Onions anyone?

County Agent’s Corner

Multiplying onions are winter onions.

Multiplying onions are winter onions.

Mosquitoes, gnats, and no-see-ums don’t seem to bother me as much as they do other people. For example, we can be fishing up Short Creek and the mosquitoes will be eating my brother up, but don’t seem to like me. I am glad! I have attributed this anomaly to the fact that I like to eat onions.

Sweet onions are good on everything, including mustard sandwiches. I like them on everything from steak to salads, shish kebab to ice cream. Well, maybe not ice cream, but you get the picture. Come to think of it, friends and family don’t bother me either. It must be the onions!

I have been growing Egyptian Walking Onions for some time now. They are called walking onions because they not only multiply from the crown (where roots attach to the bulb), but also put on bulblets in the top of the leaves in late May or early June. As the leaves get heavy with the new crop, they fall over and the bulblets begin to grow. This is how they spread or “walk.”

They don’t like the Alabama heat, so I pull the bulblets off on the top and pull the bulbs up and dry them down. Keep them dry during the summer and replant the bulbs or “sets” in late August or early September and repeat the process.

If you happen to leave them in the ground, they will come back in the fall, but I can’t ever remember where the rows are, so I just harvest and replant each year. These little multipliers provide me with fresh green onions all during the winter, except when it gets really cold. They suffer a bit, but always come to life as temperatures rise. They are a bit more pungent than a sweet onion, but they’re great on a salad!

I also grow a few of the white multiplying onions. They are truly a winter onion and can stand temperatures well into the teens. They also multiply from the crown. They do not produce the bulblets on the leaves. I harvest and consume all during the winter. When summer arrives I pull them up, dry them down and store, just like the walking onions. This onion is also a bit more pungent than sweet onions.

Green onions may also be grown from “sets” that you can purchase from farm supply stores in the spring. These are not multiplying, but grown for a single harvest. I suspect everyone is familiar with this garden favorite. The “sets” are usually purchased in February and March, with harvest following from April until early June.

When harvested in a timely manner, they are great just about any way you want to use them. As the heat arrives and they become mature, they get more pungent. Red, white, and yellow varieties are usually available.

Sweet onions must be grown from plants. Normally transplants can be found at local farm supply stores beginning in February. Varieties may be red, white, or yellow. They usually have names like Texas Sweet or Candy.

They should be planted as early in February as possible to grow to maximum size. They should be planted about one inch deep. Do not pull soil up around the plant. Bulbing onions have shallow root systems and will benefit greatly from frequent, light applications of a nitrogen based fertilizer. Shallow root systems also require frequent watering, so I would certainly recommend putting them on a drip irrigation system.

Onions are ready to harvest when 10 percent of the tops have fallen over. Pull them up, let them dry down, and store in a dry, shady location. Sweet onions do not hold well in the Alabama heat. Plan to use them within 90 to 100 days. That is about max unless you have some place special to store them.

There are three types of sweet onions. The short day varieties, the intermediate day varieties, and long day varieties. In Blount County we should select the short day varieties. They will start bulbing when day length reaches about 10 hours. Along about the end of April or first of May, your onions will double in size every few days. It’s amazing to see just how fast they grow.

We can also grow the intermediate day varieties, though they will mature about two weeks later than short day onions. Again, they are ready to pull up and cure when 10 percent of the tops fall over. I begin to harvest and consume long before that ever happens! If any make it to full maturity, get them out of the soil, cure, and store. Long day onions can’t take the heat and humidity of an Alabama summer and are not recommended.

I really like growing sweet onions utilizing plasticulture. This eliminates water issues and weed pressure and allows fertilizer to be applied through the drip system during the growing season. I realize most home gardens don’t utilize plastics, but that’s ok; they perform well on bare ground too. It’s time to onion up, as soon as it dries up.

The Extension office will conduct a Commercial Tomato Meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 1 p.m., at the Frank Green Building auditorium located at 415 5th Ave. E., Oneonta. Topics include IPM Techniques, Disease ID and Control, Variety Update, products for spider mites, and more. Snacks will be provided. Call for additional information.

Dan Porch is County Extension Coordinator with the Blount County Extension Office. Dan lives in and loves Blount County and is available to answer your questions about conservation, agriculture, natural resources, and gardening. He can be reached at (205) 274-2129 or porchdw@aces.edu.