The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
March 13, 2013We are now separating and transplanting the onions that were sown in the fall. This indispensable esculent has one of the longest histories of any garden vegetable. The ancient Egyptians were famous for their fondness of onions, leeks, and garlic to the point of deifying them. King Ramses IV, who died in 1160 BCE, was entombed with onions covering his eye sockets. To the Egyptians, the concentric rings of the onion bulb signified eternal life. The onion has been considered a staple by all civilizations since that time and indeed, the Scottish politician Sir John Sinclair observed, “It is a well known fact, that a Highlander with a few raw onions in his pocket, and a crust of bread or bit of cake, can work or travel to an almost incredible extent for two or three days together.”
Many modern gardeners grow their onions from sets obtained in the spring. If you are using sets it is important to remember that the larger the set, the more liable it is to go to flower prematurely to the ruination of the bulb. With sets, smaller is better.We have found that onions grown from seed are not as liable to run to flower as those planted from sets. We sow our seeds near the end of September, which produces plants that are large enough to withstand the trials of winter but not so large as to run to flower in the spring. By the middle of March the onions are ready to transplant to a bed where they will form their bulbs. We set our transplants on furrows spaced six inches one from the other. This provides a loose soil for the bulbs to form in that is never waterlogged. There are always extra transplants that are not needed for planting and these will provide the first scallions of the year. In the northern colonies, where onions will not stand the winter, sow your seeds outdoors after the danger of frost is past.
For a fuller discussion of the Allium family you are encouraged to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners. (Rodale Press)