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Direct seeding onions

 
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In my climate, most people start their onions inside in February. I have a couple of friends who start theirs in April, but it a variety that matures in 60 days.

I was wondering if anybody has had experience direct seeding onions in an area where the last frost is around mid-May and the first frost around mid-Sept with long summer days (15.5 hrs at the solstice).

I read that the Early Yellow Globe onion can be directly seeded.
 
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I've ordered several varieties that i plan to direct seed here at Wheaton Labs. Most of the seed catalogs i looked at had directions for either transplanting or direct seeding of onions. Our climate is something similar to what you describe. I'll let you know how it turns out.
 
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Perennial Leek aka Elephant Garlic grows easily from seed and is a super tough plant, surviving here with no irrigation.  It will propagate by self seeding and division.



 
Adrien Lapointe
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What varieties did you order?
 
Fred Tyler
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For my plot, I ordered Early NY, Crystal White, Clear Dawn, and Dakota Tears. Any of which might be saved for seed the following year. For basecamp I ordered Red Bull, Talon, and Patterson, all hybrids we will not be saving for seed.

We are hedging our bets with 100 transplants as well.
 
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I did it once with decent success.  They were grown in a raised bed, seed planted a week or so before expected last frost.  A decent harvest was had, but the onions were smaller than I would have liked.  I can't remember the particular variety, though I would say being at my latitude they were a long day variety.  I've since gone back to starting my seed early and transplanting after danger of frost.  I get bigger onions and a better harvest.
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Perennial Leek aka Elephant Garlic grows easily from seed and is a super tough plant, surviving here with no irrigation.  It will propagate by self seeding and division.





This is good to know because I saved seed from my elephant garlic last year on the off chance.  There was no reference to saving elephant garlic seed in any of my seed saving books.  

I planted the original elephant garlic cloves in August of Year 1 and over-wintered them in our damp, cold temperate climate under a mulch of autumn leaves (despite the books saying they were too tender to do so).  They produced a fabulous set of seed heads by July/August in Year 2.  I had to stake them as they were about 3 to 4 ft tall. When the individual seeds stopped being milky and turned black, I cut the heads off with a good length of stem and stood them in an old glass bottle to dry in a warm room for a couple of months before removing the seeds from the seed heads.  The drying seed heads are beautifully ornamental too.        
 
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If fall planting onion seeds, I recommend a short day onion. Something like Walla Walla.
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
If fall planting onion seeds, I recommend a short day onion. Something like Walla Walla.



I was unaware that it was possible to plant onion seeds in the Fall in the cold continental climate of northern Utah. I am currently in west central Ohio and I plan to move a few miles south to Cincinnati so I need to decide how best to utilize my precious nursery greenhouse space in the first year.

Most tutorials I find on growing onions directly from seed in temperate climates instruct you to start them indoors underneath grow lights at least eight weeks before the last frost. I am concerned though about encouraging a strong root system in the onion plants, conserving as much irrigation water as possible, and minimizing electricity used on grow lights for seed starting.

Starting the onions indoors adds the risk of plant death during the hardening off process and the possibility that the transplanted onions never develop as deep a root system as directly-sown plants. I really hope I don't absolutely have to start my onions indoors if I want to guarantee optimal yield in my climate. Maybe there are companion plants that I can intercrop with the onions in the annual/biennial beds to protect the onions during germination.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I put around 100 onion seeds in a 3" pot in about January. Four 4 months before last spring frost, and transplant them into the garden after the snow melts mid-March, still 2 months before the end of spring frosts.

I don't notice transplant shock with onions.
 
Ryan M Miller
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I put around 100 onion seeds in a 3" pot in about January. Four 4 months before last spring frost, and transplant them into the garden after the snow melts mid-March, still 2 months before the end of spring frosts.

I don't notice transplant shock with onions.



Given the unpredictable nature of Allium seed germination, this method might still be practical. Books on seed saving give the lifespan on onion seeds as only two years without freezing them and true seed from garlic (A. sativa) can have germination rates as low as ten percent. I've been wondeing if the lost wild ancestor of onions behaved more like shallots and produced secondary bulbs alongside a main bulb and used clonal reproduction as the plant's main method of dispersal.
 
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