[Market-farming] multiplier onions - Onions grown from bulbs

William H Shoemaker wshoemak at illinois.edu
Thu Mar 10 10:07:54 EST 2011


Dave

I have a large industry of onion set (planting bulbs) near me and can offer
a response.

Onion plants differ significantly from sets. Onion plants were produced by
planting seed in the south and harvesting young plants, shipping them north
to producers who transplant them for bulb production in the same season.
Onion sets (planting bulbs) however are produced by planting seed in the
Spring under extremely high population conditions and allowing them to grow
in intense competition, limiting size and development. They die back in late
summer, forming bulbs that are harvested for marketing as sets the next
season. As a result, they are a fully developed bulb, a one-year-old plant
from a species which is a biennial. That means it is genetically programmed
to produce a flower stalk and seed the following season. Onion plants won't
produce flower stalks or seed because they are still in the midst of their
first of two growing seasons as a biennial plant.

Growing bulbs from sets has a couple of important distinctions that are
important. First, when you buy sets, you'll usually find an assortment of
sizes. The larger sizes, usually larger in circumference than a dime, are
more conditioned for producing flower stalks. While you can produce bulbs
from these sets, it is important to snap off the flower stalks to force the
plant to feed energy to the bulbs. They end up a little larger and more
marketable that way. The smaller sets often are so small they weren't
conditioned well for flower production. They usually make better bulbs. But
if they still produce flower stalks, snap them off for the same reasons.
Growers in our region often use sets as their first bulbs of the season.
Because they are entering their second season they get off to a quick start
and form small bulbs that can be sold as green bulb onions with leaves, and
bunched. They are more valuable in the market that way than waiting until
they dry down late in the season and harvesting them as dry bulbs. The
growers use plants for that crop.

It's recommended that you divide sets, separating small sets from large
sets. Use the small ones for producing the green bulb bunching onions and
use the large ones to produce scallions, or green onions without bulbs. The
large sets produce these quickly and they are large but tender and tasty.
They do really well in the market.

Growing onions without backup irrigation is risky. They do fine in hot
weather as long as water isn't limited. But if you put drip irrigation on
onions, you'll see a dramatic response. Once you encounter dry conditions,
irrigate every 2-3 days. Onions have short roots and it takes little time
for them to run out of water. If they don't have water, they can't build
tissue. If free moisture is available, they will build tissue freely,
resulting in much larger bulbs, sometimes 2-3 times larger. It will be
dramatic if you stay on top of moisture demands.

If you use drip irrigation and have good seeding equipment, growing them
from seed can really be rewarding. You should use multiple rows in a bed and
irrigate frequently. Plant as early as ground can be worked and seed to
place in a perfect arrangement, and you'll have great onions, as long as you
don't let them suffer for moisture. Weed control is critical so plant where
weeds don't tend to be a problem.

Bill
William H. Shoemaker
Sr. Research Specialist, Food Crops
University of Illinois - Crop Sciences
St Charles Horticulture Research Center
535 Randall Road, St Charles, IL, 60174
630-584-7254, FAX-584-4610 
wshoemak at illinois.edu


Subject: Re: [Market-farming] multiplier onions - Onions grown from bulbs

I hope you don't mind if I slightly hijack this thread, but it reminded me 
of something we noticed with our onions last year, and wondered if others 
noticed this last year or in past years as well.
Last year we switched to growing our onions predominately from bulbs.  I've 
always used a fair amount of bulbs for my yellow cooking onions. (Sturon 
from Veseys seems to work good for us)  Last year I was able to get some red

and white bulbs as well.  We're in a short season area, and bulbs are 
usually more reliable, depending on the weather to have good sized onions in

the fall.
Of course, since we switched to mostly bulbs, we ended up with a hot dry 
summer for a change.  What surprised me though, was that the red and white 
onoins did terrible in the heat!  More than 75% of them went to seed and had

unsaleable bulbs.  We had a very limited # of red and white plants grown 
from seed, and those plants did not bolt to seed and done reasonably well. 
Of our yellow Sturon bulbs, we did see more than usual #'s of those going to

seed as well, but it was under 10%, and we still had a decent crop of those.

So I did see this much more so in the red and white bulbs, than in the 
yellow onoins.
Has anyone else seen this sort of discrepancy between using bulbs or plants,

depending on the weather for a particular season?  (Right or wrong, I 
switched back to plants for everything this year except our usual amount of 
the Sturon bulbs,  and intend to put most of the onion plants on plastic 
mulch.)

Dave



Dalew Farms
Web: www.dalewfarms.ca
E-mail: dalew at phonenet.ca
Phone: (705)594-1823
Fax: (705)594-1834
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Ehrlich" <johnkaty at shaw.ca>
To: "Market Farming" <market-farming at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, March 09, 2011 7:56 PM
Subject: [Market-farming] multiplier onions


>I have been growing multiplier onions for a few years now and find they are

>a great crop for the CSA. I saved seed from last years crop, though the 
>sets are not as large as the one's I have to buy each year.
>
> Does anyone else have experience with this crop?
>
> Thanks, John
>
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