March 08, 2013

There Will Be Onions

It is that time of year again - time to THINK SEEDS.

Here in our chilly northern Zone 5, it is time to start the earliest seeds of the year – Onions. Actually, they should have been started a week or two ago, but I was unprepared and running behind. Oops! Onions, Celery and perennial herbs like Parsley are the earliest seeds that are started each year, usually in late February. They need a long time to mature.

Today, on my “seed starting calendar”, it is actually time to start Peppers. I use a frost-free date of May 9 even though I only start “hardening them off” then or leaving them outside, because let’s face it, there is always a late and unplanned frost. I usually don’t plant into the garden until a couple weeks after that. Today is 8 weeks before my May 9th frost-free date, so it is Pepper time. Since I am running behind, I did all of them together:

Onion “Australian Brown”
Onion “Candy”
Onion “Sturon”
Onion “Ailsa Craig”
Spring Bunching Onion “White Lisbon”
Celery “Tendercrisp”
Parsley “Giant of Italy”
Pepper “Purple Beauty”
Pepper “Giant Aconcagua”
Pepper “Mini Chocolate Bell”
Pepper “Jimmy Nardello”
Chili Pepper “Guajillo”
Chili Pepper “Anaheim”
Chili Pepper “Chimayo”

Most of these are new to me this year, different varieties I am trying out. I was unaware when I bought them that “Candy” Onion seeds are Monsanto-owned, so while I’ll be growing them this year (I don’t want to waste them), I doubt I’ll be growing them again ... my first year growing onions from seed, but we go through more onions in a year than any other vegetable so it is well worth the effort, I think. I’ve gone with a good variety of colours and storage ability, so there are some like “Ailsa Craig” which will be our fresh-eating onions as they don’t store well, and other like “Australian Brown” and “Sturon” which last almost until the next harvest (or so I hear). I planted every seed in each packet because unlike most other seeds, Onion seeds have a very short shelf-life and are apparently only good for 1 year.

I’m giving Celery another go as well. I tried once, with a seedling I bought from a nursery, and it was small and puny, as well as bitter. But my Italian grandmother used to grow parsley in an even more northern region of the country than I do now, and she used them for soup all the time. Since I’m making my own vegetable stocks now to freeze, I am trying Celery again to see if I can manage it this time!

Heirloom Parsley intrigues me. I’ve always grow Italian flat-leaf that I’ve bought from a nursery but I like the idea of growing my own (possibly not having to re-grow it every year, although I’m not sure if it can handle being perennial this far north). Also, I liked the description – ‘large leaves, great flavour, perfect for sauces’.

The Peppers are a real treat this year. I sowed seeds for “Giant Aconcagua” last year with seeds I got in a trade, but none germinated so I’m trying again this year, with commercial seeds. Trying “Mini Chocolate Bell” for the first time, sounds wonderful and I do want a pepper with a bell shape for making stuffed peppers etc. “Jimmy Nardello” is a variety I’ve been waiting to try for a long time. It is an old Italian heirloom that is apparently perfect for frying, and an old Italian custom to have onions and peppers frying together on the stove ... I might be even more excited about the Chili Peppers for this summer though. “Anaheim” is pretty standard, and not too hot, and I wanted one of those! “Chimayo” is good for salsas, and also a good choice to dry into a chili powder which I want to make this summer. “Guajillo” is still mild for a chili pepper, but the hottest I am growing this year. Perhaps for the pickled chilis? We’ll see how they taste!

I used a simple seed-starting bagged soil – organic – and specifically for starting seeds so there is no fertilizer in it yet. Onions are planted in longer, thin containers (I used Wendy’s salad containers, and other food delivery containers) because they are not planted very deep. Celery and Parsley in round pots, also planted very shallow (they are much smaller seeds). The Peppers I planted in my usual way, only filling the pots halfway with soil. Once the seedling emerge and begin to grow, I will fill the pot with soil covering the stem and thus promoting more root growth. I find this easier than transplanting several times ... this way I usually only have to transplant once. They are sitting out on the table (I have no heat mat) in large Tupperware containers (from Walmart) so they don’t leak all over my table. I love these containers – they fit 4 rows of square pots perfectly, are easy to carry around or move, are waterproof and easy to clean, have lids if necessary, stack when storing throughout the summer/fall/winter and the lights I have rest perfectly on the sides for when the seedling are still small. Without a heat mat, it will probably take 1-2 weeks to start seeing seedling pop out of the soil. I’ll be watching to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out too much, but also that it doesn’t start getting mouldy or anything from too much dampness. Once the seedlings emerge, I’ll start turning on the growth lights and we go from there.

No photos today ... they are only empty pots right now after all ... I’ll take some when the seedlings come out.

Next week: Tomato Time!! Expected planting date: March 15th

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