We have already declared the Deer Isle Hostel and Homestead Winner 2013: a Copra onion. The very first seed to sprout occurred only 3 days after being planted, on Feb. 13. Not too surprising though, that an onion would win the race, since they need to be planted long before its garden peers.
We used to plant our onions the same way as most: from sets. Bought the nondescript bulbs at the store and planted them when the time was right. They never failed, but never blew us away either, kept descent, tasted good. Well, times have changed and so have the way we plant our onions. We almost don’t buy any produce, so we grow plenty and we grow what will keep, preferably until next crop comes along. Last year we ran out of onions in June, and they had kept perfectly. Two months later, in August, we harvested 1,000 onions. I know, I know, it got out of hand. Who eats 1,000 onions in a year? Well, we do. Three meals a day, baked, cooked, fried, pickled and fresh. And if we can’t go through them all, we can trade them for something else. If you can keep it, you can eat it, all year long.
With the aspiration of being onion self-sufficient, buying sets is not really an option; neither is buying plants on that scale. Another reason why we’ve chosen to start our onions from seed is that we can be more specific about what kinds to grow. After a few years of experimenting, we’ve pretty much settled on Copras for our storage onions and Alisia Craig, a mild sweet onion, as our August treat, perfect for hot summer-day meals.
Onions are daylight sensitive and need to have plenty of time to put on top growth before the days start to get shorter and the plant pulls its energy into the bulb. If you like to start onions from seed, don’t wait! The best time is already closing in. Our house has a big, south-facing window and even though it sometimes gets down to the low 50’s, or even colder at night, the onions sprouted after only a few days. They will grow as a lawn, and as they get taller trim the tops off. As soon as possible, plant them outside. Last year, we transplanted the seedlings on April 21. We used a simple wooden dibble and made a swallow across the well-fed bed, 2 inches deep. Then we placed the straw-like plants 3 inches apart and scuffed the dirt with our hands so they stood upright. We moved forward 12 inches and made another swallow. We found that distance worked best for us, since we mulch in between the rows and less than 12 inches makes it hard to put the seaweed mulch down.
But all that is still far away, April, mulching and spreading compost. It’s the end of February and another blizzard is upon us. How sweet it is to sit here and look out over winter, eating last summer’s harvest with the plate only inches away from this summer’s crop.