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Onions from seed...

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Onions from seed...

Post  rjbokleman on 3/10/2010, 7:29 pm

I followed Mel's book instructions for starting several batches of Onion from seed. I used vermiculite (rather fine type) in a clear plastic plant saucer. I used one for the seed as a bottom and one for a top to create a "Greenhouse". I then placed the seeds on a heating pad from HydroFarm. The seeds germinated quickly and within 7 days I had seedlings about between 1/2" to 1-1/2" tall depending upon variety.

I then transplanted them to a HydroFarm Hot House with Jiffy Seed Starting mix carefully and placed one seedling per container - which holds 72 plants. About two days before transplanting them I watered and warmed up the HydroFarm Hot House to make sure it was warm and moist.

The Hot House is in a perfectly South facing window and I open the vents in the top in the morning and close them at night when I come home.

The Onions seem to be growing well enough, but they are getting taller now and falling over as they've reached 2+ inches in size. I think I've read in other forum discussions this is called being "leggy".

What should I be doing to stop this and allow the plant to fill out more broadly rather than continuing to grow taller. Also a couple of them have become brown on their top edge...not sure if this is due to too hot of a sun in the window (been very sunny here the last few days) or maybe I should have removed them from the Hot House and just put them in peat pots?

Any help or suggestions on what I might do to keep these little buggers going would be great.

Thanks!

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  TerryHolman on 3/11/2010, 7:23 am

Hello from NJ!
Saw your email. I've been following SFG since 1985. Seed starting is probably one of the most difficult activities...particularly in winter.

As to your onions.. (this is from my personal experience)
Brown tips on onions are likely due to over fertilization (salt burn) or excessive heat or a combination of both conditions. Balancing humidity, temperature and lighting of onion seedlings (or any seedlings) can be most troublesome....

I personally would not use the plastic lid to promote a greenhouse effect. Too much moisture can lead to a variety of mold and fungal related issues. Give them 'tough love'.
I would also bring in your seedlings to an artificial light source inside the home.
Get one of the fluroescent bulbs created to grow plants or simply use any incandescent lighting in a warm place in your home. Stick you seedlings there, without dome. Keep the 'soil' moist, allowing it to dry a bit in between waterings.

I'd probably transplant them now that they are a few inches tall to a soil filled container or peat pot. Your choice. If you do fertilize your seedlings, make sure that the resulting solution is VERY DILUTE! Transplanting to a soil medium would likely give you healthier plants very quickly as the onions would begin assimilating the soil nutrients and the plants should be greener and happier looking within a week.

Now, you just have to wait until you can plant them.

I have found that I don't like to start my seedlings to early on the East coast.
I don't even plant my outside garden until Mid May at the VERY earliest and often think that May 30 is too early! I'll be starting my seedlings of onions and other spring crops such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower in the weeks ahead to transplant as soon as our frosts are pretty much done (hard frosts anyway) I will try to plant my seedlings of spring crops when the soil is workable (right now my garden is under about 2 feet of melting snow)

Leggy plants are common when seed starting in the winter.

However, once you get these starters planted into your garden....the will quickly root and the leaves and stems will burst forth. You should take a photo of what these plantings look like and take a photo a few weeks later...it's really quite unbelievable!

You seedlings just really need to stay alive...albeit leggy, until it's journey begins in your SFG!

Good luck!
Terry Holman
New Jersey

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  rjbokleman on 3/11/2010, 7:28 am

Thanks Terry. I will take your advice and move them out of the Hot House and under a light. Taking photo's is a good idea too.

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  Lavender Debs on 3/11/2010, 8:37 am

Terrific Post Terrie. Thank you!

Deborah ...who gives her onion sprouts a haircut when they get too long AND just before moving them to their summer home.

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  rjbokleman on 3/11/2010, 9:50 am

Can you safely trim them even before planting outside or is this a bad idea?

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  Lavender Debs on 3/11/2010, 10:48 am

I am NOT the gold standard for what to do with seed, I'm more of a dumb-luck kinda gal. So when I say that I have trimmed mine you should really plan to check it out with an actual gardener. Once they were taller than about 4" I cut off about a third, then, before putting them in the garden I trim them again for less .....um, is the word "respiration" damage? It seems to give the transplants a better chance to concentrate on setting good roots rather than putting energy into keeping the tops alive.

Deborah ....for what it's worth (which ain't much)

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  boffer on 3/11/2010, 11:55 am

@TerryHolman wrote:Hello from NJ!
...Seed starting is probably one of the most difficult activities...

Hi Terry, and welcome to the forum. Where have you been all my life?! For the past week I've been listening to everybody on the forum say how easy it is. Which left me scratching my head because I've never had real good luck. But thanks to your post, now I know why. I'm not good at difficult things in the gardening world. I can live with that.

Thanks again,

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  plb on 3/11/2010, 12:18 pm

I found a suggestion somewhere that I'm currently using and that is much cheaper than installing indoor grow lights.
As soon as your seeds have germinated, pull them out of the propagator - no lids. Put them somewhere where they can get a lot of light. Usually in a home that's going to be a windowsill; if so, put some tinfoil behind the plants, so the light that gets through the window is reflected again on the plants. You could build a little "screen" with a cardboard box and line it with tinfoil if you like.
The seedlings I'm growing now with this method look much better than the previous ones, that I had to throw away because they had started to fall over. They're growing slower, but are sturdier.


Last edited by plb on 3/11/2010, 1:10 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post  boffer on 3/11/2010, 12:57 pm

Do you think you're seeing the results you're getting because it's cooler on the window sill? I probably don't get anymore sun than you do this time of year(western washington state). I like the idea of the foil reflector.

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  plb on 3/11/2010, 1:10 pm

Yes, I think that the lower temperature on the windowsill helps. The tinfoil works really well; apart from the fact that the seedlings are not as leggy, I noticed that without it the seedlings tend to "lean" towards the window, looking for light; with the foil, they don't. I removed one side of a box, attached the box lid to the side, and lined all in foil so the seedlings have tinfoil a few inches higher than the pots on 3 sides, and the windowsill on the other.

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  Jeff Buffington on 3/11/2010, 11:29 pm

Is it better to try onions from seed? I tried some last year but nothing ever grew...and it if did, it was choked out by all the weeds.

I picked up some bulbs last year, but the all disintigrated over the winter, never had a chance to plant 'em. Sad

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  boffer on 3/12/2010, 12:23 am

I have very good success growing white onions/scallions from seed. Big onions, like walla wallas, I usually plant sets. But I've never had much luck with them, and I don't know why.

I'm pretty sure the problem is me, cause other people seem to do OK around here.

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  rjbokleman on 3/12/2010, 9:21 am

@Jeff Buffington wrote:Is it better to try onions from seed? I tried some last year but nothing ever grew...and it if did, it was choked out by all the weeds.

I picked up some bulbs last year, but the all disintigrated over the winter, never had a chance to plant 'em. Sad

Not sure about "better", but I'm giving it a try. To cover my bases, I've also ordered sets and plants.

Since I'm in New England, I wanted to purchase seed, sets, and plants from a company near my area. I decide to order everything from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine.

To be specific, Copra Plants, Forum Sets, Sierra Blanca Plants. Seeds were Copra, Sierra Blanca, and Gunnison. Johnny's is changing to Patterson from Copra and they sent me a free packet of seeds for Patterson and I've planted 6 of those as well to see how they do.

All the seeds were placed in vermiculite clear plastic plant saucers. The kind used to protect furniture from wet pots. At 29 cents each you can't go wrong and used two of them to make a mini-greenhouse for the seed. Placed them on a warming mat and they germinated in 4-5 days! Once they germinated I'm moving them to peat pots now and keeping them in the window for light. Seem ok so far, just a little leggy as I mentioned before, but I've taken them out of that HydroFarm Hot House and moved them to peat pots. They seem to be doing better now thanks to Deb's suggestion.

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  Lavender Debs on 3/12/2010, 11:33 am

@Jeff Buffington wrote:Is it better to try onions from seed? I tried some last year but nothing ever grew...and it if did, it was choked out by all the weeds.


Better? Better is whatever puts onion in your soup. One of my gram'mas grew beautiful onions every year, the other had to get them from the market. There may be a little skill, a bit of luck and a tad-bit of magic involved. Curing them is another issue, one I'm sure we will discuss in the months to come. Ha! I've had onion patches that nothing grew but the weeds (which were oddly onion scented when I pulled them up)

If I want onions or leeks at the end of the season then I tend to be a belt and suspenders sort of gal. I like the idea of starting from seed (I also like the variety and price) but having sets or starts keeps the stock pot happy. That said, I am resisting buying sets this year. I no longer live in a mountain valley and am banking on a slightly longer season on both ends of the summer.

@Jeff Buffington wrote:I picked up some bulbs last year, but the all disintigrated over the winter, never had a chance to plant 'em.
Even though they are small and dry on the outside, bulbs are living plants rather than potential plants like seeds. They need to be kept cool with the right humidity to stay alive. I plan to get them into the ground within 48 hours of buying them. As I understand it, the reason onions are considered "better" from seed is that they are less likely to go to seed early then sets or starts. I suppose that if a girl plants a whole field of onions then this would be a big, labor intensive problem. It just doesn't seem like much of a problem in my little patch, probably even less of a problem in a SFG because it is really not a big deal to pinch off the seed pod in a small garden. Once I do that all the energy goes back to the root instead of reproduction. That leaves the major advantage of variety with seeds.


Boff, I don't grow Walla Walla's, but family who do plant them in late summer, over-winter them and harvest them the following July. Same with garlic. I see Walla Walla plants at the Farmers Co-op that are about the size of an overwintered WW. They are fairly reasonable. Maybe try those and see if you don't get a nice size bulb for the BBQ on 4th of July (or maybe labor day . . .is that the one right before school).

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  boffer on 3/12/2010, 11:57 am

Thanks Deb,
I've just recently, last year, started paying attention to this over-wintering thing. I left a dozen small WWs in the ground just to see what would happend. I pulled a dozen and left them on a shelf in the garage. They started growing just laying there on the shelf. I stuck them in the ground last weekend. We'll see. Our horseradish from last year is 3 inches tall. My wife wised up and put a "no pulling weeds zone" sign up. She had been wondering why she was having problems with her horseradish!

Windy as all get out around here today

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  dixie on 3/19/2010, 8:57 am

@boffer wrote:I have very good success growing white onions/scallions from seed. Big onions, like walla wallas, I usually plant sets. But I've never had much luck with them, and I don't know why.

I'm pretty sure the problem is me, cause other people seem to do OK around here.

For big onions I just press the set into the soil, don't cover. (Don't know if it will work, but here is an image link I found to give you an idea)
http://www.modernvictorygarden.com/

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  dixie on 3/19/2010, 8:59 am

LOL
wrong link, but I just found that site & it has fantastic pics of their garden beds.

Onion should be
http://www.greengardensfarm.com/slideshow/15

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Re: Onions from seed...

Post  dixie on 3/19/2010, 9:07 am

I give up. I did right click/copy link location, didn't work.


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growing onions

Post  ander217 on 4/7/2010, 7:52 pm

I tried sowing onion seeds directly into my row-style garden one year - heh, heh, you should have seen me trying to weed around the little green hairs with a tweezer.

I've always had good luck with my onions that I grew from plants or sets. I watch carefully and any that develop with a thick neck get pulled for green onions. The thin-necked onions keep better in storage.

We planted three of our grids this spring with red starts. The only downside I see to using starts is that we can't always get the varieties we want.

I've ordered potato onions for planting this fall. I've gotten a good start of them twice and had them wiped out when our neighbor sprayed his wheat for garlic on a windy day. Maybe third time's charm.

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Re: Onions from seed...

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