It’s time!!! That’s right this is the month most farmers and gardeners get to plant the first seeds of the year. Not a whole bunch of seeds mind you, just a little warm up. This is the time for onions and leeks!! If you want tasty green onions in June and big full bulbs in the fall you have to start early!!
Onion seeds do not last long at all, they are one of the few types of seeds that usually only viable for a season. So if you haven’t ordered your seeds yet you should at least put in a quick order for onions and leeks. If you aren’t sure where to get seeds check out my post all about it!
Obviously not everyone has space to start seeds up in the house. That’s perfectly alright, you can still enjoy onions and leeks in the garden. You can either buy trays of seedlings from your local nursery or order onion sets.
Onion sets are small onions that have been overwintered so they are ready to grow in the spring. There sometimes issues with bolting (going to seed without a full bulb) when using sets but they make for great spring or mid summer onions. You can also find heat treated sets which will not bolt.
Things you will need to start onion and leek seeds at home:
- Window or grow light
- Table, or shelves
- Potting mix
- Seed trays
- Watering can
Grow lights are expensive but make a huge difference if you don’t have a growing space with a lot of light. I’ve purchased a few from amazon, used online and on sale at my local nursery.
I like to start my seedlings on the plastic folding tables you can find at Walmart or Canadian Tire. They have room for lots of seedlings, aren’t damaged by water, pack up nicely and can be used for many things on the farm. I’ve also used heavy duty plastic storage shelves to make the most of vertical space. I find that unless I have a grow light for each shelf my seedlings will get leggy. I usually setup my growing station in the sun-room about a week before I start seeding.
Leggy plants are plants with very long and flimsy stems. Usually because they are trying to reach for the light and there is no wind movement to cause the stem to stiffen up. Leggy plants are more easily damaged when watering and make for tougher transplants. To stop plants from becoming leggy, lower your grow light and turn a fan on them for a couple of hours each day. I also like to give my seedlings a pet when I walk by… but that’s not a scientifically proven technique.
It is very important to start your seedlings in a sterile mix. There are many opportunities for pests and diseases when growing seedlings. There are mixes specific to starting seeds but I usually just buy a large brick of Pro-Mix Organik from our local nursery and use it for the whole process. I mix in more vermiculite, perlite or peat moss when needed and use an organic fertilizer before planting out. You can also make your own mixes. All of the ingredients are readily available at garden centers and nurseries.
1 part peat moss or similar – for acidity, water retention
1 part perlite – for drainage
1 part vermiculite – for water retention(without soaking)
2 parts sterile compost – nutrition, root growth
2 parts peat or similar
1 part sand – drainage, soil structure, root growth
1 part vermiculite
Once you have your mix make sure that you have an easy, clean place to store it. I use Rubbermaid tubs tucked under my seeding tables. I also like to get the whole mix a little damp before I start planting. When it’s dry it is difficult to work with and nasty to breath.
Seeding trays can be purchased online or from a local nursery. I like to have trays with cells inside of big flat trays. For onions and leeks I use a tray with 200 cells and place that in the flat tray so that I can add soil below for extra root growth in the early spring.
To start seeding just fill the celled tray with seeding mix, press the soil lightly into each cell and then top off the tray with a little more. Make sure to leave the mix level slightly below the edge of the tray, otherwise when you water the first time all your seeds will float around.
When seeding onions to harvest early (bunching or green onions) you can put more than one seed per cell – I usually go for 3 or 4. The rest should be one per cell and that’s the same for leeks. You should label each variety of seed. It will make both transplant and harvest much easier. You can press the seeds about 1/4-1/2 inch deep, smooth the mix over, cover the top of the tray with a layer of vermiculite (this prevents damping off) and water the whole tray.
After this slide your tray under its light source and eagerly await seedlings breaking through the soil.
Onion seedlings look like a fine grass at first and will grow quite tall if left alone. To get the biggest bulbs possible before planting out its a good idea to trim the tops of the onions every week or so. Make sure to leave a little over an inch of green and just snip the top off with scissors.
That is all there is to it! Please share photos and stories of your garden prep! If you have any questions or comments you can reach me by email or in the comments below!
Happy gardening!! It’s basically spring, right?