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May 3, 2006
Feature Article - for release the week of
Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent
Onions - Sweet Onions
Last week I was invited
as a guest speaker at Disney’s EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival.
My presentation was on vegetable gardening basics, and I knew that giving
away some fresh vegetables would make the talk more fun.
Since our local gardening season is winding down, I relied on a fresh
Sweet onions are
available during spring and summer seasons.
They have a higher water content and lower level of the strongly pungent
sulfur compounds that give cooking onions their characteristic taste and smell.
Their thinner skins and looser necks mean they are more easily bruised, so their
shelf life is shorter. But their
milder taste make them better suited for salads and lightly cooked foods.
"Vidalia" onions are sweet, large bulbed onions produced in the
south-central area of
High quality sweet onions like these Vidalias are available in produce markets in the late spring. Map courtesy Vidalia Onion Committee.
To be marketed as a "Vidalia Onion", the crop must originate in this 20-county region of South Central Georgia. Map courtesy Vidalia Onion Committee.
Onion are not usually grown to the point of flowering in the garden unless seed production is the goal. Photo courtesy: Fabian Garcia Research Center, NMSU
So what is so special
about "Vidalia" onions? The Granex-types of onion, along
with its old Texas Grano parent-type, are short day varieties that can also do
Florida Sweet onions
Testing and research
with sweet onions in the
And in the panhandle,
another entry into the sweet ring onion market appeared a few years ago:
Rosa Sweet was
Many other states grow
their own “sweet” onions. Since
Local gardeners can
produce their own sweet onions. Those who wish to grow a sweet bulbing
onion should select a Granex-type short day variety. For home gardeners,
seed of Granex 33 will probably be the easiest to find. Seed should be
planted in a properly fertilized plot in the fall (no later than mid-December)
for best results. Be sure to obtain fresh seed; even year-old seed may
yield poor results.
contributes to the pungency of onions, gardeners should avoid the application of
sulfur or sulfur containing materials to the soil or plants. Note that
certain fertilizers may contain sulfur.
Onions should be
planted in rows 12-24 inches apart, thinned to 4-6 inches between plants. Wider
spacing and good fertility yield larger bulbs. In the absence of a soil
test the garden should be fertilized with a broadcast application of 2˝ to 5
lbs. of a general-purpose fertilizer, such as
Since onions are
shallow rooted, irrigate frequently to keep the soil moist and promote steady
growth. Inconsistent watering may lead to splits, doubles and small bulbs.
Side dress the crop monthly with a nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of ˝-1 oz.
per 10 feet of row. Be sure to keep the fertilizer from contacting the
Good weed control is a must. Since young onions are small and grow slowly at first, they can be taken over by weeds that reduce yield. Consider using plastic mulch. Look out for diseases before they become established. Leaf blight diseases can seriously reduce yields. Monitor for insects twice each week, and use appropriate management techniques. Contact your local Extension Office for the latest information on pest management recommendations.
When 25% of the tops have naturally fallen over, this crop of Sweet Onions is ready for harvest. Photo: UF/IFAS
|For home gardeners, a short row of onions is generally all that is needed. Note this gardenr is using a raised bed. Photo courtesy University of Nebraska|
Bulb onions take 4- 5
months to mature. A crop planted in November - December will be ready
around April. The crop is ready to be harvested as the tops begin to fall over.
The onions should then be lifted and left to cure for several days in a cool dry
location before removing the tops. Curing will help increase the storage
life of your crop, although don’t expect prolonged
So if you like sweet
onions, they are now available in the produce stands.
But come November, get out there and grow your own. While they may
not be legally labeled "Vidalia," they will be every bit as good.
I’ve placed more information about sweet onions on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu. If you need additional information on, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 863-763-6469. Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from to on Tuesday afternoons.
names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information.
They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does
it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension
Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal
opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research,
educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that
function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida
Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /
Hochmuth, R.C. Experiences
Sweet Onions and Mulch Color
Kucharek, T. Botrytis Leaf Blight and Purple Blotch of Onions in Florida [PP-124]. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Florida Coperative Extension Service, 1/2000. http://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/takextpub/FactSheets/pp0124.pdf
- Sweet Onions.”
Onion Variety Trial, Spring 2003. in
S. M., et.al.
Onion, Leek, and Chive Production in
Stevens, Jim. Vidalia Onions. In: Vegetarian Newsletter.
Commercial and Industry websites:
About Onions: Seasonality. Greeley, CO: National Onion Association,
Vidalia Onions. Vidalia, GA: Vidalia Onion Committee, 2006. http://www.vidaliaonion.org/ [Information for consumers and the food industry.]
Laws: Did you know that Chumuckla, Florida, doesn't allow onions to be purchased between sunset and sunrise? See more at ONION LAWS - fun stuff that your not supposed to do with onions! Compiled by our friends at Texas A&M University. http://plantanswers.tamu.edu/publications/onions/onionlaws.html
Photos: Onion production photo gallery from New Mexico State University: http://onion.nmsu.edu/General/gallery.html
Onion Seed sources - Southern Exposure Seed Exchange , Dixondale Farms, Purdue University webpage with links to commercial seed companies.
Florida Commercial Vegetable Transplant Producers http://swfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/veghort/tgrowers.htm
Boyhan, George. Vidalia Vegetable Newsletter [Vol. 9, #9] Statesboro, GA: East Georgia Extension Center, Georgia State University, September 2005 [Latest newsletter] http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/horticulture/commodityNL/vidalia-sep05.htm . Archived newsletters: http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/horticulture/commodityNL/NL-home.html [Newsletter for commercial vegetable growers in Georgia.]
Longbrake, Tom. Easy Gardening - Onion. College Station: TAMU, undated. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/easygardening/onions/onions.html
A famous onion growing area is Florida. Note the black muck soils and rolling hills. This is not in the Sunshine State, but it is in Orange County.
Click on the photo to learn about Florida, in Orange County, or here to learn about its agricultural history.