What Day is it Sacramento?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Onion Bed After Planting-Bird Back 40
The answer is "Intermediate-Day." The answer is always "Intermediate-Day" no matter what time of the day or week it is. You see -- this is a trick question.

How dare I do such a thing!

The raised planting bed to your immediate right contains one of our latest outdoor gardening projects (there are indoor projects that I will get too later, of course). What are those little things that look like tiny matchsticks in the ground?

They are onions.

Onions? You mean, green onions? NOPE! These are going to be -- hopefully I might add -- regular sized onions in a few months. Remember what I told you about gardening and experimentation?

This is one of those experiments.

Onions in a Box? How Quaint!
It's also called "following advice." South Natomas grower Nels Christensen has been pushing me to try his grand onion planting adventure for a couple of years now. When he delivered one of the fattest red onions I'd ever seen to my front doorstep last year -- I thought he might be onto something.

Fat onions = Good times.

This year -- my onions arrived in a neatly packed box (pictured above left). In past years? I have always relied upon onion sets. These weren't always reliable. Although they did produce some whoppers -- they were usually far and few between. Most could be considered disappointing and I had always wondered what I might be doing wrong.

For the uninformed -- onion sets are small bulbs less than 1" in diameter. In the Sacramento Valley, they are usually planted in late fall – about the same time as garlic bulbs – to produce big onions. They can also be planted in the early spring to produce green (salad) onions. For me? It didn't matter when or where I planted them. I usually wound up with a few whoppers and lots and lots of green onions.

Box Packed with Onion Starter Plants-Dixondale Farms
But after Nels dropped off the fattest red onion I'd seen come out of a backyard garden -- well -- that kind of peaked my interest a bit. Nels has got a bit of a head start on me in this gardening game -- and it's never a good idea to ignore good advice (although I sometimes do).

This year -- I decided to do something a little different. I passed on the sets offered up at local nurseries and took a flier on a place called Dixondale Farms -- a big onion operation out of central Texas. It's near the town of Pancake, and by looking at several photos of the operation in question, I wondered if the town earned it's name due to the fact that the surrounding land is as flat as a -- uh -- you know.

It was on the Dixondale Farms website where I learned I'd been making a series of blunders regarding my onion plantings. As it turns out? Not all onions are created equal. In the United States, there are three different classifications of onions: Long-Day, Intermediate-Day and Short-Day.

Venus planting Candy Apple Red Variety
If you make the mistake of planting a Long Day variety in a zone set aside for Intermediate-Day or Short-Day onions? According to Dixondale Farms -- you're in a world of hurt. You're going to get a few whoppers and lots of small green onions.

This had a ring of truth to it -- at least for me. Sacramento is officially classified in the Intermediate-Day zone. That's news to me, since I had no clue these zones existed. Worse yet, I would come to find out that most onion sets sold at nurseries are Long-Day zone varieties. It means that no matter how good your soil, water and fertilizer regimen is: you're going to get a few whoppers and lots of smallish green onions.

I'm not going to go into the science of it all -- because I do my best not to bore people to death on this blog (Hey! WAKE UP!). But if you're really into onions -- and want to "read all about it" as they say -- I suggest you spend 30-45 minutes on the Dixondale Farms website. Plus -- those youtube videos they host are really campy.

Dixondale Farms youtube Page

If you ever wondered what happened to Jed Clampett and the Beverly Hillbillies -- now you know (no disrepect intended there, Jed). These people know their onions.

So -- bottom line? In the Bird Back 40 this year the wife that is Venus and I have planted three different varieties of Intermediate-Day onions: Candy, Red Candy Apple and Super Star. They were not shipped as sets, either. These arrived as living plants -- fresh from the field -- each tightly wrapped bundle containing anywhere from 50-75 onion starters.

Do the math people. If experience a success rate of just 50% -- that's nearly 100 onions. Do you really think we're going to eat 100 onions? Plus -- I've been assured by Nels and others who use Dixondale Farms that the success rate is much higher.

Onions Ready for Transplanting!
These onions -- which required an investment of less than $20 (free shipping too -- these people don't muss around) -- were planted in three different raised beds on the day that they arrived. They have already taken root in our mild winter weather here on the Left Coast and are growing like -- well -- onions.

So -- if you happen to see a North Natomas couple shedding more than a few tears later this summer around onion harvest time -- don't be sad. You'll know this is one of those rare experiments that actually worked.