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Vegetables - Onion

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

As to growing onions for market, Henry Price of Hardin county, Ohio, says " I like loam or muck soil best for onions. On hard ground, the crop is uncertain. This type f soil dries out so easily that the ground gets hard, and when you weed the land the weeds break off instead of pulling out. And more than this, the onions will be small, too small for a good market. Now, the real secret of onion growing lies in the preparation of the soil. The seed bed must be fine and mellow and compact. I like muck land, which I roll and rub until it is solid. A smooth surface is left so the row marker on the onion seed drill will show plainly, enabling the driller to make straight rows. After rolling the land, I sow fertilizer, using a drill. Some successful onion growers sow fertilizers broadcast after plowing and before harrowing or rolling the land. I use a brand that has a small amount of nitrogen, from 8 to io per cent of available phosphoric acid and from 8 to 10 per cent of potash.

" In planting, run the onion drills so as to make the rows 14 inches apart. This allows cultivators and weeders to pass through without difficulty. The seeds should not be sown over 1 inch in depth, and less than that is better. As soon as the sprouts come through so you can see the rows, begin wheel hoeing. I usually run my cultivators between rows until weeds begin to come. Then I set the wheel hoe to straddle the row and plow close to save as much finger weeding as possible. After the working has begun, the onions should be cultivated once a week and weeded so as to keep them clean until laid by.

" Pull white onions while tops are yet green and standing; top them at once into crates and leave them in the field in single rows not over four crates high. Cover the top crates well with onion tops, boards or some other thing that will turn sun and rain from them. After about ten days the onions can be taken into the sheds or sent to market. After the tops of red and yellow onions begin to fall, pull them out of the ground and lay in wind-rows. Begin to top in about five or six days."


" Last year," says G. M. Hubbard of Franklin county, Massachusetts, "I raised 11 acres of onions, securing an average yield of 669 bushels an acre. Four acres made gross returns of 3,000 bushels of yellows, an average of 825 bushels to the acre. An-other tract of five acres returned 3,176 bushels, an average of 635 to the acre. This last tract of land was not stocked, and the seed proved to be poor.

" I use Connecticut-grown seed and prefer the late varieties. I fertilize my land thoroughly, favoring a low-grade fertilizer. I use a ton and a half an acre, and about 500 pounds high-grade bone, containing 5% per cent ammonia and 20 per cent phosphoric acid. I usually apply the fertilizer be-fore sowing the onion seed. If my land is not full of weed seeds I prefer to apply some fertilizer during the summer so as to facilitate rapid growth."

"The average yield of my last crop," writes Willard Jones of Madison county, New York, " was 500 bushels an acre. The maximum yield of one lot was 900 bushel crates. The price received was 50 cents a bushel for the firsts, and 25 cents for the little ones, that is, not less than 1 1/2 inches in diameter separated by screening. A common way of putting the crop on the market is to pack in bushel crates, draw to the railroad siding and dump in bulk, returning to the onion crib with the crates for other loads. We have sold some onions packed in 10o-pound sacks. The local buyer pays for the sack. Harvesting is over by November 1. Six rows of onions are pulled and thrown loosely into one windrow and left about a week to dry, then the onions are hand-clipped and put in crates by girls, boys, and women. In the field the crates are stacked up, ten in a heap, for a few days, when they are cribbed and ready for screening.

"I have never sown a cover crop after onions, because this would interfere with cultivation in the following season. The green stuff or roots would tear up the onion seedlings. I have never found it profitable to store onions for the winter market. The shrinkage and waste takes the extra price, and the extra care and labor makes it unprofitable for me to store. Culls and rubbish are generally thrown on hard land and plowed under, though sometimes they are pitched on brush heaps and burned. This is always done when onion maggots have been prevalent."


Concerning the Gibraltar onion L. C. Seal of Bartholomew county, Indiana, writes, " The Gibraltar onion is claimed to be the largest onion in existence, standing in a class of its own. It is a rank grower on congenial soil and has coarse blades of a glossy, olive green. The layers of flesh are thick, solid, juicy, snow white, and very mild in flavor. Probably its only fault as raised in this country is its inclination to early decay. It can-not be classed as a keeper, but it can as an eater,' and must be consumed in season. As a table onion it cannot be excelled.

" By February 22 the rank heat in my hotbed was subsiding, and I sowed the seed in drills 1 inch apart and rather thickly. It came up fairly well, giving me from six to ten plants to the linear inch. Prizetaker and Great Cardinal seed were sown in the same bed at the same time, but did not come up well.

"After two weeks, when the bed had reached the minimum temperature of 68 degrees, I resowed the latter two and they came up freely. This is proof that Gibraltar onions enjoy a higher temperature than other varieties. The Gibraltar plants grew like magic. By April 6 I had sheared their tops the second time, and they were quite stocky. I at once began setting them in the open bed, which I had prepared for them in the family garden. This was underdrained, sandy soil, well manured in the fall and prepared in the early spring with a top dressing of hen manure and wood ashes. Slightly dressing off the rootlets to balance the sheared tops, I set them 6 inches apart and 12 inches asunder.

" Our spring was a moist one with warm days and cool nights, and my Gibraltar plants acted as though they had never been moved, although they had to take a few light frosts. From that time on they received the same care and culture that I gave the other varieties later. They kept up their vigorous growth and July 13 I made a note in my garden diary that they had commenced to bottom, The hot, dry weather seemed to contribute favorably to their bulbous growth.

" While they did not ripen quite evenly, it was of small consequence, and favorable to my retail trade. I pulled the last one September 1o. The aggregate weight of my special bed of Gibraltar onions, Io x 12 feet, was 76 pounds, the largest specimen weighing 13 ounces. The others ran from 3 to 9 ounces, the bulk of them weighing 6 to 8 ounces apiece. An 8-ounce Gibraltar is a beauty, and two of them will separate an onion lover from his nickel on sight. I received the uniform price of 5 cents a pound for them, and sold again and again to the same customers. A few plants I had left were set out in the market garden in less fertile soil, and made a nice lot of onions, though not so large."


" Last November," writes J. G. Orsburn of Kentucky, " I planted 125 acres in potato onions. The land was well manured with chicken and stable manure mixed. It was broken deep and close, and harrowed nicely. The rows were laid off 3/ feet with a garden plow, and the onions were covered 4 or 5 inches deep to keep them from freezing out of the ground in winter. No more attention was paid to them until the opening of spring, when the ground was dry enough to work. Then I cultivated shallow, and kept it up every ten days, or after every rain, until the onions had matured. The cultivation was done with a garden plow and was never more than 3 inches deep, which left the onions a good, firm seed bed. I harvested them in July, and the plat yielded at the rate of 300 bushels an acre. The onions were as large and fine as any I have ever seen. The soil is designated as Miami silt loam."


According to B. F. Stetzer of Cumberland county, New Jersey, "Onion sets are grown from seed sown about April 1. To get the ground in good shape for any kind of an onion, large or small, you should sow the ground in the fall with crimson clover, about the middle of August, and plow it under in the spring just before the time of planting. After you have plowed sow broadcast three-quarters of a ton of fertilizer to the acre, harrow in well and smooth over with a smoothing plank. It will level the ground nicely and smash out all the small lumps of dirt the harrow fails to do.

After this is done, go over the ground and fill in the low places with a hand rake.

"The ground will now be ready for sowing the seed. To make the first row to sow the seed in I usually take a one-quarter-inch rope, with a stake attached at each end, and make a line. Then take a rake handle and go down the line, making a small row about three-quarters of an inch deep. There is a reversible attachment or marker on the drill to: make the rows after the drill is started. Regulate the drill to sow about 6o pounds of seed to the acre, and cover lightly. If the soil is heavy you should use one ton of fertilizer to the acre and 70 pounds of seed. Do not use any manure, on account of foul seed; the clover, after being plowed under, and the fertilizer will be all that is needed.

"Onion sets are sown in rows 12 inches apart, and cultivated with a two-wheel cultivator, using two blades and a one-wheel cultivator with the onion harvester attached. Do not go deep in the soil when cultivating. I usually cultivate once a week. Be very careful not to allow crabgrass to get into the field of onion sets ; if this grass gets the best of a field of sets one might as well plow it under, as it will cost more to get the grass out than you would derive from the sale of the sets.

" When you gather the sets, usually about the middle of July, according to the size, you should run the onion harvester under them, so as to raise them out of the ground. Go deep enough so as not to cut the roots. If the tops are long they should be twisted or cut off. This is done so it will not require so many crates to store them in, and it will save time and a lot of hard labor when cleaning them. Shake the dirt off well and put the onions in the crates to dry, about one bushel to a crate.

These crates are put in long rows on the field, with the edge of one crate resting on the other to keep the bottom off the ground as much as possible. Allow the sets to dry.


"If it looks like storm, the crates must be piled up one crate on top of the other, about 16 or 18 crates high. After the crates are piled I take an-other made especially for this, and turn it bottom upward over the pile to keep the water out. The top crate is made watertight, and when placed in position should be slanted a little to allow the water to run off. The sets should never be allowed to get wet after being gathered. If they do it will turn them greenish, and have a tendency to de-crease the price. Crates so piled should be taken down again and put in rows as soon as convenient after the storm.

" Leave them spread out in the field until about September ro, then clean them, thoroughly rubbing them between the hands. After they are rubbed they should be carted to the barn and run through a fanning mill. This will take dirt out. The principal thing to do is to get the onions too large for sets out at the time of getting the dirt out. These are sold for stewers and picklers. The stewers are about the size of a 25-cent piece, and larger. The picklers are smaller, but not as small as sets. I usually use a seven-eighths-inch screen fanning mill to get these picklers and stewers out. All that don't go through I sell, sorting them out by hand.

" The picklers I ship to New York commission merchants to be sold on commission late in Otto ber or early November. They will bring good prices ,if shipped at this time, as the commission men sell from $2.25 to $3 a bushel hamper. The stewers are also shipped to the commission merchants about the same time, but sell for a little less than the picklers. The New York market is always better than any other in the sale of onions.

" If sets are good in the fall I generally dispose of part of them ; if not, I keep them in my onion house until February i or March and sell when there is a demand for them at good prices. They usually sell in the spring from $2.50 to $4 a bushel. I have received as high as $6 for the Silver Skin sets in the spring. These are the only sets to grow for market, as they will always command a higher price than any other sets grown.

" When storing sets in the fall to keep until spring, the crates should be cross-piled in a perfectly watertight and dry building. When piling put a 1 inch block between each pair of crates on each corner to give plenty of air space. Also leave space between piles lengthwise to go through and examine at leisure. The building in which the sets are stored should have many windows in it for ventilation. In case of warm weather these windows must be thrown open to allow the air to Cif-ciliate and to prevent heating. If the sets should become warm they will start to grow. This should be prevented if possible. Never handle an onion set while it is frozen, or it will rot."

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