I'm not very good as scattering the seed, so I'll sometimes find several plants that are touching each other. 2 or 3 seem to be ok, as long as there isn't anything else within an inch or so of that clump. When there are 4+, use a pair of scissors to cut out the extra -

If you only have a few plants, it is possible to transplant them further apart, but it will set them back a bit.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 11:13AM
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elkwc(6b)

David,
I usually just pull mine that are too close up and move to an open space if there are any. If not I just toss them. I use good potting soil and can usually wiggle them out with long roots and plant back the same way and water and have never noticed a hic up. If you look in my flats now you couldn't pick out the ones I moved. Jay

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 12:04PM
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HillBillyJeff

What depth of soil should I use? This is my first time starting seeds indoors.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 5:55PM
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digit(ID/WA)

These were nearly full and settled a bit after soaking in a basin of water. Just standard flats, doubled (because they are olde & frail).

Setting a tape measure against them shows that there is about 2" of soil.

Steve

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 7:16PM
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gjcore

Steve, I see I'm not the only one who uses old doubled up olde & frail trays. Sometimes I even triple them up. Though I broke down last week and bought a few new ones.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 12:19PM
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billie_ladybug(5b)

I like putting the mesh flat under my planting tray. Last year I totally cheated and pulled a "flat" from walmart (one of the under the bed containers) I put the lid on it after I planted and put it on the heat mat. Had great onions last year. Better than any sets I ever bought!! Going to try it with leeks this year too. Went to the dollar store and bought some of their shoebox type flats.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 10:52PM
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digit(ID/WA)

The last sowing of bunching onion seed was today.

There were already several but I wanted to try one that is supposed to stay small - Siji from AgroHaitai.

In that flat went 2 varieties of leeks. Summer, which is new-to-me, and Lancelot (which isn't ;o). Summer isn't supposed to be left to overwinter in the garden. I sure hope it is able to stay in the fridge for a few weeks . . . Oh well, I can get busy with potato & leek soup in August.

Not a single sprout, yet.

Steve

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 11:50PM
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david52_gw

Steve, I have a couple of large, 20 gallon tubs that are filled with damp peat moss, and if I take a leek, trim the roots to an inch and prune back the leaves, they'll stay in that peat moss for months.

This year, I thought I'd leave them in the garden. We had below 0 temps, and they don't look so good.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 1:59PM
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digit(ID/WA)

I have wondered about storing potatoes in peat moss, David. That's where the dahlia roots are. I've wondered if it would change their flavor or anything.

I've never left much of anything in the garden during the winter. Just about never. I can still remember my tracks out to the far end of the garden to get kale leaves! I mean, I was wading up to my hips in the snow that year!

I didn't know anything about kale then. Probably harvested the oldest, coarsest leaves even during the winter.

I haven't even had the nerve to leave the leeks until very hard frost. They last a couple months in the crisper drawer of the fridge. Not really so great because the sweet onions do real well in the basement room with the dahlias on the floor & the onions on the shelves.

I have Walla Wallas & similar until December. The less sugary ones last much longer than that. There are still onions classified as sweets in the basement - Ovation. But anyway, I'm eating leeks and sweet onions just about as fast as I can from their harvest until January.

Steve

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 7:04PM
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david52_gw

We were cooking 1/2 inch diameter leeks on the grill last summer - brush with olive oil, cook until they're brown, then sort of slurp out the really soft insides. This is a good way to go through a lot of leeks.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 11:59AM
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