Keep Calm and Carrot On

Carrots are in!  I know you’ll all be so relieved to hear it but I finally got them planted yesterday.  As I type this my thoughts go to my gardening buddy Dan from vegetablurb who always seems to be conducting (and enjoying) different gardening experiments as this year my carrots are a bit of an experiment, too.  You see, I am totally living on the wild side and am using … technically … expired seeds (audible gasp!!).

carrot package carrot seeds

I know I know.  They were supposed to have finished being planted in 2013 but who can use so many teeny carrot seeds that come in the one packet?  There must be hundreds and hundreds in there!  I know the traditional planting method is to dig a furrow and then sprinkle all of tiny seeds in with the plan to thin 98% out once they grow but I feel like that is just so wasteful, don’t you?  And I know a packet of seeds costs just pennies but … I’m not certain that is the point.  Waste is waste and we are all supposed to be mindful of minimizing our waste, right?

I use the square foot gardening technique where the advice is to plant 2, maybe 3 seeds per hole with a view to eventually thin to one carrot per hole, so we are still thinning 1/2 to 2/3 out but it is far less wasteful than traditional methods.  And since I have such a small vege patch my carrot patch is also very small which means I always have lots of seeds left over once planting is done.  What to do?

In response I have started cold storing my seeds in the fridge – I blogged about that here – and have had much success. Although each year that goes by I feel like it is really just an extension of the experiment.

Cold stored seeds waiting for next planting season.

Cold stored seeds waiting for next planting season.

Surely there will come a time when germination rates will drop and there will come a point of diminishing returns.  My hopes are that won’t be this year.  I did add an extra seed per hole as insurance – hehehe.

What do you do with your left over seeds?  Throw them out and eat the cost?  Has anyone else tried storing them year over year?  How long will that work?  I’m up to my 3rd year running now.  Hmmmm.

Keep Calm and Carrot On

Ready – Set – Grow! Onions

I planted my onions this week – so excited!  I like to use onion starts instead of sets. Have you tried the starts?  Onion sets look like little onion bulbs and I don’t know why they don’t like to grow in my vege patch.  It is quite the mystery.  The starts are like baby onion plants grown from seed over the winter months and then made to go dormant through refrigeration until I buy them and plant them up.  The starts are definitely harder to come by but I saw some being advertised at one of my fav gardening stores, Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, so off I went to pick some up.

They come in bundles of about 75 little plants and look like this.

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Bundle of onions starts

The little onion start itself looks like this:

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Baby onion start – so sweet

But I couldn’t really tell what kind of onions they were.  I took a picture of the box thinking it might help…

Details of the farm where the onion starts started - Bragg Farms, Georgia.

Details of the farm where the onion starts started – Bragg Farms, Georgia.

…but when I got home I couldn’t find anything about ‘sweet onions’, so I decided to call the actual farm where the plants grew and find out what they were.  See the name, address and phone number right there on the box?  Bragg Farms, Georgia.

I was kinda nervous though.  I mean, who calls random strangers to ask about the onions they bought retail many states away?  But I needn’t have worried as a lovely lady named Lou answered the phone at Bragg Farms and we had a lovely chat.  Now, Lou is a lady who knows about onions.  She gave me all kinds of information that I am going to pass on here.  Ready?

Firstly, Lou told me they are a variety called “Sweet Harvest”, and then she asked me if I knew how to plant the onions.  Ahhhh, sure…  I think so…  How hard can it be?  But instead of being cheeky I asked her to tell me how she likes to plant her onions.  And you know what?  I’d been doing it wrong all this time which is probably why my onions have been such a failure!  There is actually far more to planting onions than I ever imagined.  What the wha??!!  I know.  Here’s what she said.

If you want onion-onions, like bulb onions that are round and you cut up to saute with carrots and celery, you only plant the starts 1/4″ in the ground.  1/4″ – no more!  They will look like this, all falling over like they should be buried more deeply, I know I know.

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They look pathetic but that’s what you do.  In time once they start growing the onion bulbs will push their way to the surface and end up sitting kinda on top of the soil with their roots underground – like this:

Onions ready to harvest Source: SMC Organic Garden

Onions ready to harvest Source: SMC Organic Garden

See how they protrude out of the ground and almost sit on top?  That’s what they are supposed to look like.  The onions will be ready to harvest once most of the leaves have died back and turned brown.

If you want green onions, like spring onions that you use to sprinkle on the top of chicken and sweet corn soup, you plant the same starts 2-3″ in the ground.

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See, all the red parts are buried underground?  Same plant, very different planting techniques depending on what you want to grow.

A-HA!  Such a lightbulb moment for me.  No doubt I’d planted last years’ onions far too deeply and I grew lots of beautiful spring onions thinking I was waiting for onion-onions to form.  Lesson learned.

I use the Square Foot Gardening planting technique so I went out and planted 3 squares of onions (16 per square) and 1 square of spring onions (36 per square).  I’ll be very happy if I can get 48 bulb onions and 36 spring onions out of my 4 sq ft of garden space.  Awesome!

Lou also recommended using Miracle Grow on them once a week as onions are heavy feeders and “…you can never over-fertilize onions.”  Now, I’m not a fan of MG and other synthetic fertilizers as I’d rather just use my own homemade compost but, in the interests of full disclosure, I am passing on all of what Lou told me.  And that’s what she said.

Lou also said she was going to mail me more growing information and instructions and that I should call back with any other questions.  AND that she wants to hear how my onions grew in a few months.  So lovely.  So helpful.  So unexpected!  Onion peeps are the best 🙂

Do you grow onions?  Did you know about the different planting techniques for the different kinds of onions?