Thursday, March 11, 2010

Garden Journal 3/11/10: Growing Onions from Purchased Plants - Ordering and Planning

1015Y Texas SuperSweet onions harvested last June.

Realization of the Day:
Despite numerous failures and disappointments in the garden over the years, when it comes to buying seeds and plants I'm still a consummate optimist. I also have no self control. This can be a dangerous combination—and pricey, too.

Last spring was the first time I grew onions from purchased plants rather than onion sets, and despite the fact that many of them bloomed way too early (which means I ended up with some fairly small onions) I enjoyed some delicious success—and still ended up with bigger onions than I've ever grown from sets. (The flowering was most likely due to some wet and wacky spring weather, and I'm hoping to cover this problem in a future post). I wrote a little about last year's onion growing here and here.

For experiment's sake, in late February of 2009 I ordered a total of 10 bunches (approximately 60 plants per bunch) of 9 different varieties of onions (along with hundreds of leek plants—which was a whole other growing adventure I've been meaning to write about) from Dixondale Farms in Texas, the oldest and largest onion farm in the U.S.

I'm running a little later with my ordering and planting this year, but according to Dixondale's shipping schedule, March 9th was their suggested ship date for my area. I also ordered fewer plants and fewer varieties, sticking to the ones that did the best for me last year.

More below. . .

Some of my 2009 harvest: Red Candy Apple, 1015Y Texas Super Sweet, and others.

Here's what I ordered yesterday:
2 bunches 1015Y Texas Super Sweet
2 bunches Red Candy Apple
1 bunch Candy
1 bunch Super Star

The 1015Y Texas Super Sweets (so named because October 15th is the Texas planting date) are a Short-Day open pollinated variety. Red Candy Apple, Candy, and Super Star are Intermediate-Day hybrids. I don't usually allow hybrids in my kitchen garden, preferring to grow open pollinated heirlooms instead, but I make an exception when it comes to onions and leeks, rationalizing that homegrown hybrids are definitely better than none.

According to Dixondale's 'Which Varieties are Right for You' map, Intermediate-Day are the best type of onions to grow here in southern Missouri. I didn't learn until last year that the size of an onion bulb is dependent upon daylength and temperature, not the size of the plants.

I really liked the flavor of the Red Candy Apples—so sweet, and the size was good. I couldn't get enough of them in this Garbanzo Bean Salad with Red Onion, Scallions, Cilantro, Parsley, and Feta Cheese.

I'm embarrassed to admit that none of the yellow Candys ever made it into the ground (I ordered too many onion plants last year!), but since it's Dixondale's most popular variety (they sold over 85 million in 2009), I have high hopes. They say this variety will work almost everywhere in the country and is great for beginner gardeners.

6/5/09: Just harvested super star onions laid out to cure before storing.

The Super Star onions started blooming early, so I ended up picking them on the small side, but the flavor of this white globe-shaped variety was very nice, and the plants were vigorous. And as you can see in the top photo, the 1015Y Texas Super Sweets—which are indeed sweet—did quite well.

If you're gardening by the moonsigns, the best time to plant onions—even though they grow below ground like potatoes and garlic—is on a fertile day in the first quarter, so if all goes according to plan (new bouncing baby lambs and other unexpected farm stuff notwithstanding), I'll be putting mine in the ground on the 18th, 19th, and/or 20th when the moon is in Taurus. You can read more about minding the moonsigns here and here.

In an effort to post more often on this poor neglected garden blog (and keep better track of what's going on in my garden!), my new goal is to write shorter posts (okay, I'm failing miserably so far) that focus on just one or two points. I plan to hopefully write more about growing onions, including soil prep, onion planting, an amazing way I discovered to organically control weeds, troubleshooting, and growing tips in the near future.

In the meantime, you'll find lots of helpful information about growing onions, including online and downloadable guides, on the newly redesigned Dixondale Farms website.

Are you growing onions this year? Any favorite varieties, stories, tips, or other oniony info you'd like to share?

Previous onion posts:
6/2/09: Harvesting Spring Onions Grown from Purchased Plants
10/8/09: Growing Short Day Onion Varieties in Spring and Free Green Onions in Fall
6/7/08: What To Do with 125 Green Onions (Scallions)
6/7/08: Wanted: Your Recipes and Favorite Ways to Use Green Onions
6/12/05: Growing Onions In The Garden
It's Time to Plant Onions!
Operation Onion Complete!
Companion Planting Beets & Lettuce with Onions

Scallions and spring onions should be here soon!
Sour Cream & Onion Dip
Savory Cheese & Scallion Scones
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip
Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw
Summer in a Bowl
Colors of Summer Salad
Healthy Swiss Chard Tuna Salad with Kalamata Olives
Swiss Chard Cabbage Salad with Garbanzo Beans and Cottage Cheese
Garbanzo Bean Salad with Red Onion, Scallions, Cilantro, Parsley, and Feta Cheese
Sprinkled on top of Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip
Three Onion & Three Cheese Pizza

©, the happy to have onion breath foodie farm blog where buying too much and planting too much are half the fun of gardening, right?


  1. So excited to see a post to your garden blog come through my reader this morning - my garden says Hi.

    Or something.

    Anyway, yes, I've considered growing onions for a number of years, but haven't done it because of the space requirements. Do you plant yours in raised beds? How many do you plant in a season?

    I'm curious to see if this might be feasible for my 2011 garden. Of course, this year's plan is already full. Which would explain why I've got potatoes growing in tires.

  2. So glad you updated! We're in Minnesota, and have tried growing onion bulbs 3 years now, and our biggest onion is the size of a golfball. Very disappointing.

    This year we ordered Yellow of Parma from Baker Creek and our onion seedlings are about 3 inches tall so far! We are also moving them to the sunnier garden, since I also was completely unaware that the darn onions need lots of light to bulb out. So we're going to give the bulbs another chance in the sunnier garden as well.

    Hope your onions turn out fantastic this year!

  3. I've tried onions twice, but they never get very big. I was told the deeper you plant them the smaller the bulb will grow or maybe it is the other way around. I can't remember. I know I've tried both deep planting and not deep planting and both times I ended up with very small bulbs, same for my garlic.
    I'm trying again this year, but now sure yet what variety I'm going to try.

  4. I had good luck with shallots last year but NO luck with onions in the same bed! Someone told me that they shouldn't be planted with potatoes (the other occupants of that corner) - any truth to this? I'm moving them (and the shallots) to a different bed this year - here's hoping!

  5. I love it when you post in your garden blog, Susan. Whether long or short, I get much needed inspiration from you.
    I have French gray shallots and scallions in the ground right now. They wintered over and so far don't seem to be any worse for the wear.
    You're giving me the courage I need to branch out and plant bigger onions - in our tannin-laden, iron-rich soil that even tons of compost doesn't seem to mitigate. :)

  6. I just found your site on BlogHer - I love it. I am so inspired to try growing some of these onions but am afraid I may have lost my window out here. Can I grow them in containers?

    Great site!

  7. Hi Susan, I usually buy from sets or starts, whatever the local farm stand has to offer.

    And I noticed your comment on stuff not going in the ground. When I have "extras" I'll just plant them wherever a space finds itself. May be among the flowers or where I've picked something. Plus, I'll drop in a set anytime during the year when I've got a spare space. If nothing else I'll get a green onion out of the deal!

    Love reading your garden adventures - gets me inspired in my chilly Indiana world.

  8. Thanks for the reference to the Dixondale Farms. I'm growing onions for the first time this year from sets purchased at a local nursery that only carries basic stock. It's great to have a source for onions that are not your typical nursery offering. I appreciate learning from your experiences since I also garden in the Midwest.

  9. We've kind of given up on onions. We rarely have enough water to grow them successfully, and we live about 40 miles from a serious onion-growing region. So we can buy huge bags of local onions from the farms for very little money, which makes growing them ourselves not necessary. Yay.

    We do always have leeks though. We just dug up the last of them this weekend. I love anything I can leave out in the garden in the winter and still eat in the spring.

  10. I just found your blog and coincidentally just made a note to get onion sets for this year's garden! The last time I grew onions, they were pretty small. My mom has great luck with onions. Sigh. Luckily, she shares! But, I have more garden space this year so I'm trying onions again.

  11. Wow you have a plethora of gardening wisdom! I found your blog via another gardening blog...I'm kind of blog-surfing (is that a word?) I'm hosting a garden meme/carnival and I'd love for you to link up your blog posts on Thursdays. Most of my readers are newbie gardeners and we are learning what we can from each other and expert gardeners (obviously, that's you!)...come join us on "How Does Your Garden Grow?"

  12. I ordered from Dixondale yesterday and can't wait to get my onions in. My husband thinks I'm a little obsessed with onions and I'm sure it will only get worse with my own harvest. Also, after reading about garlic on your blog I had to get some for my garden. I planted it last fall and it's coming up great! I can't wait. I love your all your garden info and stories. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Thanks for the link to the onion farm! I'm gonna try ordering a few sets for our garden.

  14. I am growing onions and garlic. Since I am in Texas, I thought the best on to start with was the 1015Y. These were obtained at a reputable local feed store. They look like they are bulbing. I got them in the ground late, and only a few survived, but I'm chalking that up to live and learn. Hoping to do more next year.

  15. I am bookmarking this post because I really want to grow onions this year. Thanks so much for your advice.

  16. I'm realizing all the wrong things I have done in the garden the more I read your posts. There is a HUGE learning curve with vegetable gardening... and this will only be my second year.

  17. We just finished putting out 4000 onion plants of 4 varieties. Willhite seed co in texas has excellent prices and varieties. Hopefully these will all do well. Hoping for some to mature but will mostly pull them green. We are just 10 miles north of Missouri state line...hopefully we planted them at the right time !

  18. I'm wondering how long it takes for your red candy apples to turn red, or if they do this after pulled.



March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!