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February Garden Talk – Onions Seedlings – Unconventional Tips – Planting Cole Crops Early – Discovering Easy Seed Starting and Other stuff

Planted 4 varieties of onions with  good storage potential on January 15th. Yellow Parma, Australian Brown, Stuttgarters and Mako. They’re up about 4 or 5 inches.

Onion seedlings outside in containers.  Started January 15th.


Spinach just germinated two days ago.

Friend and reader, Betty Taylor, in Tennessee grows Stuttgarters and has given excellent reviews on their keeping ability.

At the last minute I found some seed for Clear Dawn, another long keeper, introduced to me by friend and reader, Jack, in New Jersey. Even though I knew I’d be late getting them started, I ordered anyway. Planted on Feb. 3. Took much longer to germinate than the ones started in January and they did so sparsely.

Strategy to Have Onions as Early as Possible

One of my onion “strategies” to insure that I have onions to eat as early in the season as possible, is to order the short day variety Texas Legend as transplants. Planted either in late February or early March, they’ll have plenty of time here in Virginia to grow enough tops to insure a good sized onion when bulbing is triggered. I’ll be eating them as spring onions and mature onions while my long day onions from seed are still growing.

Two Pieces of Conventional Advice and My Unconventional Counter.

If you’ve read anything about growing onions from seed, especially on forums where everyday gardeners chat, you’ve encountered the advice about giving your onion seedlings a “hair cut”.

Supposedly when onion seedlings get 5 or 6 inches tall you cut them back to 3 inches. According to those who promote this idea, it’s suppose to allow the bulb and top to grow thicker for transplanting.

The first year I grew onions from seed I followed that recommendation. The second year I asked myself, “Why are you doing this when the tops of the onions are needed to help the plants grow?” I stopped following that advice.

I don’t think there is any need for it. Seedlings always do great for me and once transplanted to the garden they sit up straight and keep growing.

Recently was pleased to come across an article by a Virginia market grower (I think it was Pam Dawling) who doesn’t cut her seedlings either and for the same reason that I stopped it. It was nice to know I was in such good company.

So if that’s something you do,  you might want to rethink it.


Another thing promoted as a “have-to-do” is fertilizing seedlings of vegetables. Some of the most popular gardening video folks will tell you to add this or that fertilizer to the grow mix before you plant. Some will have you mix up a spray to use every week or 10 days.

They may or may not realize it themselves, but that’s more about selling a product than giving the plant what it needs.

Everything a seedling needs for nutrition to get it started those first few weeks or a month, are contained in the seed. I’m sure you have plenty to do without adding the job of fertilizing to your list. (I cover this in my Secrets to Seed Starting Success. )

This picture was taken in April one year before transplanting to the garden. Seed was started in March. None of these had any “fertilizer”.  Just the seed in grow mix.

Planting Cole Crops in the Garden – Is It Too Early?

With gardening a lot of what we do to get that possible reward of early fresh veggies is chancy. Or as a friend puts it after she plants early, “Let the experiments begin!”

Enjoying a warm day or two in February and hearing the birds tell you that spring is here (or close by) makes it hard to resist planting something in the garden.

A friend emailed me recently and said she planted peas, beets, and carrots, turnips, parsnips, spinach and radishes directly into her garden February 17th. Made me want to run right out and do the same. (Except for peas.)

Over the years I’ve found February and even early March too cold for peas. But – as always – mother nature has the last say. If conditions stay right those peas could do great and my friend will be enjoying fresh peas while I’m still waiting for bloom.

What Might Help Should Winter Conditions Return

According to the Farmer’s Almanac winter conditions will be with us off and on through March again this year. So if you’ve planted and then see temperatures forecast much lower than what your plants would like, a 2 or 3 inch layer of straw, pine or some row cover fabric might get them through.

Have Backup Just in Case

When you’re taking a chance with the weather, plan for backup. Extra seed or extra seedlings. That way if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you’ll get a second chance.

Seed Starting Gets a Bad Rap

In the age we live in, most of us are under the impression that we need lots of space inside and equipment to start seed. Once we know that’s not true, it’s pretty easy to figure out that all the information out there basically stems from selling seed growing equipment (that is not really necessary unless you really want it.)

The only way I found out is because I didn’t have the money for all that stuff and still had to grow from seed or not have food to eat. So I found a way.

A Gardener of 45 Years Finds Out You Don’t Need a Lot of Stuff to Grow Seed

Jim, a friend and reader from Illinois is an experienced gardener of 45 years. Over the years he has shared pictures with me and I am in awe of what he has accomplished and how beautiful his produce is!

He recently acquired my Secrets to Seed Starting Success.

He writes, “I’ve thought about seed starting for years, but always thought I’d need all this “stuff” to do it, along with a place to do it, which I don’t have. You (in Secrets to Seed Starting Success) make it do-able —

“You offer alternatives and it makes the reader relate what you say with their own home or conditions.

“Some of what you write (in the form of) directions or guidelines I find especially beneficial. I might not follow exactly, but the “list” helps me lay out a similar plan for myself. It’s kinda like you’ve done all the hard work, and you’re helping others try the same with more confidence!”

“You’re really making a difference! Thanks especially for sharing it all.”

Winter Lettuce and Mache Beds Turn to Spring Ones

My winter lettuce beds are quickly turning to spring beds. It’s growing much more quickly now and the extra seed sown with the transplants last fall has germinated. It’s so bountiful I have plenty to lift and transplant to another bed.

Good Planting Days

Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 24 and 25, 2018) are good planting days according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

I’ll be starting cabbage, Sierra Batavia lettuce, Concept lettuce, Collard greens, and Komatsuma (or Komatsuna) in containers. Also, iberis (candy tuft), more asclepias (butterfly weed), soapwort, and climbing snapdragons.

Poppies and Sweet William seed I’ll sow directly into various borders.

Final Thoughts

The season is underway.

If you’ve been following my 3 keys you’ll only have to concentrate on starting your seed and/or pulling back the straw to plant in your permanent beds that are always ready when you are.

Why not try at least one thing new so you can learn even more this year.

Expect some losses and know that some things will do better than others – through no fault of your own. That’s just how life and gardening is.

Enjoy every minute. Forty Springs (or even 70 or 80) is way too little time.

Write to me if you think I can help.
Check out Secrets to Seed Starting Success here.


All content including photos are copyrighted by All Rights Reserved.


  • As easy as it can be to go into “overwhelm” starting a rural homestead from scratch in our golden years, it is always reassuring and reaffirming to read your posts and once again “get grounded” in the no nonsense simplicity of your approach to gardening. What your friend Jim said about starting seeds applies to so much of our lives here – “You don’t need all that stuff!” K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Silly! (The original was probably “Keep It Simple, Stupid” but if you follow tendingmygarden, you can change that!)

  • I know you like the milk jugs for starting seeds, but I love the “clam shell” lettuce containers and the take out Chinese food containers!!

  • I’ve never grown onions because my one food problem is raw onions. Cooked are OK. I have found I can eat original Vidalia without a problem. I recently read that it’s sulfur content in the earth that gives onions their pungency and Vidalia Georgia has low content. I think we fall into that range so why not try. I would appreciate suggestions for sweet short day onions that might be worth a try. Possibly someone knows what they grow in Georgia.


    Ray Kent

  • Thanks for that Marvin. Put a smile on my face.

    Bonny, clam shell lettuce containers are really nice. Unfortunately, I never have those. Nowadays they’ve even changed the water containers (which is what I use — I don’t buy milk) so I’m starting to wonder what I’m gonna use. The ones I’m using now are from 2 years back.

    Ray, you are too far north for short day onions to have time to grow enough tops before bulbing is triggered.

    Keep in mind too that Vidalias are grown in a special area in Georgia that has sandy soil and enough rain to keep sulfur low. Although the Vidalia will grow in other places, it won’t taste the same as those from that specific area of Georgia. Bottom line is, I don’t think you could reproduce those specific conditions to grow that onion. Just because an onion is grown in Georgia, doesn’t mean it will be the right one for you.

    You might be able to grow a short day onion as green onions (aka spring onions) — maybe. Why did you specifically ask for a short day onion?
    (See my PS to Ray below Betty’s comment.)


  • This was timely–I was just considering whether to give my onions a “haircut”! Glad I let them be. It pays to be lazy sometimes. Will be looking forward to how you like the Stuttgarter onions and how they compare with what you usually plant. I’m also trying Yellow Parma and Mayo this year. Last year I set them in the ground too early after getting them all off to a good start. I ended up losing 3/4 of them and buying sets to make up for it. Will wait a bit longer this year!

  • Glad I was just in time Betty.
    And I’ll let you know about Stuttgarters. I grew them about 35 years ago but don’t remember any particulars.

    PS to Ray
    Ray I’ve thought about you a lot today.
    I agree with you — that you should definitely give it a try no matter what the odds. The results could surprise us all. Most sweet onions have low sulfur content for sure. Why not try a few 1015 Texas Super Sweet from Dixondale. (Again, they’re short day and won’t get big for you.) Also, you might have great success with the long day (and sweet) onion Ailsa Craig. They don’t store long but I think you might get a lot of enjoyment out of them for the season. They’re perfect for your latitude.
    Unusually sweet for a long day onion. And that means low sulfur.

  • Theresa, I wonder if you might be able to ask a local day care center to save milk jugs for you, since the containers for the water you buy have changed and aren’t suitable for seed-starting. I would bet day care centers go through a lot of milk. It might be worth a phone call or two to ask, if there are any centers near you.

    Thanks, as always, for all the fantastic philosophy, tips, and advice you have for us all! Hope your late winter/early spring goes well!

  • Thanks for the suggestion Sue, although I know of no day care centers near me.
    We live in a rural area — not enough folks for that kind of thing.
    Appreciate your input.

  • Theresa, I, too, live in a very rural area, but I manage to snag all the milk jugs I could ever use from the pre-school at the local school system. Is that a possibility for you? Congrats on your award. You so deserve it!

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