|Dixondale Family's Bill & Pam Martin||January 2013|
Pam and Bill Martin
Last month, we began our Centennial Celebration by honoring Onionman Wallace Martin for his long and successful career here at Dixondale Farms. This issue, we salute Wallace's son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Pam Martin.
Bill and Pam were there when the shipping department was located in the back of a pickup. Pam worked tirelessly for years in customer service, while Bill helped run the field operations. For both, the work has been a labor of love. Their years of dedication are one of the main reasons Dixondale Farms is now the largest onion plant grower in the world. Bill still works on the farm, but he and Pam are also enjoying "semi-retirement" activities.
I recently asked Bill to share some of the highlights of their onion-farming years with our readers.
When did your long and illustrious farming career begin?
I started working cantaloupes in 1960 when I was 14. My job then was to make sure each picker had a supply of burlap bags to put the melons in.
How did you and your wife Pam meet?
We were juniors in high school. In January 1963 the best looking girl I had ever seen sat down in front of me in American History class and the rest is history.
What was your day like in the early farming years?
Early on, my day started before 6:00 AM and did not end until after 10:00 PM. All of us -- you, Jeanie, Pam and I -- did all the work. Pam and Jeanie took the orders, you and I got the plants into town, and then all of us would pack them. We learned to do every phase of the business -- except I am about half-deaf, and no one would let me take orders.
I've always loved your sense of humor. Has it helped you and Pam to handle the immense work load and long hours?
Everything in South Texas will either bite you, sting you or scratch you, some all at the same time, so you cannot survive here without a sense of humor.
A typical day back then was not much different from now in that we started about daylight and tried to get everything picked by noon or so. The big difference then to now is that more was done by hand. Not as much machinery, much more hand labor involved. Picking, loading, unloading, grading, and then bulk loading in the buyers truck.
What was your favorite aspect of working the farm?
As the harvest progressed more bare ground appeared, which meant one less day that a catastrophic event could occur and wipe out the whole crop. I also felt that I was remaining in touch with my heritage, in a small way contributing to Dixondale's evolving future. Pam always enjoyed talking with customers from different parts of the country. They were interested in our lifestyle and we in theirs.
Was there a "typical" customer service call?
Many of our customers are older than your average mail-order consumer. Pam's typical call would be the wife trying to order, with her husband in the background, hard of hearing, instructing her quite loudly on what to say. Needless to say, Pam overheard some pretty interesting arguments in her day.
Tell us how your son and daughter helped out at the farm.
Both helped with cantaloupes and in minor capacities with onion plants. Our daughter Jennifer discovered that she could sell a lot more cantaloupes, in front of the shed, if she wore her bathing suit at the time! Our son Mac helped with the packing and shipping and Jennifer, when we were short-handed, helped grade.
You have worn many hats. Which has been the most interesting?
I guess whatever hat I am wearing at the time is the most interesting. Most definitely being outside is easier to take than working inside. Mother Nature and I get along very well.
How has the business changed over the years?
Pam's perspective, in the office, is that we have gone from taking all orders with a pencil to using computers and the Internet. A Big Chief tablet and a Number 2 pencil are no longer needed. The biggest changes I have seen have occurred in farming equipment. Tractors with GPS guidance drive themselves. Cantaloupes are now picked onto conveyor belts, both of which improve productivity. Water and food safety issues are now more important than ever.
What is the most valuable life lesson you learned around the farm?
There is no substitute for hard work. That used to be taught in this country, but I am not sure about that anymore.
What is your favorite way to enjoy an onion?
On a hamburger or in a salad, 1015s or Yellow Granex are best. A slice of onion cooked on the grill goes very well with steak. For cooking, the long-days are better.
What inspired you to develop the recipes for the Dixondale Recipe booklet?
My Mother and Grandmother were always great cooks, and used onions in some of their best dishes.
Tell us what you and Pam are doing now that you're spending less time at the farm.
I am not really retired, just moving a little slower. I still go back to work for the farm when we harvest cantaloupes. Really enjoy that time of year because it is so fast-paced and non-stop. I play more tennis and spend a lot more time at the ranch than I used to. Pam spends a lot of her time in Washington, D.C. with our grandson.
Both Bill and Pam are integral parts of our operation here at Dixondale, and have been for many years. I couldn't imagine the operation without them. Bill and Pam Martin, we salute you!
Happy Centennial, everyone!
Bruce "Onionman" Frasier
Insect and Disease Prevention
Most onion plant diseases are preventable when you use the
appropriate fungicides and insecticides; so to ensure a successful, healthy crop, use this month's featured products on a routine basis. Our solutions will keep your plants healthy and produce bountiful crops of delicious onions. Refer to our free planting guides for easy instructions on caring for your onion plants.
OxiDate is a simple, ready-to-use organic fungicide/bacteriacide. It's EPA registered, offers a great alternative to copper-based products, contains no chlorine or ammonia, and leaves no harmful residue. Used weekly, this eco-friendly formula effectively stops diseases such as powdery/downy mildew, phytophthora, brown rot, wilts, blights, and bacterial wilt on contact. It kills bacterial and fungal pathogens and fights against diseases caused by both, all without harming the environment or posing a risk to human health or safety.
Azaguard is an organic insecticide and insect repellent that kills those nasty onion maggots and thrips (along with 300 other species of insects). This organic-approved formula is EPA registered and meets NOP standards. Like Oxidate, it's chlorine and ammonia free. Azaguard is not toxic; it works by inhibiting insect growth, feeding, and reproduction.
Mancozeb Flowable Fungicide with Zinc: This liquid fungicide, which contains zinc, iron, manganese, ethylene, and bisdithiocarbarmate, does an excellent job of preventing fungus damage to plants. Rain and high humidity can cause fungal growth on your onion plants in as little as 12 hours. You have to nip it in the bud, because by the time you notice your onions aren't storing well, it's too late. Mancozeb protects against downy mildew, tip blight, botrytis, stemphylium leaf blight, white tip, and more. Just mix two teaspoons into a gallon of water for each 50 feet of onion row and spray on your plants. Start the program two weeks after planting, and spray every two weeks until the tops fall over.
From Our Friends
An Excellent Crop
In this photo, our friend Ray B. of California shows off two little lovelies, Petra Rosebud (left) and Nemo, as well as a nice haul of Intermediate Day Sampler onions (Super Star, Red Candy Apple, and Candy).
Ray told us this past year when he sent this picture, "Not a bad year, but not a great one either. Despite a cold spring and early summer, it's starting to warm up by coastal No. Cal. standards. Warm (not hot) days now, but last night went down to 41° F... but I ain't complaining, as long as we have good tomatoes and sweet corn, which we do this year!"
Got some onion-related photos to share? Click here for submission tips. You just might see your photo in a future newsletter!
|Around The Farm
The Vidalia Connection
Providing onion plants for the farmers in Vidalia, Georgia comprises a large percentage of our business in December and January. Most people don't realize that many of the sweet Georgia onions they enjoy so much start life in Carrizo Springs...and that modern Vidalia onions have their genetic roots in south Texas, too.
A Promising Beginning
The first Vidalias were grown over 80 years ago, when farmer Moses Coleman of Toombs County, Georgia discovered that his yellow onions were unusually sweet and tasty that year, rather than hot as expected. It took a little while for buyers to appreciate this unexpected benefit, but soon Moses was selling his Vidalia-grown onions for $3.50 per 50-pound bag -- a really sweet deal for 1931. Soon, other farmers were tapping into this vegetable gold mine. Before long this mild, sweet onion became a regional favorite, putting Vidalia, Georgia on the map.
Up until 1952, Vidalia farmers planted a yellow Bermuda called the Excel 986. But that year, the Excel began to be replaced by the Yellow Granex, the fruit of a collaboration between the USDA and Texas Station, just down the road from our farm. The name "Granex" came from the fact that the seed (female) parent developed from Excel, while the pollen (male) parent was the famous Texas Grano 1015Y. Basically, you could say that the 1015Y, still a favorite of onion growers today, is the daddy of the Yellow Granex.
Dixondale shipped the first Yellow Granex plants to Vidalia in 1952. Since the Granex grew twice as thick as the Bermuda, the farmers could double their yields per acre. It wasn't long before they moved almost exclusively to Granex for production of their sweet yellow onions.
The Georgia state legislature, recognizing the economic value of the Vidalia onion, passed legislation providing it with a special legal status in 1986, officially limiting the crop to a 20-county production area. It became Georgia's official State Vegetable in 1990.
Dixondale Farms from Carrizo Springs, Texas ships 150 million onion plants to Vidalia growers each year, though the great state of Georgia doesn't advertise it. But it's true, and we're proud of it!
|Cooking With Onions|
Cheesy Onion Soup
- 2 cups chopped sweet onions
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 4 cups milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Sauté the onion in butter in a saucepot until tender, then blend in flour, salt and pepper. Add milk, heat and stir until boiling. Remove from heat and stir in cheese.
Recipe courtesy of the incomparable Bill Martin.
|Q & A: Storing Onion Plants|
Q. How do I store my onion plants if I can't plant them immediately?
A. When you receive your plants, immediately take them out of the box and spread them out in a cool, dry area. DO NOT PUT THEM IN WATER OR SOIL while waiting to plant. The plants are in a dormant state, and should be planted as soon as possible. The roots and tops may begin to dry out, but don't be alarmed; as a member of the lily family, the onion can live for three weeks off the bulb.
|Fun Onion Facts|
The ancient Egyptians loved their onions -- not just as food, but for ritual purposes as well. Images on the walls of Egyptian tombs and other structures show priests holding onions, or covering alters with their bulbs and leaves. Onions have often been found entombed with mummies, sometimes on or in the bodies -- including the eye sockets.
Some Egyptologists believe that the onions were included because the priests believed their strong smell and/or magical powers might cause the dead to breathe again; others believe that it's because the priests thought their antiseptic qualities might be useful to the dead in the afterlife.
All Your Questions Answered
We have answers to your frequently asked questions! Just click the link for information on when to order your onions, as well as for tips on planting, caring, feeding, harvesting, and storing them.
Over the years, some of our greatest onion-growing champions have been young people.
In these photos from a few years back, both a young man and a young lady show off their County Fair ribbons, including a Grand Champion for her Super Star batch. Congratulations, kids, and keep it up! We're proud to contribute to your agricultural heritage, and hope to continue to do so in our second century!
We invite you to send us your old pictures, growing successes, challenging crop stories, and other memories so we can stroll through the years together!
Join Us On Facebook!
Join the community of friends and growers on our Facebook page! You can connect with us and fellow growers to share stories, photos, recipes, and even weather information and other tips. And be sure to check out our short videos, on topics ranging from how onion plants are harvested to how onions deal with cold weather.
We're pleased to announce the winners of the Dixondale Farms Centennial T-shirt contest, which we told you about in last month's newsletter. Congratulations to:
Gayla Webster Smith
If your name isn't on the list, don't worry -- you can buy one of our spiffy Centennial shirts right here!