Up-date on the Onions and a further sowing of Parsley
3rd Feb 2000
Potting On the Small Onions
The onions that I sowed for the 250 grams and under class on the 12th of January are now ready for transplanting into plantpak 24's. There is no need to pot them up into a much larger pot initially as they are better off developing a strong root system in a relatively smaller space. The compost that I shall use for the first potting on will be Levington F2 with sand incorporated into it by the manufacturer.
I am using this compost for the first time this year and if the earlier work that I have already carried out at Bangor University for the Chelsea flower show is anything to go by, the results will be excellent. It is primary for young seedlings so they will have to be potted on within four to five weeks otherwise they will require supplementary feeding. The varieties that I sowed were Buffalo, Toughball and Bison as well as a couple of newer varieties that I have for trial.
These small onions will be kept in my first greenhouse which has a minimum temperature of 55° F and will not be subject to any artificial lights at all. I find that they make sufficient growth to be planted out in my polytunnel or potted on and grown to maturity in 7 inch pots around the end of March. These will then be ready for harvesting at the correct size from the end of June onwards. This way you will have plenty of onions to select from which will have fully matured with a thin neck ready for staging from early August onwards.
Potting on the Large Onions
The larger onions weren"t sown this year until the 27th of December and the germination rate was excellent and fast in my electric propagator. So good was the germination rate that I was able to prick out the first batch just as the seedlings were straightening up from the crook stage on the 6th of January. They were all initially transplanted into plantpak 40's which is 40 small thin plastic cells to fit into a full size seed tray. The compost mix was again Levington F2 with added sand.
These onion will now be moved to my second greenhouse where the whole of one side has been converted into a growing cabinet. The main structure of the cabinet was formed from some angle iron and wooden roofing battens and these remain over the bench right through the year. The panels to form the sides and roof are made from thin plywood to which some aluminium foil on top of polystyrene has been glued on. There are two SGR 200 lamps within the 12 ft long cabinet that gives me an excellent source of light and this light in turn is well reflected throughout every corner of the cabinet via the aluminium foil.
For many years I have given my large exhibition onions artificial lights for twenty four hours a day, right through from the moment they germinate for a period of six weeks. This light level would then be reduced to 16 hours and eventually be switched off altogether during early March in preparation for planting out in the polytunnel. This year I am changing things by giving them a steady 16 hours a day from day one right through until they are planted out in the polytunnel.
I have done this based on my experience at the University College at Bangor where I grow 90% of my produce for Chelsea. The lights there are always on for sixteen hours a day and the growth rate on all my plants have been excellent. The other reason for reducing the lighting period is because my plants seem to come to maturity too early and harvest before they get to what I consider to be their optimum size.
Once the onions stop growing there is nothing you can do the help them along other then to harvest them and hope that they will stay in good condition for most shows. If however you have to harvest them from the middle of July then it means that I have good onions usually for the Anglesey County show during mid August. As my main competitions over the past few years, the NVS Welsh Championships and the NVS championships, have been held in September, the condition of my best onions have inevitably deteriorated beyond good exhibition standard.
I must get a further sowing of parsley in this week so that I shall have plenty for garnishing around my cauliflower's on collections. This year I have been very scarce of the seed of Faulds parsley which has always been my banker having very tight fronds that really does resemble moss. I have however manage to keep sufficient for my own use and this together with the variety Frison will satisfy all my needs.
Fill a small half size tray with a suitable seed compost such as Levington F1 and broadcast sow the seed on top pressing them into the compost with a flat board. Don't cover them over but give a good light spray every day to maintain a moist atmosphere on the top level of compost until germination. I have found with both Parsley and Celery that the germination is much better when the seeds are left uncovered but do make sure that they are kept moist all the time.