Onions from seed: Attempt number six.

My fall garden is planned. It’s sketched. It’s charted. It’s timeline-ed. And this year, I’m also ready with Plan B through Plan E so that I don’t encounter the same issues as last year and spend most of my winter with an unnecessarily empty garden.

I ordered my garlic, some Chiogga beet seeds (because Cylindra was just too tiny for my tastes), and have had my seed trays going for awhile now – cat interruptions aside. I have have plenty of greens seeds, carrot seeds, and other plotted plants seeds leftover from previous trips to the drug dealers seed catalogs…

I tried to order my onion starts. Sold out.

I tried another farm. Sold out.

Another, and another. They all ship January through May and are asking me to check back this fall, to pre-order for next spring.

Well, crap. A decent section of space has been designated onion space. I know our climate will allow for onions planted in October. Apparently the climates of those who sell onion starts are a different story.

I recently learned the difference between Short Day Onions and Long Day Onions (who knew?) and that solved the Mystery of the Failed Onion Seeds of 2009. The Puzzling Case of the Attempts of 2010, 2011, and 2012? Still puzzling.

They germinate just fine, as seen here in January:

And they gain some height just fine, as seen here shortly thereafter:

And that’s about as far as I can get them. From that stage, they put out itty bitty little white legs, that may or may not be roots, and try their hardest to die while I try my hardest to keep them alive.

I have a three-pronged approach this year.

  1. Richer seed-starter mix. I learned this past spring that onions are hungry little guys, but want the food far from their root zone. This will be for the indoor attempt.
  2. The bird method. Meaning I’ll prep the soil where I want the onions in the fall, sprinkle the seed, and water if needed. Otherwise, I’m going to leave them be and see if I’m just getting in nature’s way.
  3. Order onion starts from a company that ships as early as December. If my indoor sowings and outdoor sowings both fail, we can still have onions.

Anyone out there grown onions from seeds before? Any tips to getting them from leggy little blades of green to actual plants?

Beginnings and ends.

I think I’m still getting used to cycles in this part of the globe. As a child, the pensive hours, the long days indoors, and the ends came in the winter months before the beginnings of spring. The holidays were there to keep you company. With family, with baking, with decorating, with giggling cousins or parents’ friends’ stories, the long grey days seemed warm (and the wood stove helped!) There was candlelight and cookie icing to brighten the end of the year and hold everyone over until the daffodils broke ground. Until the green shone through the drizzle. Until the beginnings began again.

This part of the world, you get your cabin fever in the summer. You get addicted to the AC. You avoid the UV. You make your alphabet soup with different letters, but it’s still alphabet soup. It occurred to me today, that as I finish harvesting the carrots, the beets, the chard, the beans. As I finish harvesting the more sensitive families of food, it’s time to sow the seeds for the fall. Minus the heat-lovers and the cool-friendly, the rotation is about the same – what grows in the spring grows again in the fall, except here the die-out is over the summer.

So the onions, beets, and carrots will begin again in October, even though they’re also ending now.

The peppers and tomatoes are still going strong. They are loving the heat, but will soon lose their taste for it when it averages another 10 degrees higher each day. As they end, their seeds are dried, labeled, and stored for sowing just after Christmas.

It’s an adjustment, to find new-growth withdrawals as summer officially begins with the solstice tomorrow, but I make do.

It’s simply odd. When the winter doldrums are setting in for most gardens I hear about, read about, or dream about, they are ever-surprised at the winter growth going on in my beds. It only makes sense that when other gardens I hear about, read about, and dream about are in full growth swing with their flowers blossoming, their growth beginning in the summer: I have the same surprise, the same envy.

And so, I help new life into the world. I bring the sunshine in. I sow the seeds of the next cooler season and watch hope grow. Hope for evening breezes, for light sunshine kisses, for days so glorious you beg them not to end.

This time, hope takes the form of Lemon Basil, Cumin, Dark curly leaf parsley, and always – always – a volunteer squash.

Caring for the wee ones.

When sprouting indoors from seed, quite often the light comes from one direction. My tomato sprouts shall demonstrate:


I rotated them last night when they were facing the other way. They’ll get rotated 90 degrees tomorrow.

Nearly all of the tomato sprouts are up now. They usually appear one to three at a time until the ones that are going to germinate at all have done so. The ground cherries have yet to make an appearance.

The peppers, absent last night entirely, have almost all risen in unison today. Here are two emerging from their seed casings.


The leaves will open more, discarding the seed’s exterior to the soil.

Onions don’t have two seed leaves like many veggies do, and end up hanging onto their seeds for quite awhile.

Onion sprouts start like little wriggly, white, worms.


There’s one in the middle there, blending in nonchalantly, and another along the top edge.

The root end takes a few days to take hold, and as it’s working on that, the sprout elongates.


With the root end more firmly gripping the earth, the sprout musters its wee strength and starts to stretch for the sun.


At this stage, they are kind of comical. Bending this way, twisting around, seed ends getting stuck on other sprouts nearby…they amuse me a fair bit with their antics.

The air is dry here lately. A few weeks without rain, little humidity, and clear nights has the static up and the soil gasping quickly between waterings. I’m watering now by gently pouring small amounts near the sprouts. I don’t want to drown them, or soak the soil, but misting with my spray bottle won’t last 12 hours in these conditions.

I am getting antsy to put the seeds in the garden next weekend. Today was intended as a soil amendment day, but both Plan A and Plan B for adding compost and manure were a bust. Hopefully it comes together tomorrow so I can have it piled and ready as a weekday evening project this week.

Thing I learned today? 

– Beets aren’t something to start inside, but should be direct sown like other root veggies. So sayeth the package.

Any activity in your growth this week? Any prep work to be done or planting you’re (im)patiently waiting to do?


A few days ago, the first little white wriggles of onion life appeared…in half of the tray.

Things I learned:
1) Seed trays with high side edges need to be rotated to allow for even sun exposure.


Now is a vital time in the little sprouts’ lives. They don’t yet have a root system to sustain themselves through drier times, so it’s even more important for me to remember to mist them every day than it was before they sprouted. An unsprouted seed may still sprout, but a dead sprout is mere compost.

Last night I was still without any tomato or pepper sprouts. That was ok. It was still early. I almost made it to bed without watering them, though. The heated soil dries out more quickly than the room-temperature onion soil, so I skipped the spray bottle and gently poored water over the surface.

This morning:


The odd looking fellow in the corner is an unhappy Donkey Ear offshoot. I need to move him to the succulent pot.

Most exciting about these first tomato sprouts is that they are saved seeds! The ones on the left are from a local farmer’s market, where you can purchase a pint of mixed miniature rainbow tomatoes. The ones near the top of the photo are from a farmer’s market in Newport, Oregon.

And while there’s all this excitement already, the mailman delivered even more excitement:


These will come in handy in two ways.
1) I can plant these in the garden in a few days or a couple of weeks, depending on my taste for risk taking.
2) If my onion sprouts from seed turn to compost again this year, I have these for Plan B.

Ordering starts like this is also handy because I don’t have to plant them right away. They can hang out just like they are for a few weeks, feeding off their little bulb.

Being the cautious adventurer that I am, I’ll put some of these out this weekend, some out in two weeks, and the rest the first weekend of February.

Also this weekend:
– Starting seeds for beets, kale, collards, and other pre-FFD greens.
– Hopefully a road trip east for some cheap organic manure
– Continue addition to garden bed
– Soil testing and amending as needed
– Research soil desires of blackberries, melons, and ground cherries.

What is going on in your neck o’ th’ woods?

Onions, Peppers and Tomatoes! (Oh, my!)

It’s seed sowing season here in Central Texas. We’re approximately 10 weeks away from the average final frost date. Approximate, because it depends a fair bit upon one’s location relating to “town bubbles” as well as possible elevation and other microclimate factors. Not to mention the conservative approach versus the riskier approach – which is an entirely personal decision.

I like to start my seedlings indoors when possible, as early as possible. If I start them earlier, and am unlucky with my germination, I may have time to try again. At the least, the local nurseries won’t be sold out forcing me to buy from a big box store if I want plants of that type.

This year, right after planning my garden plot on some graph paper, I re-reminded myself on the date to plant or sow relative to the the Average Final Frost Date here. Risky, or conservative (depending upon to whom you talk) I call the FFD in my neighborhood March 15th. If the 10 day weather forcast is looking lovely on March 8th, I’ll put seeds out early. If it’s sketchy, I’ll hold off.

With my memory refreshed, I started my timeline. March 15th, minus ten weeks, is approximately January 5th. So I’m a week early. The plants will merely be a week bigger.

This is a seed tray made from a clearance item at Home Depot. Apparently people store ornament balls in these. I use them as easily measured seed sowing “plots.” It even has a lid for humidity! (Thanks to my mother for finding it and suggesting its use.)

Some folks are talented and resourceful enough to make their own seed starting mix. I have yet to dive into that project. Instead, I keep an eye out for off-season sales. The bag shown had four friends just like it, at the grocery store of all places.

This tray has five seeds per circle laidout as a square with a dot in the middle. Forty Australian Brown Onions and forty Violet de Galmi. I don’t have a historically successful time with onions, so I thought to plant in excess and succeed at least a little that way. Sown on the 28th, I hope to see sprouts next week.

Today’s sowing was peppers, tomatoes, and their relatives.

This is an actual seed tray, same mix. You can just see the indentation of my finger making spots for each seed. I lay the seed packets out in order of sown row. Then after I’m done, I sketch the seed tray with dots representing each seed, and label accordingly. This is how I will tell which seeds germinated well, which seed sources may gain more of my business, and also simply so I don’t end up with a tomato wishing to grow 8 feet tall in a pot where I thought I put a 2 foot variety.

Have you started any seed trays? Do you plan to? Or is it too soon in your area?