My onions almost make me cry… but kind of in a good way.

Today’s harvest…

Last summer/fall, when I was planning my winter garden, I was fresh off of my disappointment from growing corn.

I found corn much more difficult to grow and much less rewarding than I had anticipated.  It took up a HUGE amount of space in my garden, sucked up ssssoooooo much water, and had endless problems with pests and pollination.  On top of that, it took forever to grow, so it was like the problem that just wouldn’t end.  (For the curious, I grew a desert-adapted heirloom called “Maricopa”, ordered from the highly-esteemed Native Seeds/SEARCH, a variety that they no longer seem to sell.  Maybe I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with it.)

So, I decided that I would only grow things that I could harvest in a relatively short period of time.  But…. I wanted to try onions.  I bought my packet of Seeds of Change Newburg onions at a local grocery store and gulped, “120 days to maturity???  That’s SIX MONTHS!”  [edited to correct my math — 120 days equals four months.  However, since onions need to be grown in the winter in the Phoenix area — root crops don’t do well at all in the 110°F weather — and there is less sun during the winter, one typically needs to factor in an additional third to half number of days or so into the time to maturity listed on a packet of seeds.  So, onions do typically need to grow for six months here…]  I just couldn’t see taking up a big space in my garden for six stinkin’ months!  So, starting on October 1, per my Maricopa Planting Schedule, I only planted 24 seeds.  I had a little difficulty getting them to germinate, and more difficulty getting them established.  They just seemed picky.  So, I would re-plant the ones that didn’t “take”, netting me in a whole bunch of onions that were planted at different times, over the course of at least two months.  And in the end, I didn’t even have a whole 24.  Now, it’s the end of June, nearly nine months since I started planting!  And my onion tops just started falling over last week.

I harvested them today, and just about cried.

This time, though, it weren’t tears of disappointment over a poor harvest, which seems much too common in my garden endeavors.  Instead, they were the almost-tears of, “Ooooohhh…  I wish I would have planted MORE!!”  Despite their difficult start, once the onions got going, they were SO EASY.  Effortless.  I had no pest problems, no growth problems, nothing.  They just grew and grew, the tops reaching a good 2′ high, a lush, dark-green promise of big bulbs growing underground.  Newburgs don’t reach a giant size, only 3-4″, and of the 12 I harvested today, only half of those were that big.  The rest were probably late-plants, and are more like boiling onions.  I still have another six or so growing out there, that I’m hoping will get larger… their tops haven’t yet fallen.

Next time, I’m going to plant the rest of my Newburg packet, and maybe some Valencia

And, by the way, I also planted Seeds of Change Parade Bunching Onions for my green onion/scallions.  I am extremely well-pleased with those, as well.  It’s long past the time when I’m supposed to have to stop harvesting them, yet they live.  When I make a salad or a stir-fry or whatever, I go out with a pair of scissors and cut them off at the ground.  And whaddya know?  They grow back.  So, maybe that has prolonged the harvest.  Only two of those have gone to seed, and they’re all still growing admirably.

In case you missed it on Facebook, the rest of my garden is on really shaky legs.  I finally identified the problem my plants have been having — what has caused the slow death and stunted growth of just about everything else in the garden besides the onions:  The dreaded Western Flower Thrips.  Ugh.  Over the weekend, I had to dust almost everything with Diatomaceous Earth.  DE is “organic”, in the sense that it’s not a chemical;  it’s fossilized algae that forms into microscopic shards of silica that slice open an insect’s exoskeleton.  But, DE is not a discerning pest-killer;  it doesn’t discriminate;  it kills them all.  ~sigh~  But, it was either that, or rip out EVERYTHING, as the Western Flower Thrips have infected ALL of my tomato plants, all my green beans, all the squash plants (I think there are seven of them), both of my red bell pepper plants, and now, my cucumbers.  😦  The red chard is still growing, seemingly unaffected, but now that it’s so hot, the chard is turning bitter, and is almost useless anyway.  So, I’m sad about that whole thing.  I’m pretty heartbroken about everything going down the tubes…  And it literally has made me sick to my stomach to see all the lovely beneficial insects gone — the hovering syrphid flies, the iridescent long-legged flies, the green lacewings…  😦  My semi-regular sprays of garlic/red pepper/onion/soap insecticide/deterrent, plus sharp streams of water probably slowed down the progression of the thrips, but it was clear that I had to do something drastic.  It might be too late;  I am just hoping that some plants recover.

I don’t have a Buddhist’s love for all insects, nor would Christina Rossetti wouldn’t hold me dear.  My heart is steely-cold to all plant-eating bugs that attack my garden’s fruitfulness, and I now have NO TROUBLE ripping off a tomato hornworm and throwing him into the nearest bush, with a 98% certainty that he will die there.  And I squish aphids with glee.  And I had no compunctions about eliminating the Western Flower Thrips.  But, I’m mourning the loss of those beneficials… they’re casualties of war.

And, by the way, since Western Flower Thrips almost exclusively proliferate on greenhouse starts that one buys at the nursery, I have learned my lesson.  NEVER AGAIN will I be seduced by the months saved by buying starts in little pots.  Two of my tomato plants, and the two bell peppers, I bought from lovely-looking starts at Home Depot.  I am now thinking ugly thoughts about Home Depot, and I will ALWAYS start from seed in the future.

Hurt No Living Thing
by Christina Rossetti

Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on June 26, 2012, in Desert Gardening, Life in the Desert, Organic Gardening, Sad Things. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I’m having a lot of problems getting my garden going too this year. Something ate ALL the leaves off one of my broccoli plants and one of my brussels sprouts. I was SO mad. And something really murdered my radishes too, some tiny little shiny black beetle. I put DE all over my garden too. My beans are having a hard time too, I started them in little pots because last year something killed them all as they were just coming up… Anyway, I didn’t harden them off before I planted them and now they’re really struggling with all the weather they’re experiencing. *sigh* It’s great when gardening is great, but it’s really discouraging when things aren’t going well. I feel your pain.

  2. Yeah, definitely the flea beetle! It’s been raining quite a bit here, so I’ll have to lay down more DE. I didn’t have any last summer that I know of, so it was a bit of shock to see how much damage they did. Oh well, radishes I can replant easily because they grow in like a month and I still have three brussels sprouts and six broccoli, so it’s not a total loss, just frustrating!,

  3. Thanks Keran for sharing your wonderful experience with onions and nothing to worried about corn try one more time you will get good results..Good Luck!!

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