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A Little History
A Little History
You would think that their strong odor and the fact that they can make you cry would put the onion in a family all its own. This is not so. Onions are part of the Alliums genus. Cooking delicacies such as shallots, chives, leeks and garlic are also included in this species. All alliums are a member of the Liliaceous family which included lilies, hostas and tulips.
Onions can be considered one of our oldest cultivated crops. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt fed their
enslaved workers onions and garlic to keep them free of disease and give them ceaseless energy to build the
pyramids; and, the Greeks and Romans, were said to always consume this vegetable before going into battle.
The onion, while sometimes not the most palatable, should be consumed for your better health. It
is low in calories and high in plant chemicals that help fight desease. It is said, that eating them regularly can
help to lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.
The rich source of organic sulfur compounds are what are released when onions are cut. This
combines with the moisture in your eyes to form mild sulfuric acid, which stings and causes the tears to flow.
The savory vegetable, along with the health benefits, is a gardener's dream as they are easy to grow
and require minimum care. The common yellow cooking onion and Spanish onions are called bulb onions and
can be grown from seed or sets.
If you are looking for a quick start, use onion sets. Buy small, firm sets that have not started to
sprout. As soon as the soil is workable in the spring, you can plant your sets outdoors. Spacing 4 to 6 inches apart, plant with the tips just below the surface. Firm down the area so the sets are in contact with the
soil. During their growing season, onions like to be well watered. It is also important to keep your onion beds
weeded as the weeds will vie for the water supply your onions need to grow. Pull weeds before
they become any size at all as pulling out large weeds, may cause some damage to your onion roots and set
the plants back.
Starting your onions from seed can be done indoors as early as February for Spanish type onions or
early April for other varieties. To sew indoors, plant seeds 1/4 inch deep and 1/4 inch apart in closely spaced
rows. Expose the flat to indirect light and maintain a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees F. . Once the seeds have germinated place the flat in a sunny window or under fluorescent lights. When seedlings reach a height of one inch tall, thin them out to two per inch. Keep the plants well watered and their tops trimmed to 4 inches. When the danger of heavy frost has
passed, harden off seedlings. To plant outdoors 4 to 6 inches apart in fertile, well drained soil in full sun.
NOTE (1) Looking for a different look in the garden and yard, plant your onion sets or seeds in your flower beds,
raised beds or containers. Remember, to keep them well watered no matter where you plant them.
Properly harvested and cured onions will keep longer. You will find as summer progresses, the
tops of some of your onions will fall over. This is perfectly normal and at the end of the summer, you need
to help those that have not toppled over to do so. In knocking your onions over, be careful not to break them.
It is best to do this job with your hands or gently with a hoe. Any that have flower stocks should be pulled
and used first as they will not store very well. Leave the rest of your onions in the ground for about a week.
Don't water them during this time. At the end of the week, dig them up and brush the soil off of them.
Do not wash the dirt from the vegetable. Lay them out to dry for a couple of weeks in a warm, airy place, out of rain and direct sunlight. Leave the tops on to use in braiding together for storage. If you choose to cut off the tops,
leave a short stub. Onions with the tops cut off should be placed in mesh bags or old pantyhose for storage.
Either method, the onions should be stored in a cool, dry place at about 35 to 50 degrees F.
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