I never make the same mistake twice. I make new ones.
Like so many things I’ve tried in the garden, my relationship with onions began on a whim. I was at the garden store last spring picking up some nasturtiums to plant with my tomatoes and peppers, and I happened to see one lone pot of Spanish onions just sitting there, and I thought, Onions! Why not?! So I took them home and planted them in the very beginning of May.
After that, I pretty much left them alone. I would check them out when I was outside making my rounds, and they always seemed to be doing fine. They were growing. They began to form quite large bulbs, and I felt pretty good about the whole project.
My mistake last year was in leaving them in the ground for too long. They had started to fall over, but the green tops hadn't died off, and in my limited understanding I thought that the green had to turn brown and fall over before I could pull them from the ground, and I sure wasn’t expecting them to be ready to harvest in July.
But apparently they were, and I didn’t even get the pleasure of being the first one to pull them out of the ground.
I was in the kitchen when I saw my husband from the window, walking up from the garden with his arms full of onions. I nearly had a fit.
"What are you doing!” I shrieked at him. “They're not ready! The tops aren’t brown! Their skins aren’t papery!"
"Some of them are rotting,” he said. “These were all sitting above ground. I think they're done."
"Then you're not supposed to bring them in! I think you're supposed to pull them up and leave them out there to dry up or something..."
I wasn't really upset with him, of course. I was upset at myself for being so unprepared to deal with them. I went back out the next day and there were two more decent ones, which I pulled up and left to lay there in the hot dirt for the day. They actually dried up on the outside and did get papery, and so I set them in the vestibule in front of an open window to get a few more days of hot air.
The good news was that we did manage to produce onions, and we ate what we grew. The bad news is that we only got half the crop that we should have. Still, I was optimistic. I felt well-prepared to do better this year.
What’s went wrong this year, you wonder? This.
In the beginning of May, my onions bolted. As soon as I saw this, I knew it was bad. So I did a little research – too little, too late. It seems that temperature fluctuations will “fool” an onion plant into thinking it has gone through two growing seasons instead of one, and it will flower – or “bolt” – prematurely. I put my green onions in in March this year, and since then we’ve had weeks of 40 and 50 degree weather, alternating with weeks of the high 90s. Technically, I don't think that this is my fault. It would seem that this year I am the victim of the vicissitudes of nature. But hey, isn’t that what gardening is all about?
Is there anything I can do about it? My first thought was to cut the flowers off – but apparently once this process has started, cutting the flower off won’t make a difference. The onions will never fully develop, and they will be completely unsuitable for storage.
So I did a few things.
First off, when the buds finally opened, I learned what an onion flower looks like, first hand. I cut the flowers and brought them inside and enjoyed them. So there.
Second, I harvested all the small onions over the next few weeks or so and we’ll be eating them. I happen to know from the other night’s grilled dinner that these little suckers make one heck of a shish kabob.
And for my next onion crop? I’m still undecided. It's only June. I know from last year that I still have plenty of time to put in onions, so maybe I'll do that. I have a lot of onion seeds, so I might do some research and try my luck planting them this fall when I plant my garlic. Or I might do some more transplants next spring and hope the weather isn’t so crazy – or I might wait to put them in in May like I did the first year. Or I might do all of these things.
In the meantime, did you know that onions are on the EWG Clean Fifteen produce list? It’s a good thing, because I bought a big bag of yellow onions last week, and it looks like we’re going to need them.