Onion Snow

“Onion snow” is one of those Pennsylvania Dutch phrases my grandfather used to describe a late snow, after the first day of spring. Like today, March 25th, the onion snow came just about the time for him to plant onions. In his case, he planted onion sets bought at our local farm bureau.

Onion growers have a whole host of onions types and growing methods available to them. There are short-day, long-day and day-neutral varieties. Long-day varieties are for northern gardens and short-day varieties for southern.   All this has to do with the number of hours of daylight a variety needs in order to start growing the onion bulb. Sweet Spanish and Walla Walla onions are long day varieties whereas; Vidalia and Bermuda onions are short day types. If you plant a short-day onion in the north you will have much smaller onions. This is perfect for producing pearl onions or pickling onions just the right size for a canning jar. Sweet onion varieties mature earlier than keeper varieties. Keepers or storing onions tend to be more pungent, like Yellow Ebenezer.

Onions have a long growing season, so growing them from onion sets or onion plants is a great time saving option. If you have the time, the place and sense of adventure you might try growing onions from seeds. The best onions I ever grew were from seed I started in a hobby greenhouse. You will need to order your seeds early so they can be planted in mid to late January. Sow them in rows in a seed tray filled with light potting soil. Keep moist and in a sunny window, greenhouse or under lights. The plants will emerge in about 2 weeks. As they grow you can thin out and transplant seedlings so they are about an inch apart. I kept my plants trimmed with a scissors to about 4 inches tall. This made for nice thick transplants in April.

Probably the most important element for good onion production is a loose, granular soil and plenty of good organic fertilizer. The year I grew my best onions I had just started as head horticulturist at the Andalusia Foundation. Andalusia is located just north of Philadelphia on the Delaware River. I expanded the meager vegetable plot to a ¼ acre productive garden. A local dairy farmer supplied us with fresh manure in late fall that sat on the garden and decayed until spring. This, added to the already alluvial river soil, made for the perfect growing medium. You can create an excellent garden soil with compost in raised beds that will do the trick nicely. The entire vegetable garden was a great success but the softball sized Spanish onions were my pride and joy.

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