Sunday, January 09, 2011
ONIONS AND THE IDES OF MARCH
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/9/2011)
The Ides of March, March 15, bear ominous messages, beginning with the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus, Cassius, and other noblemen in 44 A.D. At one time, income taxes were due on the Ides of March, but the federal government reconsidered and moved them to April 15 in a vain attempt to make them less irksome.
However, the Ides of March also bear a benevolent message. It’s just four days away from the first day to plant onion sets on the 19th and, consequently, break that one hundred day horticultural grip on growing things in Flagstaff. Onions allow us a seven month growing season, starting in March and going clear through to October.
Although warmth is beneficial, onions need sunlight, and March 19 is the first day in the year with enough sunlight to grow onions in Flagstaff. Onions come in three categories, short day, intermediate, and long day. Short days, such as Vidalia, are down south, and long days, such as Walla Walla, are up north. Magnificent onions are grown in the Matanuska Valley in Alaska. While I was a Sgt/Maj, Special Troops, in Alaska, we played baseball at midnight in the summer when not tracking down miscreants and saboteurs. Flagstaff’s intermediate days are betwixt the two. Actually, Flagstaff is a favorable place to grow onions because of our dry climate and warm summers. Onions need at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably full sun.
As with anything else in the garden, the first thing about growing onions is the soil. It should be friable, easily flowing through the gardener’s fingers, which means lots of compost. “Objets d’amour,” onions need soft beds, and not only soft, but rich as well which brings us to fertilizer.
A couple of weeks before planting, the bed should be strewn at about a five inch depth with a 10-20-10 fertilizer. This assumes that the gardener is using onion sets, which are the easiest, most productive, and priciest way to grow onions. Seeds can be sown in the spring, but they are chancier. Sets are akin to seedlings but far hardier.
Parenthetically, much to meine Űberfraus vexation, I’m slothful, leaving dirty socks where I took them off, books and magazines where I took off reading them, dirty dishes on the table, and generally letting things go. A cinch for the slothful, all onions need after they’re first planted is a little care.
Once the soil has been prepared, the next task is digging a trench in which the sets can be planted at the bottom. Onions require lots of moisture, and a trench allows for frequent watering without waste. In addition to water, onions favor a slightly acidic soil and a side-dressing of high nitrogen fertilizer every other week.
Onions do not take up a great deal of space and can be planted a few inches apart. Later in the spring along about June, the onions can be thinned to six or seven inches apart, the thinning yielding a crop of green onions, so that the remaining onions can grow into those large, opulent, luscious globes of late summer.
When I had my office on Westwood Blvd. in Los Angeles, I often ate lunch or dinner at an Iranian restaurant on the street. The waiters munched on onions like apples. Astounded then, now I do the same with my home-grown sweet onions. And onions like apples will keep the doctor away. An Arab proverb runs, “Every man should be given his breath.”
The second most popular crop after tomatoes, onions are used in nearly every cuisine and for good reason. In addition to being flavor-filled and flavor-giving, they’re health-giving, being anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, and anti-oxidant. For those of us who fret about our hearts, onions are our friends, and the same goes for cancer fretters.
Now is the time to order onion sets. I order mine from Brown’s Omaha Plant Farms in Omaha, Texas, at www.bopf.com. I’ve had good fortune with Hybrid Candy, Hybrid Superstar, and Hybrid Yellow Granex which is an heir of the famous Vidalia.
P.S. Trees need slow watering during our dry spell.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011