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A Sleeper Onion

January 8, 2013

Gardeners like to take chances and sometimes those chances work out in our favor 😉  Last year while conversing with a gardening friend, she shared just how much she liked the torpedo onions she grew.  She didn’t expect much from them and just was filling an allium gap.  Somewhere between finishing off her last slimey Walla Walla onions and before getting into her storage onion stash.

Red Long of Tropea - January 8, 2012

Red Long of Tropea – January 8, 2012

Another thing gardeners do is bend rules, or challenge what we read, hear and see.  I decided to bite on these onions they sounded so good.  Besides seed is cheap, if things work out, great, if not, you’re not out too much cash.  The rule I decided to bend was to use expensive real estate (greenhouse) to grow an inexpensive crop, namely cooking onions.   Lately I have been justifying using my greenhouse for inexpensive run of the mill crops along with other warm weather crops that need the protection the greenhouse affords in my rainy Cascadia clime.  My reasoning is that yes, onions are an inexpensive crop to purchase, but why not grow something that is easy to grow and store for months here?  No traveling to the store, no job to earn the money to buy the onions from the store, no taxes paid on those earnings I needed to buy the “cheap” onions from the store.  You get the picture.  Maybe growing something I use several times a day 365 days a year is a good crop for me to spend some time and effort on.

I was NOT happy with a recent list making the rounds of frugality based blogs.  Onions were on the list of things to not bother buying organic because they did not test as high in residues as other vegetables, because onions are a natural insect repellent…hmmm, I happen to think herbicides are just as important to avoid if possible.  Maybe onions don’t really have an uptake issue, but if you don’t want to see herbicides used don’t buy crops that rely on them.  Anyone reading this that has tried to grow onions on any scale knows that they do not have much in the way of leaf cover to shade out weeds, and they need lots of attention to detail, weeding, irrigating etc.  You can’t tell me that non-organic onion growers  don’t take advantage of pre and post emergence herbicides to control weeds.  I would suggest before you decide what to buy organic or not, you look at all that is involved in getting that cheap crop to you.  If you can’t figure out how a crop is grown, just do an internet search for crop production guidelines.  You will find out how crops are grown on a big scale, and that may help you  make your decision, don’t just base your decision on what you read here or what some primal blogger tells you, do the research yourself.  Or better yet, grow them yourself 🙂

Back to the Red Long of Tropea onions, though, I devoted one 4 x 10 bed in the greenhouse.  My reasoning was that I do irrigate the greenhouse, as opposed to dryland gardening outside.  I knew I would pay attention to these onions if they were in the greenhouse right next to the hose bibb, outside they would have to survive on their own.  I would keep them weeded (yeah right) and watered and they would grow into amazing specimens.

Red Long of Tropea

Red Long of Tropea

Well, I actually pulled it off, the onions did very well, for a cheap packet of seed and a little attention I got about 40 pounds of onions.  I had no idea that they would do so well, or that they would keep for so long.  A few are just now starting to sprout, but considering these are not keeping onions, keeping into January isn’t too shabby.  They are delicious, beautiful and a nice intermediate size compared to my storage onions.  I’m sold on onions in the greenhouse, even though it is expensive real estate compared to the outside gardens, for me it was a good use of that space.  And in the waste not, want mode, I am planting the sprouting torpedo onions in pots for green onions now, and for seed saving… .

16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2013 4:31 am

    Onions are so easy to grow, I can’t imagine why anyone would not grow them. I buy the bulbs (100 in a package). For under ten dollars, I can supply my household with a year’s supply of organic onions. To reduce weeds, I use wood shavings or mulch. I also plant onions between other plants like potatoes, digging them up at the same time. I haven’t tried torpedo onions, but maybe I will this summer. Thanks.

  2. January 9, 2013 5:07 am

    Hi there! I found your blog, just recently, and am enjoying the insightful posts. I’ve never grown this particular onion – may give it a try. We are ferocious onion consumers.
    Have a great week!

  3. January 9, 2013 6:21 am

    So you say onions are easy, but what I’ve read is that after they hit the green onion part, you have to transplant them? Or have I misunderstood? How do you get the onions to bulb out? I tried them one year and left them in ALL summer (so that March to Oct) and they never bulbed out. I figured I did something wrong, but I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what (thought I’ve not given it all that much thought time). Do you just plant the seeds and be done? (keep watered, weeded.) Do you start them in flats inside first? I’d love thoughts!

    • January 9, 2013 7:27 am

      Mama Rachael, onions can be easy or difficult. You can plant them from seeds, or sets or buy plants to set out. There are many different varieties and where you live makes a difference on what type you need to plant, long day or short day. As a general rule sweet onions aren’t keepers and cooking onions are. I like to start my onions in flats and then transplant the little seedlings out, but I also like onion sets (the little bulbs that you see on the seed racks), it’s up to you what works best for you.

      Any good seed catalog will have a good explanation about onions and recommendations for your area. This is also a good site with lots of information:

  4. January 9, 2013 6:21 am

    Those look wonderful!! (I didn’t know onions could be slimy, eww.)

    What do they taste like? I like onions, but I don’t like the bite of the non sweet onion varieties. And what’s the difference between storage and non-storage onions? I’ve never heard of storage onions before, but I’m a city-person.

    • January 9, 2013 7:29 am

      Kerry, well, my girlfriend and I leave our sweet onions in the ground and harvest as they go, they do keep better that way, but once the fall rains start they can get a little slimey much like leeks.

      These are fairly strong, but cook up nice. I like the intermediate size, not too small and not too big. All the hard yellow or red onions you see in the produce section are usually storage onions unless they are marked sweet onions.

  5. January 9, 2013 6:29 am

    I completely agree with your reasoning for growing the cheap staple vegetables like onions. I cook with onions most every day too, and it annoys me to have to buy something that really is so easy to grow, and store. Same for carrots, potatoes, garlic, winter squash… uh, well I guess really just about everything, the list gets long. 🙂

    It’s a bit more work and takes planning and organizing though, Most folks just don’t want to put the effort into something so readily available in the supermarket.

    • January 9, 2013 7:30 am

      TD, I agree with your agreeing 😉 It does take work, but I would rather be at home than shopping 🙂 Plus there is just something about the glaucous color of alliums in the garden, I love seeing that!

  6. January 9, 2013 6:37 am

    Grow onions every year . Cheap crop to grow especially from seeds. A good straw mulch helps cut down weeding. I like Australian Brown, Candy and I like to have green onions in the freezer. Have you ever tried the perennial onions? I was thinking of getting a start of the Egyptian Walking or the Potato Onion and trying them. As for the frugality blogs, I’m a rebel and I grow what I eat most. We eat onions at the least once a day in something.

    • January 9, 2013 7:33 am

      CQ, I like the potato onions, they keep easily 18 months. They aren’t too large but an excellent choice for a home gardener who doesn’t want to buy seeds.

  7. Diana Smith permalink
    January 9, 2013 6:57 am

    Grew an heirloom variety of onions called Dakota Tears last year and highly recommend them. See they are already sold out at High Mowing so others must have liked them,too. Since I wanted to save seed I put them in the bed nearest my water source and they grew bigger than any onions I’ve grown; most over a lb.each.. Mulced them heavily with straw so not much weeding. Water was the key ’cause we were in a horrible drought here . So much so that my irrigation tubing arrived yesterday. Not going to have another bad year like 2012!

    Personally think when I grow from seed I get the best crops. ..Always enjoy your posts on the varieities you like best for taste and production. Our neighbors don’t understand why we grow beets or rutabags (love those Joans). Everyone here puts in a patch of ‘maters and beans and they all go to weeds by July.They get plants from our greenhouse, come by later in the year and marvel at our gardens….well, you can’t just stick ’em in the dirt and hope for fantastic results with no effort !

    • January 9, 2013 7:38 am

      Diana, I agree, we sold some vegetable plants to a neighbor and were horrified to see later in the year that she had planted them in a backfill area in her yard, but had planted flowers in a raised bed which she amended to all get out with purchased chicken and steer manure. She had to take us over to her pitiful little bolting veggies and show us that we didn’t know what varieties to grow since she lived at such a high elevation! She actually lives in a little settlement about 2 miles and 500 feet higher up the road, where pioneers that settled here had great gardens, but apparently things have changed in the last 100 years 😉 Needless to say, she has given up on veggie gardening, thank heavens!

      Dakota Tears sounds interesting 🙂

  8. January 9, 2013 9:14 am

    You just can’t have too many onions is my motto. Where ever I have a gap I’ve put in onions- but then I use them multiple times a day too. Once I got the weeding part under control it made things much easier. Thick straw was my lifesaver.

    • January 9, 2013 8:28 pm

      Linda, I agree you can’t have enough onions! Or garlic! The mulch factor was my point exactly, you aren’t going to find any big growers using mulch, because of the cost and labor involved in spreading it. If you want to avoid chemicals you need to grow your own or seek out small growers that use the methods you want to support. But I think consumers read a list like that and think oh, ok no chemicals here, and in most cases that isn’t true.

  9. Dana S permalink
    January 9, 2013 9:53 am

    To go off the trail of onion (tears) for a moment, I was considering your comments about frugality and pesticides and it struck me that me easiest crop for most of the year, kale, is the only one that I spray with Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew. In spring and late summer, the cabbage moths are pure evil to get rid of and during those few weeks, I’m angrily squishing green worms, blasting the leaves with the hose, covering with fabric and, finally, giving in and spraying them with the Brew. It’s the only plant I spray, so it would seem to be the one I should get rid of if it is this high maintenance. But I like how well it keeps in the winter, so I’m conflicted. Actually, I think I also sprayed my cauliflower last year since it was next to the kale. And the brussels sprouts. Darn it. Brassicas are the only buggy plants I grow, but I love them. I grow Lacinato kale – do you have brassica varieties that don’t get bugs that you recommend?

    • January 9, 2013 8:24 pm

      Dana, I grow lots of brassicas as well, probably too many, but they sure are good 🙂 I think the Brix level in the plant makes the most difference, insects tend to shy away from high Brix level plants and attack the weak ones. This summer I had a terrible time with my Lacinato kale and it was smack dab in the middle of two rows of 6 different kinds of kale, those plants were the only ones with worms, and they ended up with some aphids too. I squished and cussed and waited and now those Lacinato plants look pretty good, of course it’s too late for cabbage worms, but some of the other kales succumbed to freezing and those goofy Dino kales look pretty darn good. When I see insects like that I tend to up my game on soil amendments instead of assuming it’s just what happens with brassicas. But I have had years when the assault was awful, especially in newish ground that isn’t quite there yet as far as gardening goes. I hope that helps a little, but it’s just my perspective and I could be totally wrong too 😦

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