How Onion Seed Is Produced
Dear Fellow Gardener,
We're often asked how we get the onion seed that we plant, and why some seed varieties are in limited supply during some planting seasons.
We acquire our seed in bulk from dedicated onion seed producers. Sometimes, because of unpredictable weather conditions or genetic instability, a specific type of seed may be in short supply in a particular year. In fact, some seed varieties can become so troublesome to produce, and so unlikely to germinate when planted, that the seed growers just give up on them. This is more common than we'd like: for example, we know for a fact that First Edition variety will no longer be available after this year.
To explain the situation somewhat, we thought we'd give you a look at how onion seed is produced.
Onion seed can be procured in two basic ways: either through seed-to-seed production, or through bulb-to-seed production. Bulb-to-seed is the preferred method; this allows the seed producers to select specific bulbs that offer the characteristics and high-quality genetics they're looking for. However, seed-to-seed production is much cheaper, because there's no need to store bulbs from one season to the next; nor do any bulbs have to be replanted. In the seed-to-seed method, seeds are planted rather than bulbs. The plants grow and mature, are allowed to go to seed, and the new seeds are collected for sale.
Bolting (flowering) is a necessity for seed production, however undesirable it may be otherwise. While bulbing isn't required, the onions do need to have leaf bases larger than 3/8 of an inch across before flowering can be induced. This is usually done through vernalization, in which the onion is chilled at 45º F to 55º F for about a month (the exact time depends on the variety). This induces the development of a seed stalk, followed by flowering, pollination, and seed development.
Hybrid onion seed is a bit more difficult to deal with, in that the ideal is for the male parent (let's call it Variety 1) to flower just before, during, and after the female parent (Variety 2) does. Honeybees are used to transfer pollen from Variety 1 to Variety 2. This will only work, however, if the bees have no other source of nectar; they're not too fond of onion nectar, because it's too high in potassium for their taste.
Onion seeds are tiny and black, and are produced within a fruiting body called the umbel. When they become easily visible, it's time to harvest. If the seeds are taken too early, they may shatter, be non-viable, or result in puny onion plants.
Growing Your Own
If you grow your own onions for seed, please remember that the onions that bolt will not develop sizable bulbs; that is, the onions will be useful for little more than seed. You shouldn't allow hybrids to bolt, because they generally don't breed true, and the seeds will probably be useless. You may end up with seeds from the sterile male line (Variety 1), which won't be viable; seeds from the mother line (Variety 2), which can be viable but won't be hybrids; or, if you're lucky, a combination of the two.
Needless to say, we recommend that you let us deal with the onion seeds, so that you can count on getting the desired results from the onion plants we send you!
Bruce "Onionman" Frasier
Product of the Month AND Around the Farm
Large Green Onions
This month we're doing something a little different: we're combining our Around the Farm and featured product sections, since we're so hyped about our latest project!
You see, we recently completed our very first planting for fall onion plants. Numerous customers have asked us to grow plants in the fall, so they can have them in their gardens. The varieties we're planting are long day types, since short or intermediate day onions will bulb before they get much more than a few weeks old. Since we never reach 16 hours of day-length, we can grow some long day varieties this time of year. Look for availability around the 1st week of September.
Now, we don't want to mislead people into thinking that these plants will ever produce large bulbs! By September 1, day-length hours are decreasing, so these plants will produce ONLY large green onions. However, this is exactly what some folks want to jazz up their fall gardens!
From Our Friends
Our friend Debra sent us this charming photo:
"My grandsons helping harvest my First Edition onions in Iowa. Landon and Carter visited Grandma's house to help pick up the onions from the garden. The harvest was a huge success, and the boys didn't mind "working" in the dirt!"
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.
Cooking With Onions
Quick Cucumber and Red Onion Pickled Salad
- 1 large red onion, sliced very thinly
- 2 large cucumbers, peeled and cut into quarter-inch slices
- Coarse salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh dill
- 3 tablespoons of rice-wine vinegar
Mix the onion and cucumber slices in a large bowl, then sprinkle with the remaining ingredients except for the dill. Toss the salad thoroughly, then chill it in the refrigerator for half an hour. Prior to serving, sprinkle the dill over the salad, and toss it again.
Onions can enhance so many dishes, from simple
salads to complex entrees; and they can also be
consumed raw, fried, sautéed or baked. We'll share a sumptuous onion recipe with you each month, so that
you can take full advantage of the fruits of your labor!
Q&A: Braided Onion Tops
Q. Why are the tops of onions sometimes braided together?
A. Onions are often air-dried with the tops on, so that they can be braided together into ropes and hung up in areas with good ventilation and low humidity. Onions prepared this way have plenty of air circulation, cure more thoroughly, and tend to last longer in storage. In some cases, twine is included in the braid; this makes the rope stronger. Another good thing about onion ropes is that it's easy to cut one or a few onions from the braid at a time, leaving the rest of the string intact.
Fun Onion Facts
After the Emperor Charlemagne had onions planted in his royal gardens back in the ninth century, strings of onions were often accepted by medieval French landowners as payments for the use of their land.
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 the U.S., Dixondale Farms offers a wide selection of top-quality, 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 here.
Whether you're planting one bunch or thousands of acres, we're committed to your success. If you have
either questions or suggestions, we'd love to hear from you. You can reach us from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Central Daylight Time at 877-367-1015, or e-mail us any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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