Kelsae and Toughball Onions
22nd Dec 2004
During the course of today I shall I be sowing my own re selected seed of the large Kelsae onion. Although it's a simple and pleasurable enough job on one hand, I can equally detest it as it brings back so many memories of the time that my father and I had together when sowing these seed over many years. I"m sure we are all full of great ideals for the coming year when carrying out this task, probably winning major onion competitions many times over. These dreams of course are all part of the hype and expectations that we all have for the coming season and it really does start with getting the seed away properly. Thinking back, it must be 38 years since I started sowing seed of the large exhibition onion, the very first year I got married, and in two years time, Gwenda and I will be celebrating our Ruby wedding, 40 happy years together.
Though I didn't have enough onions from my own selection for sale this year, I have enough for my own use and for producing onion plants for my seed catalogue.
For many years now my preferred compost for sowing the onions has been Levington F2S and this is what I shall use once again. It"s a lovely fine peat mixture with the 'S' denoting that there is added silver sand in the bag. The "F' stands for fine grade and the '2" stands for it's strength, just as John Innes N° 2 is stronger than John Innes N01, so F2 is stronger than F1.
In the past I have used F1 but I did find, for the onions in particular, it had a tendency to run out of steam too quickly for my liking. An important criteria always when sowing seed is to make sure that your seed tray is perfectly clean. It really isn't good enough to just tap the tray on the bench to get rid of any old compost that may still be clinging to the sides. Any such compost could have, and probably will, harbour all sorts of nasty bugs and diseases rendering your emerging seedlings vulnerable to collapse from botrytis etc. Fill the seed tray slightly over full, raise the tray slightly off the bench and drop it down once again, this will be sufficient to adequately settle the compost without over compaction. Remember that to over compress or over compact the compost could give you the worst possible start. Levington added the sand to the peat for a reason, the first is to assist in drainage and the other is to allow air to permeate into the compost and therefore to the developing root system.
Plants don't really ask too much out of their life you know, they're not so far away from ourselves in reality, as we need food, warmth, water and air to survive so do plants. Over compaction of the compost squeezes all the air out of it whilst at the same time making it almost impossible for air to get back into it. Using a small straight edge, slide it along the edge of the tray taking off all the surplus compost. Using a small flat board, that will fit inside the seed tray, compress the compost down slightly. This will give you a good flat surface to sow your seed on. It will also create just enough depth for the seed to be covered over with fine Vermiculite which is my preferred choice of material. This allows the seed to germinate nice and even and doesn't seem to hinder the emerging shoot as compost sometimes does, often resulting in an uneven and sporadic germination. Place the tray inside another larger one (with no holes in it) but half filled with tepid water. When the compost has soaked in sufficient water, the surface will be darker which means that it's fully charged.
Onion seed are large enough to be spaced out individually on top of the compost leaving approximately an inch between each one. Using the same flat board that flattened the compost, gently press the seed down into it and cover the seed up to the rim with fine vermiculite. Scrape off the excess using the straight edge and with a fine rose on a hand sprayer, gently water the vermiculite so that it beds itself well around all the seed. Label the seed tray with the date and the variety and place inside a propagator or on a propagating bench which has bottom heat in the region of 70°F. I prefer not to cover the trays over as I check them daily and any showing signs of drying out will be given a quick spray of water. Once the seedlings have broken dormancy and visibly showing some green, I will move them into my growing cabinet underneath the artificial lights which will be on for 16 hours per day. Growth will now be quick, but rather than transplant them when they are at the crook stage (just before the top of the emerging seedling, together with the empty seed case straightens out) I leave them for a good ten days to a fortnight to grow on. By this time the onion seedling leaf will be at it's maximum height and the first proper leaf will be visible. It's at this stage that you can really select the strongest and more even seedlings. The seedlings will now be transplanted into multicell 60s (sixty little cells moulded together from thin plastic that fit inside a full sized seed tray. The compost will again be F2S and the trays tapped down on the bench to make sure that the compost has gone to the bottom of each cell.
Although the onion variety Toughball is no longer available in my 2005 catalogue, since going to print, I have been able to source out some top quality seed from abroad. Anyone wanting some packets can write to me at Llanor, Old School Lane, Llanfairpwll, Anglesey LL61 5RZ. The cost is £3.25 per packet of 100 seed inclusive of Post and Packing. We can also accept credit and debit cards on 01248 714 851.