By Les Harrison, County Extension Director and
Shelley Swenson, Extension Agent III, Family and Consumer Sciences UF-IFAS Wakulla County Extension
The winter weather has finally arrived. While temperatures have been erratic and exceptional, to say the least, the rain has been sufficient.
There are currently plenty of cool season leafy garden crops in production among Wakulla County’s gardeners, but one vegetable offers variety uses and taste selections. Onions planted last fall provide the greens and the bulb for a nutritional flavor enhancer from salads to a variety of dishes.
The common onion, Allium cepa, has many varieties within the species, and is grown and consumed worldwide. Garlic, chives and leeks are in the same genus as onions with their use similar to onions, but not nearly as frequent.
This popular and simple to grow vegetable easily handled the harshest Wakulla County winters. The multiple mornings of subfreezing temperatures and hard frost had no appreciable effect on this versatile vegetable.
Most local soils can provide an ideal growing medium for onions. The lack of sulfur in the dirt and the excellent drainage are two requirements for producing a potentially mild bulb, depending on the variety planted.
The naturally occurring high levels of available phosphate in local soils also are an advantage when growing onions.
The Granex yellow onion cultivar is likely the current favorite among many gardeners. This is the same cultivar which produces some the premium branded mild onions on the market today which are produced in Georgia and Texas.
There are a number of other bulb and seed onion cultivars on the market, depending on availability or which seed catalogs arrive in the mail. Most are classified by color.
Red, yellow, and white onions each has a fan base, depending on use and taste preference. As a general rule the yellow onions have the strongest and most pungent qualities, but sulphur content in the soil is a great influence.
Onions can be planted from August to March, either by seed or bulbs. Two inch spacing between plants provide enough space to grow and does not waste limited cultivation area.
Days to harvest depend on how the onion is to be used. Green onions, sometimes known as scallions, take four months with bulb onions taking five months or longer.
In reality, onions are biennial but are usually grown as annuals.
Today’s onions provide the consumer with a combination of excellent nutrition, and good storage and handling qualities while enhancing the flavor of many meats, vegetables and salads. The bulbs come in three colors (red, yellow and white) which add to the visual quality of the dining experience.
Onions deliver vitamins B-6, C and Folic Acid. They are naturally low in sodium and fats, and contain four percent sugar.
Onions have compounds such as favonoids and phenolics which have had numerous positive health benefits attributed to them. Their consumption can be part of a healthy diet.
Properly handled onions have a potentially long storage life. Store in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area with 45 to 55 degrees the ideal temperature range.
Visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County demonstration garden to see fall onions grown by Master Gardeners in the high tunnel. This open-ended greenhouse structure offers a more hospitable and uniform growing environment during winter.