onions from seed

One of the things that gives me a garden high is experiments.  And experiments that actually work, that change the way I garden, are the most rewarding. Most of them are flops, many of them are started and forgotten.

This is the first year I’ve tried starting onions from seed under lights. Two varieties: Australian Brown and Yellow of Parma. The little guys were easy to grow and did great until I put them out.

Then a cool snap and drenching rains, and the seedling seemed to stagnate. They looked like they were heading downhill, and I lost faith.

But they steadily improved over the growing season, and yesterday I harvested a wonderful batch of storage onions. These were uniformly bigger and healthier than the Copras I’d grown from bulbs for years. Made my day.

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holey moley

It’s always good to learn. I think I learned something about onions started from seed indoors.

I’ve always planted my onions from purchased sets, which seemed indestructible. No matter when I planted them, they always pulled through.

This year for the first time I tried onions from seed planted indoors in January and February. I set the seedlings out on April 19th. A cold snap hit, with lows near freezing shortly afterwards.

I covered some of the seedlings with a hoop tunnel, and those survived ok. The uncovered plants struggled. I eventually replaced the struggling plants with seedlings I’d kept from the original batch, which had been sitting in their pots. This was almost a month later.

It looks now like the seedlings that were left in the pots a month longer are leaving the early-planted seedlings in the dust. Maybe you can tell from the picture. The onions in the rear are the later-planted…


A couple of days ago I put in a few rows of sweet corn seed. Today I noticed that someone has been exploring under my corn rows. I don’t have many qualms about skewering pilferers. Heads up, Mr. Mole.


It’s not all trouble though. The taters and beans are finally blooming and they seem happy. And I plucked off the fall-planted garlic scapes, meaning that they’re coming down the home stretch. Won’t be long.


green, brown, black

It’s green material season. Finally. The first batch of grass clippings, much needed. The compost pile that I started in the winter with shredded leaves and coffee grounds wasn’t heating up as much as I like, so half of the clippings went into it, and the other half went into a new pile of more shredded leaves, coffee grounds and clippings.


tools of the trade


After the frost took out quite a few of my onion seedlings, I replenished the rows and mulched with shredded leaves like I should have done in the first place. The mulch can’t be very thick because the seedlings are small, but shredded leaves last a while and do a good job of keeping down weeds and keeping moisture in, even with just a couple of inches. And I think a mulch might have given a little more frost protection too.

they're in there, trust me

they’re in there, trust me

I’m also sprouting a new batch of corn seeds. This time I won’t take any chances with iffy germination.

Pre-sprouting is why all the snow pea seeds that I planted are popping through. You know they’re good seeds when you can see the roots growing before you plant them.


an ugly selfie

Sometimes you just need a little vacation from retirement. We took two days to get away from the endless busy-ness of the ‘easy life’ in a rustic cabin in Indiana. The trip was great, the return so-so.

It’s natural to try to present your best side, your beauty shots, when you blog. I do it often. You probably do it. But I’m not so vain as to deny mistakes and miscalculations. They’re part of gardening.

When I returned from our excursion, the first thing, of course, was to check the seedlings in the grow room. Not a happy thing. Only half of the sweet corn seeds had germinated. I plant them early to give them a head start in the warmth of the house. But having enough seedlings to plant a block of plants is critical for pollination with corn. I don’t have enough sprouted seedlings to start a block, so it’s back to square one, and my corn season got a few days shorter.


Next up, the very early tomato plants that I decided to experiment on by clipping off the growing tips. Oops. The two seedlings that I trimmed didn’t look so happy.


I’d chalk it up to sunburn if I didn’t have another seedling, a control plant, that received identical hardening off. Be very cautious if you’re considering this. Better yet, don’t. Luckily I’ve learned that setbacks don’t have to be disasters with a backup plan. There are extra plants under the lights for just this reason.IMG_4614

And finally, out in the garden, the effects of a hard freeze a few nights ago showed plainly. I didn’t have enough grow tunnels to cover the whole bed of young onion plants, so there’s a wilted, sickly patch right in the middle. Again, the backup plan should save my silly rear. There are more plants sitting in a cold frame ready to take their places.

IMG_4617Anyway, mistakes were made, and will continue to be made.

bright lights, little closet

It’s funny how a tiny space, maybe 4′ by 3′ can add so much brightness and cheer to a winter. Even one four foot shelf for that matter.


On the right, an experimental early pepper; center, new Australian Brown onion seedlings

A while back I tried regrowing romaine lettuce from the butt-end of a grocery store head by just setting it in a half inch of water. What you can learn on the Internet.

It did well. The grow lights were burning for the onion seedlings anyway, so why not? Every so often I added diluted liquid kelp, and it never stopped growing. I probably should have tried to get more information about how to proceed, but the plant was doing so well that I didn’t feel the need to. Still don’t. Such an elegantly simple concept.

So as long as there’s space under the lights, I’ll keep adding little zombies.

They’ve been sitting in water. No roots. Weird.

Yesterday I treated them to some aerated worm tea, and then potted them. I’m not sure whether putting them into soil is the thing to do, but I did it because they weren’t very stable, just perched in plastic dishes.

So good to see those healthy green leaves in this frozen world.



onion seedlingsYesterday my first onions from seed popped through (that officially took 4 days from planting). They’re under lights with a fan cooling their jets.

Disjointed, theme-less post today.  That’s the way we roll.  My chicken coop thought has transformed into pretty much a full-blown chicken coop obsession.  Why am I like this?  My wife should like it because it keeps me busy and not underfoot.  Did I mention that retirement (semi-retirement in my case) rocks?

planting onion seeds part 2

Back already with changes to yesterday’s post.

As mentioned, I tend toward the obsessive when trying to nail down garden answers.  I feel kind of like a stalker to those poor, unwitting answers.

I hadn’t had much success locating clear, believable, detailed descriptions of starting onion from seed indoors.  But yesterday I finally found a source that I trust because 1): the source is a company whose purpose and profit rely on growing the best seeds, B): it’s a trusted company and Last): the information is clear and well-presented, plus it feels right in the context of my own experiences.

I urge you to watch this if you’re new to planting onions from seed (or just interested in how pros do it), by Sustainable Seed…

The containers he uses look to be a shade deeper than mine, but I’m ok with that. His planting method is the same that I used.

But he suggests ultimately ending up with 15 or so seedlings per pot. That also feels right to me, rather than the 25-30 I originally planned on, because these things do need some room. I seeded two more pots today. Up-potting isn’t mentioned, which is very fine with me because that sounds like a pain with those little threads of seedlings. So I may transplant a couple of seedlings into individual containers, but most I’ll leave in their 4″ pots till it’s time to put them in the garden.

And I immediately caved to seed lust and ordered some Australian Brown onion seed.