A Gardener's Diary: Use patience in planting

Just because we had some nice warm days lately doesn’t mean that the frost is over. Any tender plants out will have to be protected at night.

My cold frames are covered at night. The peas and the lettuce are doing just fine even with a touch of frost. I got my onions in last week and found some interesting facts. Gardeners have grown onions since ancient days. In the days of the Pharaohs, Egypt was famed for the mildness of its onions. Onions are relatively easy to grow provided the garden soil is rich, fertile and well-drained. The topsoil should be deep and should contain an ample supply of humus. Dry soil will cause onions to “split,” forming two small bulbs instead of normal growth.

Onions can be propagated by small bulbs known as sets, by seed or by transplants. The easiest and often the fastest method for the home gardener is sets. Contrary to the beliefs of many gardeners, the best sets are not necessarily the largest. The preferred size is about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) in diameter, with smaller ones lacking in vigour and larger sets often going to seed. They should be planted four to six inches (10-16cm) apart. Planted as early in the spring as possible, the sets will grow rapidly. They demand only shallow cultivation or weeding. By five weeks the young plants should have made good growth.

The length of time needed to form edible bulbs is determined by the amount of daylight the plant receives and not by the maturity of the plant. Depending on the varieties, Yellow Bermuda will form bulbs when receiving only 12 hours of daylight daily to Yellow Globe Danver requiring 13 hours. Such types as Red Wethersfield require as much as 14 hours.

The average garden-grown onion is relatively free from plant disease and insect pests, although the onion root maggot can be troublesome in some localities. As a deterrent, some gardeners have found that radishes interplanted between rows of onions act as a very satisfactory trap crop. If they become infested, pull up the radishes and destroy them.

Onion sets mature in about 100 days and, as the plants approach maturity, the tops become yellow and begin to fall gradually to the ground. When most of the tops are down, the remainder are generally broken down by running the back of a rake over them. Loosen the soil to encourage drying, and after a few days turn them up and let them cure on dry ground. Always handle them very carefully — the slightest bruise will encourage rot to set in. When tops are brown, pull the onions. Harvest in late summer, before cool weather. Mature onions may spoil in fall weather. Allow onions to dry for several weeks in a sheltered place before you store them in a root cellar or any other storage area. Spread them out on an open screen off the ground to dry. Store at 40 to 50 degrees F (four to 10 degrees C) in braids or with the stems broken off. Mature, dry-skinned bulbs like it cool and dry, so don’t store them with apples or potatoes

Onions and all members of the cabbage family get along well with each other. They also like beets, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, summer savory but do not like peas and beans. Russian biologist T.A. Tovstole found a water solution of onion skin, used as a spray three times daily at five-day intervals, gave an almost 100 per cent kill of hemiptera, a parasite attacking more than 100 different species of plants.

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