Onions and Garlic
People are getting anxious for "the big
stink" to begin. Onions and garlic WILL be maturing before
too much longer. But anxious "growers-of-stink"
always have some last minute concerns. The first of which
is, “will the onion EVER form the bulb, and/or, can
they in some way "stimulate" bulb production and
Recommended varieties for this area are the Texas A&M
1015& (Supersweet), Granex or Grano. If, last fall, you
planted seed, or planted transplants this spring, of the recommended
varieties, the onions HAVE to bulb sooner or later--BE PATIENT!
However, if you planted bulblets or seeds of
the wrong varieties, YOU'RE IN TROUBLE! Bulblets should NEVER
be planted because the proper varieties are not available.
The onion, depending on the variety, bulbs during either long
day conditions (13 to more than 14 hours), intermediate conditions
(11-1/2 to 12-1/2 hours) or short day conditions (10 to 11
Long day varieties will not bulb in Central
and South Texas because the days are not long enough. In this
area, long day types are grown as green onions or scallions.
Long day varieties from bulblets will produce huge plants,
large necks, big blooms and no bulbs. Texas is the home of
the sweet onions of the world. For the history of the sweet
For more information about onion varieties and
The other would-be, size-enhancing technique
is soil removal. Is it necessary to remove the soil from around
onion bulbs in the spring to make large bulbs? Absolutely
not! Bulbing of onions is controlled by variety, temperatures
and the length of day. The onion WILL bulb when the required
conditions are met. Removing soil around the base of the plant
will not increase bulbing, although it may appear to do so
because the bulbs are visible. This operation may do more
damage than good, especially to white varieties of onions.
Removing the soil from around white onions results in sunburning,
which turns the top of the bulbs green.
Next comes the floral question--most folks
wanted to grow onion bulbs, NOT onion flowers! What causes
bulb onions to send up flower stalks? Flowering of onions
can be caused by several things, but usually the most prevalent
reason is temperature fluctuation. An onion is classed as
a biennial, which means it normally takes 2 years to go from
seed to seed. Temperature is the controlling or triggering
factor in this process. If an onion plant is exposed to alternating
cold and warm temperatures, the result is the onion plant
going dormant, then resuming growth, then going dormant and
resuming growth again. The onion bulbs prematurely flower
or bolt. The onion is deceived into believing it has completed
2 growth cycles, or years of growth in its biennial lifecycle
so it finalizes the cycle by blooming. Flowering can be controlled
by planting the right variety at the right time. Use only
transplants that are pencil-sized, or smaller, in diameter
when planting in early spring. In the early fall, always plant
seed, NEVER transplants.
What can you do if flower stalks appear? Should
the flower stalks be removed from the onion plants? Suit yourself,
but once the onion plant has bolted, or sent up a flower stalk,
there is nothing you can do to eliminate this problem. The
onion bulbs will still be edible, but probably will be smaller.
Use these onions as soon as possible because the green flower
stalk that emerges through the center of the bulb will make
storage almost impossible. How will you know when onion bulbs
as large as they are going to be? The onion is one of the
few vegetables that signal you when it's ready to be harvested.
An onion bulb is mature when the top bends at its narrow neck
and falls over. When the bulb reaches this stage, it will
not enlarge any further and may as well be harvested. Until
the tops fall over in mid-to-late June, plants should be fertilized
with ammonium sulfate (1/2 cup for each 10 feet of row) every
Some folks want to rush the process. They always
ask, “Should I break over the tops of my onion plants
to get a larger bulb?” Breaking over the tops of onion
plants will not increase bulb size but can prevent bulb enlargement.
Onion bulbs increase in size as sugars manufactured in the
top are translocated to the bulb. If the tops are broken,
this process stops, preventing further bulb enlargement.
Once you produce a large onion, for goodness
sakes, DON'T let the bulbs rot. In most cases, onions decay
in storage because of neck rot, which is caused by a soil-borne
fungus. When harvesting onions, wait until the tops begin
to dry and fall over. Once this happens, lift the plants and
allow them to dry. After drying, clip the tops and dry the
cut area for 1 to 2 days. By doing this, the cut tissue will
dry, eliminating a possible site for infection. Then, place
the onions in a well-ventilated area and in a container that
allows free movement of air around the onions. If the onions
are to be stored, a good fungicide program using chlorothalonil
(Daconil, Multipurpose Fungicide or Fertilome Broad Spectrum
Fungicide) or maneb every 7 to 10 days during the growing
season is important to prevent diseases, such as tip blight
and purple blotch, from entering the bulbs.
What about another stinker—garlic? A
first word of warning--DON'T plant garlic in the spring! Bulb
formation in garlic occurs in response to the lengthening
days of spring, and bulbing and maturity are considerably
hastened if temperatures are high. In addition to these requirements,
the dormant cloves (divisions of the large bulb) or young
growing plants must be exposed to cold temperatures between
32 and 50 degrees F. for 1 or 2 months in order to initiate
bulbing. Plants that are never exposed to temperatures below
65 degrees F. may fail to form bulbs. With fall plantings,
the cold treatment is accomplished quite naturally throughout
the winter, but a spring planting spells disaster.
Seedstalk formation (bolting) of garlic is
not induced by exposure to fluctuating temperatures, as is
the case with onions. This means that a wide range of fall
planting dates is permissible for this crop. Seedstalk formation
is also not damaging to garlic since the cloves are arranged
around the seedstalk and will be removed from the dried seedstalk.
Conversely, the edible onion bulb is penetrated by the seedstalk
that is hard when the bulb is harvested, but prematurely decays
causing loss of the entire bulb in storage.
When the tops become yellowish and partly dry,
garlic is ready for harvest. The bulbs are usually pulled
and gathered into windrows. The tops are placed uppermost
in the windrow to protect the bulbs from the sun, and the
garlic is left in the garden for a week or more to dry (cure)
thoroughly. Curing can also be accomplished in a well-ventilated
shed. The cloves must be thoroughly dried before being stored.
When properly cured, garlic stores well under a wide range
NOW you know all that you need to know about
these delightful spring stinkers! Don't blame me if you over-indulge
and are forced by loved ones to wear odor-eaters on your lips!