Onions take two years to complete their life cycle. (This makes them a biennial.)
The first year, a seed germinates and grows into an onion. How big the onion gets the first year will be determined by
- when it was planted,
- how deep it was plant, and
- how long it has to grow before daylight hours trigger bulbing.
Sets – What they Are and What to Expect
If the onion seed develops into a small bulb the size of a marble or dime it can be cured and planted again in the fall of the same year or the next spring. These are the ones that are sold as sets in the feed stores and garden centers.
Lots of folks buy and plant onion sets and have good results. Sets “can” produce good sized onions that can finish (the tops will fall over) and be cured and stored. BUT – they don’t always.
You want to remember that when you plant sets — those sets are onions in their second and final year of growth.
The chances of getting full sized onions are especially good if you plant sets that are about the size of a marble or a dime. If you plant sets larger than a dime they will most likely produce a good spring onion for you to pull and eat. If you leave that spring onion in the ground long enough the onion will most likely set seed and form the hard stalk that is part of that process.
Transplants from a Supplier
Overall — transplants (young onion seedlings) give you better onions than sets.
But — as with sets — size makes a difference. Usually – when you order from a supplier like Dixondale — you get a mixture of sizes but hopefully more of the right size. The ones that are no larger than a pencil are the ones that will give you the best results.
I was unhappy with my Dixondale order this year for the first time in about 20 years. They sent me either very tiny transplants or extra large transplants and not very many that were “just right”.
What usually happens with the tiny transplants:
If the transplants are really tiny they may not have time to grow to full size and may finish up in your garden as dime sized onions or a bit bigger. These are the ones that you can use as sets for the fall or next spring. (I had two varieties <amounting to two rows> of onions finish up as small onions this month because they were too small to begin with. Too big a percentage of small onions to suite me.)
Over the years I’ve had these small onions finish and cure in the hot summer soil (because I missed pulling them) and then grow again in the fall to produce spring onions for the fall and winter months.
The small onions (either the ones left in the ground or the ones I replant in the fall ) I use for fresh eating spring onions through February or early March. I use most of them by March because I need the space for other things. IF I left them in the ground longer –since this would be their second year — they would develop a hard stalk and set seed. There is always the exception to the rule, but the vast majority of times — that is what you may expect.
As mentioned above, if I planted these dime sized onion sets in the spring I’d have a good chance of them producing full sized onions. (I don’t use them in the spring however, because I want to use the space for onion transplants.)
What usually happens with extra large transplants:
If transplants are too big you have a bigger chance of the plant making a hard stalk and setting seed. Then you have to use the onion right away for fresh eating — as it will not cure and cannot be stored. My Copra (long keepers) onions that Dixondale sent me this year were way too big and more of a percentage than usual have developed hard stalks in the process of trying to set seed.
Growing Onions from Seed and Using your own Transplants
I’m convinced the absolute best way to get great onions is to start your own from seed and then transplant those seedlings to your garden in plenty of time to allow them to grow a lot of leaves and roots before daylight hours trigger bulbing.
Even though the transplants from growing your own seed may be very tiny — they will grow better than any transplant from suppliers. Yours will not be out of the ground as long as the ones you receive from someone else and in all probability will not take as long to recover after transplanting to your garden.
This year I started my onion seed in plenty of time — but then I was late getting my own transplants in the ground because I couldn’t find room for them. I kept waiting to take something out and by the time I got the onion seedling planted it was too late and I knew it. Nonetheless, I know what I did wrong and believe me — I’m planning ahead and having the beds ready for MY onion transplants in February and March of 2014. I usually order at least 1500 transplants from Dixondale, but in 2014 I want most of the 1500 to be my onions from seed rather than Dixondale.
I hope this post will answer Sandra’s questions that she left as a comment on a previous post and answer any questions you may have had regarding onions.
Onions are a great crop to grow in your effort to become free from dependency on big agri-business. They are an easy crop and the more you know about them, the more successful you’ll be.
I want you to be successful, so if you still have questions I hope you will let me know.
Other Onion Posts:
Other Onion Posts:
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