Onions in NJ

vikingkirken(6b)January 1, 2011

I haven't had much success with onions in the few years I've been trying. It might be because my soil is fairly sandy, or my garden isn't quite sunny enough, or I'm not watering them, or I'm crowding them... or I'm not choosing the right variety. I'm not entirely sure. Whatever I'm doing wrong, it results in onions that sort of bobble around on top of the soil and never get very big (although they store VERY well).

I'm hoping if I can narrow down some of the variables, I can increase my odds for success this year. So... should I in NJ be growing long-day or short-day onions? I'm not really in the north OR the south...! Also, my garden gets 6-8 hours of sun (depending on which bed you're looking at), so it's technically full sun but not in the sun all day long. The rest of the time, it's "open shade". Does this make any difference when considering which day length onions to choose?

Does anyone have suggestions for varieties to try? Or ideas about what I'm doing wrong?


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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Most (good) catalogues will give you the latitude break for the onion and whether short- or long-day. Look at Johnny's for good descriptions. Most are 35N or 38; one degree either way isn't going to ruin crop. Shade has little to do with daylength, but everything to do with energy for photosynthesis. As for what you are doing wrong, impossible to tell with the way the info was given. Likely more sun, fert early with plenty of N, adequate water; treat onion as a leaf crop early and feed the tops heavily to develop the actual onion.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 12:38PM
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Concur: You should be able to grow either long day or intermediate/day neutral onions. Onions are heavy feeders, especially nitrogen as they are essentially a leaf crop not a root crop. The size of the bulb is relative to the size and number of leaves. Varieties vary widely in size, so choice is most important. As is appropriate planting time.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 1:29PM
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Thanks all...

Farmerdill, when should I be planting onions in zone 6? I am hoping to start from seed, and was planning to start them this month indoors, then set them out after frost. Does that sound right? My onions have been pretty scrawny when I set them out the past two years. Maybe I need to be fertilizing more while they're still under lights inside...

Last year I planted Yellow of Parma onions, and the largest one I got was maybe a little bigger than a golf ball =( They're supposed to get to a good size. I hadn't considered nitrogen... that may be the culprit. I've focused more on the other nutrients with onions, and I plant intensively, so it's very possible they haven't been getting enough nitrogen. Would frequent fish emulsion applications help?

It's discouraging, because I get beautiful peppers, tomatoes, swiss chard, lettuce, a few other veggies... but so many other things I'm still trying to figure out, and I am trying to feed our family as much as possible from a ~600 sq ft garden.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 3:15PM
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Growing onions from seed is tricky,I have never been successful doing it so hope someone who does chimes in. The problem is that you need hardened plants ready to be transplanted just after the spring thaw (the old as the ground can be worked axiom)If you start indoors, the plants will be tender and you have to have extra time to get hardened off for the great outdoors. You need full tops at the summer solstice for maximum bulbs with long day onions.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 3:55PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

I've stopped growing from sets and grow from seed. You need to warm the soil and keep it warm and I don't seed too heavily as that is more work later. I use the film from Johnny's for all my soil warming. I side-dress with blood meal before seeding, about 2" down. My seed packs from last year indicate I seeded on 4/3 in Z5 - ~6 weeks prior to last frost. I had old coldframe windows,

then hoops over seedlings until last frost.

The #2 above is the soil warming film.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 4:48PM
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So I should be sowing onions outside at the same time as peas? Can I sow them in a coldframe and then transplant, and if so, can that get started even earlier?

I will try the sidedressing with bloodmeal at planting time... do you continue fertilizing through the growing season, or is that enough?

Thanks for the tips!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 5:21PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

I direct seed onion in the garden. I don't have time nor the patience to sow anything in a 2" pot, transplant to a 4" pot, then harden off, then plant out. If you do it right, direct seeding turns out better than sets, as the conditions are uniform throughout life cycle. My bed gets compost and manure in very late fall so I can start ASAP in spring, esp for onions and cool season greens. And as Farmerdill states, you want top growth to go well for a long time so energy can be created and stored below ground, and any interruption sets you back.

My peas go out at ~the same time as onions in spring. Onion is a heavy feeder, so they get - as above - lots of liquid N early as well, maybe every ~2-3 weeks-ish then I cut back as they get nearer to being pulled and cured.

I imagine you can start even earlier in a coldframe if it is well-insulated, depends on the weather I suppose and soil conditions. Direct seed with my new portable cold frames is how I'm doing it this late Mar-April, weather depending, esp at the intersection of mountains and Great Plains.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 7:22PM
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Thank you so much for this thread. I have had mixed success with onions also. I was beginning to think it was because our long days aren't quite long enough for long-day onions, but are too long for southern onions. Thanks all for your suggestions. I think I will direct seed under my clear plastic bin "greenhouses." BTW, those boxes have kept lettuce going and growing through many nights in the teens this year. I do keep a jug of water under each.

Good to here that it's almost time to plant again!


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 9:49PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Jeez, I've grown onions from seed for years, most recently Copra and Redwing. I sow in flats in early March, carry the flats outside daily to a sheltered sunny spot as soon as they're up, carry them in every night temps are going to be below freezing until the plants have some thickness to them. As they grow, I trim them back to 3 inches a couple of times with scissors. I set them out in early April and side dress with Espoma Bulb Tone, mulch with hay, and that's it until I harvest huge onions in early August.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 6:18AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Hepatica, what's a clear plastic bin "greenhouse" ?


    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 10:12AM
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I grow my onions from plants that I order from Dixondale Farms. So far, here in zone 6, I've had great success with Copra and Red Zeppelin onions. Sterlings did well too, but they didn't store very well. The Copras and Red Zeppelins are still doing great in storage right now. If you check their website, they have growing tips and maps to help you determine what kind of onions you should grow, how, and when to plant.

Here is a link that might be useful: My Garden

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 3:13PM
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Dan, my "greenhouses" are old storage totes, of the clear type (about 3'x18"x 20"tall). Once they have cracked they are relegated to garden duty. I wouldn't go out specially to buy much of anything for my garden, except seeds! Anyway, they are inverted over small patches of lettuce, with the milk jug of water inside to moderate temps and they serve as mini greenhouses. Perhaps one day I will begin with the hoops over the raised beds, covered with clear plastic, but so far this is working. January may be the big test.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 8:38PM
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Check the "Winter Sowing" forum here....there seems to be vast numbers of people who sow onion seeds and are very successful.

I am impressed by the people on this forum who have become very resourceful and successful starting every imaginable flower and veggie from seed. This is my first year so can't give you any personal advice, but know enough to pass along who CAN help you! Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Winter Sowing Onions

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 10:56PM
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Starting with plants instead of seeds or sets will increase the size of the onion. You should also know your pH level, onions like it between 6.0-7.0. I have listed some good varieties (couple were already mentioned) for your area.

Here is a link that might be useful: Long Day Onions

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 6:44AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Hepatica, there's a reason to switch to clear totes!



    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 9:45AM
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Sounds like wintersowing in my cold frame might be the way to go... and I will definitely douse them with a lot of fish emulsion while they're growing. Thanks all for your ideas! Hopefully I can finally grow some good onions this year!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 10:56AM
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