Growing onions for the under eight ounce class or 250 grams class
14th Jan 1998
ing onions for the under eight ounce class, or is it the 250 gram class?, is the first vegetable seed that I sow in the new year and I always try and make a point of having them sown around the middle of January. The reason for sowing so early is to make sure that they harvest in plenty of time to enable the onion to achieve it's optimum skin condition.
Many years ago the 250 gram class of onion would be won predominantly with onion sets such as the Fen globe and as good as this onion is, it just doesn"t have the consistency of shape and skin condition that some of the newer hybrid onions posses. I then introduced Buffalo, this is a Japanese type onion that can be sown during August time in favoured areas and really produces beautifully coloured specimens. The one draw back if any with this variety is that it tends to be a little bit flatish on top and can have a rather pointed base. These two elements together can very often make it really difficult to have a matching set, but having said that, it's still winning at a number of large shows all over the Country.
There's no doubt that the breeders have done some wonderful work on the onion cultivars with many new hybrids available in the early, mid term and long storage types. Over the past few years a number of newer ones have come to the fore and none more so that Toughball which has won all the major shows including the National last year. This is a beautiful globe shaped onion, with a lovely brown skin which is as hard as a cricket ball and has a lovely upright form to it's foliage.
Last year I had another new variety grown for me on trial by Ron Macfarlane from Pembroke called Bison,this is an Autumn sown variety that as exhibitors, we sow around this time of year. Ron only grew around 20 last season but was still able to stage a top quality dish of 5 at Royal Welsh show during late July; it therefore has great potential, particularly early on in the year. One of the striking features of Bison is it's lovely dark brown colour with even darker veining that really shows up the bulbs to advantage.
Heating and Propagating
Whichever type you decide to grow at this time of year, heating is essential, and in order to get the best out of them they need the same care and attention as their big brothers require. Broadcast sow them on some fine seed compost such as Levington F1 or Multi purpose and cover the seed over with some fine Vermiculite and place them on a propagating bench or in a propagator. I don't cover my seed tray over with a pane of glass but rather just check on them every day and give a fine spray of water overhead if they require it.
There's no doubt that Ron has excelled at growing these small onions and grows in the region of 200 of them in order to have enough to make his final selection as uniform as humanly possible. The onions are grown throughout in a polytunnel structure that Ron had purchased from Northern polytunnels who have a specialised range with netting all round the sides and polythene on top. Ron then has some polythene on top of the netting early on in order to keep a good growing temperature.
Living down Pembroke, the South West coast of Wales, his season is very early and the weather warms up quickly so the polythene on top of the netting is quickly removed leaving plenty of air flow through the tunnel. The onions are grown throughout the season in pots, and he pots them on continuously as and when needed until they get to a seven inch pot; they are then left to grow on in these pots on a temporary bench all round the polytunnel. By growing this way, they are protected from the elements and this ensures that the eventual skin condition is perfectly unmarked.
His advice is to grow Bison as an early onion to stage from mid July to the end of August and Toughball to show at some of the later shows from late August onwards. If you have no heating in your greenhouse then you have to delay your sowing until early March, alternatively use the more modern onion sets such as Centurion. These can be started off in Plantpak 24s during early March in your cold greenhouse and then either potted on and grown like Ron does or plant them directly outside. However, any protection that you can give them will most certainly help towards having a more refined skin finish.