|You can see where one variety had poor germination|
I usually grow onion starts in the late winter and have a serious problem with damping off killing or weakening many of the seedlings before they can get very big. Once the onion seedlings get big enough they seem pretty indestructible, but before that they are very vulnerable to cold, wet conditions—something that's hard for me to avoid growing them in my house in late winter. Often I've had to resort to buying onion sets at the local store to ensure a good harvest. The only problem is that these sets aren't organic, and they are not known varieties. I have no idea if they are good storage types or not, so I usually eat them first so they don't have to store long. I'd never thought of growing my own starts because it seemed like a big industrial agriculture mystery. My girlfriend Julie told me that she'd grown her own sets in the past and that it wasn't hard at all, so I thought I'd give it a try. The great thing is that you can grow enough starts to supply you with more than enough onions in a very small portion of the garden.
I planted a section of a bed in thickly seeded rows of three different varieties. It was a pretty dry time of year so I made sure to keep the bed moist until the seeds had germinated. There was no hassle with disease and most of the seed came up thickly. I planted New York Early, Varsity, and Copra, all good storage varieties. I think Varsity was older seed (Fedco sometimes sells seed that's older than it should be and I was ordering mine in mid-summer)and didn't come up well, but the other two did. Planting them thickly ensures that they won't get too big before the end of the season, but it also conserves precious late season garden space.
They have been growing strong with regular watering and hoeing ever since. As it nears the end of the season they should be ready to harvest and dry down for the winter. In the spring I will hopefully have more onions starts than I've ever been able to grow. Next season I'm considering planting more onions than ever for sale here in the village. This is something that just wasn't possible starting onions from seed in late winter, because I could never reliably get a large number of starts. As long as the sets make it through winter in my root cellar, I should have some easily planted, strong and healthy sets to plant out in the spring. Though sets are pretty cheap, I can probably plant over $10-15 worth of sets in a tiny section of my garden, and they are all of the varieties I want.
I think I actually wasted a lot of space in here and will probably plant them thicker in future years