Bolting in Onions and Leeks
Dear Fellow Gardener,
Anyone who has ever had a serious vegetable
encountered bolting -- that is, the tendency
of a plant to
send up a flower or seed stalk well before it
should, usually in response to environmental
stress. Once this occurs, development
usually stops, and the bolted onions will
not store well.
Bolting in Alliums
Bolting can be a problem with onions,
leeks, and related species, and generally
occurs in response to
cold weather stress. Sustained temperatures
of less than 45º F may result in bolting with
as few as five leaves present. If the
temperature falls below 50º F for two weeks
or more, mature plants with 7-10 leaves will
bolt. A cold, wet spring followed
by a hot summer can also result in bolting.
The transplants you
receive from Dixondale
Farms usually have four leaves; the fifth
will appear out of the center of the onion
about four weeks after transplanting. Larger
transplants tend to be more
susceptible to bolting, since
they reach this critical period sooner.
Besides planting time, onions and leeks
also face a critical
period about two months later, as
the plant sends out more leaves. Cool
weather during either of
these periods may trick your plants
into thinking they've gone through the two
growing seasons necessary for them to
completely mature. The result is the
premature development of a seed stalk.
How to Avoid Bolting
There are several
things you can try to avoid bolting. First
of all, match the proper onion variety with
your growing region, particularly in terms of
day-length. Next, do your best to
plant your onion plants at the proper time.
You can't control the weather, but your
plants are least likely to bolt
if you get them in at the right time. Be
careful not to over-fertilize, too, because
overly vigorous growth may result in bolting.
So can soil that is too loose; if the plant
thinks the ground has been disturbed, it may
respond by trying to spread its seed.
Dealing With Plants That Have
The development of flower
stalks and seeds
supersedes bulb development in onions and
leeks, so the bulb simply isn't going to
develop any further. You might as well
pull it up and enjoy it while you can. You
can't store bolted bulbs,
either, because the seed stalk exits the
top of the bulb, weakening it and leaving a
place where infection can set in.
We hope this helps you with the bolting issue.
Be careful with your planting date, onion
type, soil and fertilizers, and pull and eat any
onions or leeks as soon as they bolt.
If you have any questions on the subject that
we haven't covered here, don't
Bruce "Onionman" Frasier
Onions of the Month
Italian Specialty Onions
This month, we thought we'd shine the
spotlight on our most unusual specialty
varieties. All three of these onions are
Italian in origin, and all are fun to grow.
They're great for Farmer's Markets!
Torpedo Tropea is a
tasty, sweet red long-day onion that hails
from Tropea, Italy. The region is well known
for its locally grown red onions and
exquisite cooking (due to the onions, of
course!). This oddly long, thin onion has a
three-month storage potential, and takes 110
days to grow to harvest size.
think you'll like the mild yellow
which is great for shish-kabobs. It rarely
grows much larger than two inches across, and
the size can be limited even further, if you
want, by planting them closer together. This is a
long-day variety, taking about 110 days to
grow to harvest, and has a five-month storage
potential. And did we mention that it's
When it comes to beauty, it's
hard to beat
Marble Cippolini. Slice into
the interior, and you get a marbled pattern
that's pretty much unique.
slightly pungent, long-day specialty is
nearly as flat as the Borettana, and also
makes a good shish-kabob or pearl onion. It
takes just 90 days to mature, and stores
for up to five months.
From Our Friends
Here's a message we recently received from
our friend Sandi Forrey of Stone Wall Farms
in Lincoln, Maine, a vegetable farm operated
by Al Fugazzi:
"Al has been in the vegetable growing
business in Lincoln for approximately 20
years. He prides himself in growing and
producing a great product for his customers
and his success over the years is a testament
to his hard work and his dedication to the
"While working this past summer, I had the
opportunity to take a few pictures of some of
the workers and also the vegetables that he
grows. Had a good year in spite of the
weather and I thought I would share with you
some of the onions that he grew and maybe take a
chance on being featured in your online photo
album, newsletter or catalog.
onions in the pictures that I have
attached are the Ailsa Craig variety, and the
young lady's name is MacKenzie. This was her
first year picking vegetables and she was
very impressed with the size of the onions,
compared to the ones her mom buys in the
"I thoroughly enjoyed your web site and
looking at all the great pictures!"
We love hearing from you! Send us
favorite "onion photo" and we'll try to
include it in a
future newsletter, our next catalog or our
online Photo Album. Click
here for details on how to
submit your photos.
Around the Farm
Back in April 2008, our farm foreman, Basilio
Campos, was featured in the very first
"Around the Farm" section of our newsletter,
as part of an article
written by Farm Bureau
magazine's Bobby Horecka. Basilio has been
with us now for 46 years! As Bruce was quoted
as saying about him, "He's my right hand man.
I don't know what
I'd do without him."
Well, we still feel that way -- but all good
things must come to an end. Even the hardest
workers have to retire someday, and Basilio
is ready to take a well-deserved rest. We
can't tell you how much he's done for the
farm over the years, or how much we're going
to miss him around here. Here's to you, Basilio!
And one more thing: we recently had another
big event at the farm. Last week we
celebrated Bruce's birthday, as we do every
April, with a pizza party and chocolate cake!
Cooking With Onions
Caramelized Orange Blossom Onions (Oignons caramelisés à la fleur d'oranger)
This Moroccan-inspired dish comes to us from
a customer. It's a great accompaniment for
grilled chicken or fish. Don't
be put off by the flavor combination; you'll
be amazed at how good it smells and tastes!
- 1.5 lbs. of long onions, such as our Red
Torpedoes, peeled and halved lengthwise,
retaining part of the root to hold the halves
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- A few grindings of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- A dash of
orange zest (grated orange peel)
- The juice of two small oranges
- 1.5 tablespoons of orange blossom
- Mint sprigs (optional)
Heat the oil slowly over medium heat, in a
skillet large enough to hold all the onions
in a single layer. Then add the onions,
sprinkling them with the pepper, salt, and
sugar. Cover the skillet and allow the onions
to cook, stirring periodically, until the
sugar begins to caramelize.
Next, add enough water to cover the onions
about halfway, then bring them to a
simmer. Cover the skillet partially, allowing
the liquid to reduce to about half a cup,
turning the onions occasionally. Add the
orange juice and continue to simmer until it
is reduced to a glaze, then remove the
skillet from the heat. Finally, add the
orange water, trying to keep the onion halves
as intact as you can.
Store the cooked onions in a refrigerator
until use. Sprinkle on the orange zest, use
the mint to decorate the dish, and serve.
Onions can enhance so many dishes, from
salads to complex entrees; and they can also be
consumed raw, fried, sautéed or baked. We
periodically receive sumptuous recipe
from our employees and from you, our customers.
We want to share one with you each month, so
you can take full advantage of the fruits of
your labor! If
you have one you would like us to print,
please email it
to us at
Q. When do onions bulb?
A. If you plant your onions shallow
(just 1/2 to 1 inch deep), it'll be easy to
tell when your onions begin to bulb: they'll
start cracking the ground around the bulb as
they start shoving the dirt away. If you
plant them too deep, you won't be able to
realize this -- and the onions will produce
smaller bulbs, since the soil will
restrict the expansion of the bulb.
Fun Onion Facts
Ever wonder why cutting or peeling an onion
can make you cry? Well, it's more complicated
than you might think. A chemical called
Lachrymatory-factor synthase is released when
an onion is cut, converting amino acids in
the onion called sulfoxides into sulfenic
acid, which degrades into something called
syn-propanethial-S-oxide. This chemical then
wafts into your eyes, where it irritates the
tear glands and makes you cry.
Send Us Your Product Reviews!
In addition to sending us recipes and photos
onions, we encourage you to give us
feedback on our products. You'll find
a "write your own review" link on every
product page. Don't be shy -- we need
About Dixondale Farms
As the largest and oldest onion plant farm in
Dixondale Farms offers a wide selection of
disease-free, ready-to-plant onion plants.
To see our
complete product line, request a catalog, or for
growing tips and cultural information, visit our
Web site by clicking
Whether you're planting one bunch or
acres, we're committed to your success. If
either questions or suggestions, we'd love to
from you. You can reach us from 8:00 AM to
Time at 877-367-1015, or
e-mail us any time