Sunday, May 12, 2013
These gorgeous onions (picked for our expanding local clientele) are one of the treats of spring - and in fact they are generally referred to as "spring onions" when picked before the tops begin to die back and while the entire plant is still edible. Flavor and freshness and aroma are so dominant at this phase that it almost seems a waste to let them mature and be cured for storage.
Our onion seeds go in the ground around October 1. We seed heavily and begin thinning in December, when they are at the pencil-thick stage, and we continue to thin through the winter and spring months. We are actually still thinning now, since we harvest those that are crowding others, giving the remainder a last chance for growth. From little to big, they are good eaten fresh or cooked.
In June the tops will die back and we'll dry the bulbs in the shade on a drying rack or, if inspired, braid and hang long garlands from a branch.
The mystery associated with onions is "day-length." The goal is for one's onions to behave like a biennial plant, waiting to flower and set seed until the second year. That's what these onions would do if left in the ground, sending up a new stalk after a period of summer dormancy. But for that to happen, the onion variety needs to be suited to one's latitude. National seed companies sell short, medium, and long-day onions and provide some general guidance in their catalogs and web sites, but we play it safe and generally shop local. We get most of our onion seeds from Lockhart's, a century-old retail seed store in the heart of downtown Stockton. Lockhart's sells locally-adapted varieties with names - like Solano White, Stockton Red, and San Joaquin - that emphasize the local part. We've also found a few heirloom Italian varieties that do well here. A mal-adapted onion variety is going to misconstrue the photo-period signals and "bolt" - create a flower - before it creates a bulb.
During a recent visit, the folks at Lockhart's suggested that we try some "summer onions" and we purchased some seeds of a variety called "Ruby." Instead of planting on waning day-length, these seeds want to germinate after the winter solstice and will bulb up a few months later than the October-planted varieties. We planted Ruby in late March. The Rubies are now at the pencil stage and looking very happy. In theory we'll have fresh onions through August or September.
Celebrate onions - and mothers! - every day.