Thursday, July 31, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/31/08)

An infrequent visitor to Las Vegas, I drove there last spring to collect meine Überfrau and her gems from a gem show. While there my left knee gave way, and I had to be carted about in a wheelchair. My knee had been iffy after I fell on the ice in November while picking up coffee grounds for my composter at the Campus Coffee Bean.

Gardening with a malfunctioning knee is difficult. Kneeling is useful in gardening as well as in praying, two closely related activities. In late March, I was reduced to putting in my sweet onion sets while lying down near a patch of snow in the thawing mud behind an Oregon grape holly. I became adept at slithering through the mud as an infantryman. Seeing me prostrate, the artist across the street, Peter Grosshauser, ran over to check on me. "Are you sure you're all right?" "Yeah, I'm just fine. I just can't kneel anymore." "Okay, I'm just glad you're not dead."

Then, the nurse next door, Linda Paul, who resembles a non-sappy, straight-talking Doris Day, standing atop a bank, arms akimbo, said, "Just what are you doing lying down in that cold mud?" I replied, "Putting in my onion sets." "Why lying down?" "I can't kneel any more." "See here, Dana, I've watched you hobble around all winter long. It's time you saw an orthopaedist, like tomorrow?" "Yes'm."

Hearing the commotion, Gretchen, a fausse Valley Girl from the Illinois prairie, appeared at the door and said, "Grody to the max."

Not much gardening can be done while lying down which is a pity because lying down is comfortable, but the real issue is onions. Onion sets can be planted long before the last frost amidst patches of snow and mud after the ground has thawed. That's a real plus for Flagstaff's short growing season, like three months. Happily, I had prepared my onion beds the autumn previous.

Onions like a humus-laden soil rich in nitrogen and plenty of water which means that the soil in raised beds should be prepared in the autumn with lots of compost, blood meal, and a balanced fertilizer. High nitrogen fertilizer should be applied a couple of weeks after the sets have been planted and bi-weekly thereafter. Since water is dear, the best way to plant them is in a trench. In that way, they get plenty of water with none of it wasted.

Planting them in March means that the gardener will have onions the middle of June just about the time of the last frost. Not only will the gardener have them early, but they will be far and way better than anything "boughten," so mild they can be eaten like a tomato just off the vine only just pulled from the ground, washed and trimmed. Make sure your lover eats onions, too, else it'll be "a cold night in a hot town tonight."

Onions mature by the length of sunlight in a day which means onions can be categorized as long day, intermediate day, and short day varieties. Vidalia onions are short day, growing well in the South. Walla-Walla are long and intermediate, but best as long in the North. Flagstaff is intermediate, onions beginning to grow their bulbs with 12-13 hours of sunlight, March 19 being the beginning 12 hours of sunlight in Flagstaff. Like anything else onions do better where they fit in with the horticultural climate.

Onion sets are best planted 5 inches apart, but if a gardener likes green onions, they can planted 3 inches apart and every other one can be harvested early, leaving the others to grow into large globes in July and August.

If the local commercial nurseries don't stock sweet onion sets fit for Flagstaff, they can be ordered through the Internet, such as Brown's Omaha Plant Farms at It's best to order them in January for shipment in March.

I've had the best luck with the hybrids: Candy, Red Stockton, and Superstar. One year I became over-heated and planted 405 sets, not something I would recommend. Fanaticism has its penalties, but not a fresh sweet onion.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

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