A Thing or Two About Onion Seeds

Onion, sorrel, and parsley on the potting bench.

Onion, sorrel, and parsley awaiting there turn on the potting bench.

During my Victory Garden years, we grew a lot of different types of onions. Or rather, Kip Anderson, our gardener, grew a lot of different onions. I was nonplussed. After all, can’t you just buy a bag of onions for a buck or two at the store?

You can, but that would be like saying ‘can’t you just buy a loaf a bread?’ You can, but oh the difference. Onions are just like that: some to eat fresh, some to store, some hot, some mild, some brown, green, white, purple — the variations are endless.

There are only two real tricks to the onion game: the first is day length. Our friends at Bonnie Plants sum up the difference nicely:

  • In the North (the area north of a line drawn from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.), summer days are long. This region encompasses zone 6 and colder. If you garden in this area, grow long-day onions.
  • In the South, summer days don’t vary as much in length from winter ones. This region includes zone 7 and warmer. If you garden in this area, grow short-day onions.
  • Day-neutral (sometimes called intermediate) onions form bulbs in any zone, but are especially suited for gardeners in zones 5 and 6.

It’s also widely known that it’s easiest to sow onion seeds indoors and then plant what are referred to as  sets directly into the garden. But what is not so well advertised is that onions belong to the group of plants whose seeds prefer (or require) darkness to germinate. For years I’ve noticed spotty germination with my onion seeds, and then by chance I left an empty flat over half of the planting tray. The side that was covered had close to 100% germination, the side that was open to the sun had very little germination at all. So henceforth, an empty flat over the planting flat until the seeds peek above the soil.

So simple, but not, unless you know.


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