Dirt on Gardening

Over 100 years ago different onion varieties did not have the distinct names and traits that they have today. People who recognized and knew the distinctions between various types of onions were described as a person who “knows his onions.”

“Knows his onions” is a term that’s still used today for a person who is very knowledgeable about a subject.

Today, there are many varieties of onions that are available with distinctions ranging beyond sweet and hot or red, yellow and white. There are onions that grow best in the northern or southern U.S. In the Ozarks, those of us that know our onions know that it will soon be time to plant them.

Onion bunches are available in late winter for planting in Ozark gardens. For onion plants, bigger isn’t always better; if an onion has more than four leaves when planted in the garden, it’s more likely to go to seed. Look for onion plants that are about the thickness of a pencil.

Prior to planting, the onion bulb has carbohydrates stored up. This keeps the onion alive before it is planted in your garden. The carbohydrates also help the onion plant start growing when it is planted in the ground.

After being planted in the ground, the onion plant will take about two weeks for the onion carbohydrates to kick in and to get a root system established. New leaves will begin to grow on the onion after the roots.

One leaf equals one onion ring, so an onion with two leaves will probably have two rings at harvest. The more leaves on an onion plant, the larger the onion. Depending upon the use of the onion, onions can be pulled and eaten shortly after they start growing leaves.

When an onion has stopped growing, it will send up a shoot that will develop a seed and eventually create a bloom. When this bloom dies, new onion seed will set that can ultimately grow into new onions.

In the Midwest, our gardens are best suited to grow “intermediate-day” varieties of onions. Intermediate day onions begin making a large bulb when the days reach 12 to 14 hours of daylight length, and they take approximately 100 days to reach maturity. Many intermediate day varieties are sweet.

Intermediate-day varieties that grow well in the Ozarks are “Red Candy Apple,” a red onion; “Candy,” a yellow onion, and “Super Star,” a white onion.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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