Only Small Onions...12 years and still failing


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No success with onions. Been trying for 12 years...sets, plants, in rows of amended and fertilized soil. Tried containers. Red, yellow, white, etc. Long day varietes for NE PA. Watered and fertilized at recommended intervals. Result? Always the same...golf ball sized or smaller onions. I feel jinxed. Tried planting just below surface and 1" below surface. Close together and farther apart. No difference. HELP!!
 
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Whenever my onions are small it is caused by the weather going from hot to cold to hot to cold. Onion bulb size is determined by hours of daylight so if yours are in any kind of shade that is a factor too.
 
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Welcome to the forum Chris. What part of the country are you in? What type of soil do you have? It sounds like you have given it a good try, but there has to be a reason.
 

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Onions need to be kept growing steadily, the final bulb size depends on the amount of leaf formed. As their roots are relatively shallow they don't appreciate deep cultivation while growing, so I hand weed or use a small onion hoe. In the UK I plant sets in March, with a trowel as pushing them into the surface can damage the base of them, just deep enough to deter the birds from pulling them all out. I work in some blood fish and bone before planting and then use a general purpose granular fertiliser when they are growing strongly. If we get a longish dry spell I water. Leaves develop until about midsummer when the bulbs start to bulk up. I remove any flowers I see and these get used first. In July the leaves go over and go brown. I lift in August, allow to dry off and then string up in shed where they keep at least until Easter sometimes into June.
I should say I have no idea about American varieties, I grow varieties like Sturon and Stuttgarter for domestic use not for size or exhibition.
 
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As @Silentrunning stated, there has to be a reason. So let's start with nutrition. What exactly did you feed them with, when did you feed them and how much did you feed them?
What is your soils Ph?
 

Meadowlark

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Howdy Chris. I've grown a lot onions for a lot of years here in Texas and maybe learned a few thing along the way. My conditions are very different here from what you grow in, but take that into account.

First comes the choice of the set or seed if you prefer. You will need a long day variety in your area. Select recommended varieties for your specific area.

Sets should be planted as shallow as possible. The soil should be prepared well in advance of planting. Additives like bone meal, cow manure, and ground rock phosphorous should be worked into the soil well in advance of planting. Also, they need a relatively neutral ph so add lime if needed again well in advance of planting. Soil preparation is extremely important. I constantly try to improve my soils with cover crops and additives. The big onions are "grown" well before you actually plant, if you understand what I mean.

Now for planting...Give them plenty of room to grow in...4-6 inch diameter onions need space. You want to encourage as many leafs as possible, as they make the big bulbs. As far as fertilizer goes after planting, go with high nitrogen. Your "P" and "K" should have already been worked into the soil before planting. I like fish emulsion applied weekly during growing season.

I'm a complete believer in loosening the dirt around the bulb or better yet pulling dirt back some. Do this when the bulb really takes off in growth. They need regular water about 1 inch a week. Do not under any circumstances let them get extremely dry during growth. Withdraw water about a week before harvest to improve storage.

Those are the important big ticket items that come to mind. I'm sure I've forgot something so a question or two or three might jog my memory and would be welcome.

I love to grow big onions....last year's crop was topped by a 4 plus pounder, delicious. Very fun and very rewarding.
 
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As @Silentrunning stated, there has to be a reason. So let's start with nutrition. What exactly did you feed them with, when did you feed them and how much did you feed them? What is your soils Ph?
Onions need to be kept growing steadily, the final bulb size depends on the amount of leaf formed. As their roots are relatively shallow they don't appreciate deep cultivation while growing, so I hand weed or use a small onion hoe. In the UK I plant sets in March, with a trowel as pushing them into the surface can damage the base of them, just deep enough to deter the birds from pulling them all out. I work in some blood fish and bone before planting and then use a general purpose granular fertiliser when they are growing strongly. If we get a longish dry spell I water. Leaves develop until about midsummer when the bulbs start to bulk up. I remove any flowers I see and these get used first. In July the leaves go over and go brown. I lift in August, allow to dry off and then string up in shed where they keep at least until Easter sometimes into June. I should say I have no idea about American varieties, I grow varieties like Sturon and Stuttgarter for domestic use not for size or exhibition.
As @Silentrunning stated, there has to be a reason. So let's start with nutrition. What exactly did you feed them with, when did you feed them and how much did you feed them?
What is your soils Ph?
Slightly akaline soil. Miracle Gro ever 2 to 3 weeks.
 
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Slightly akaline soil. Miracle Gro ever 2 to 3 weeks.
My soil is alkaline, around 7.8 and onions like slightly acidic soil the best. Your Ph is fine. I don't like really big onions and I grow onions that normally grow to around 1/4 - 1/2 lb. Having said this here is what I believe your problem/problems are. Number one is your fertilizer. And number two is lack of organic matter in your soil. I am sure your onions are not getting the proper nutrition, especially by using a fertilizer like MG. Fertilize with a good fertilizer like Espoma or Dr Earth or any of the good organic fertilizers but please stay away from MG or Scotts products. Even their organic products are IMO sub-standard. Add a LOT of organic materials, leaves, clippings, kitchen waste, compost etc. Use molasses to jump start the soil micro-organisms. Use liquid seaweed on your garden. It provides a lot of minerals that onions need which synthetic fertilizers do not have.
 

Meadowlark

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Slightly akaline soil.
That could well be a big part of the problem...if you want to grow more than scrawny onions. My soil is about 6 and produces huge delicious onions.

"Onions, like most veggies, grow best in slightly acidic soil. Ideally, soil for onions should have a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5, according to the National Gardening Association. At the high end of this range, soil nutrients are most easily accessed. While onions can survive when grown at a different pH level, they won't grow particularly well. "
 
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My soil is alkaline, around 7.8 and onions like slightly acidic soil the best. Your Ph is fine. I don't like really big onions and I grow onions that normally grow to around 1/4 - 1/2 lb. Having said this here is what I believe your problem/problems are. Number one is your fertilizer. And number two is lack of organic matter in your soil. I am sure your onions are not getting the proper nutrition, especially by using a fertilizer like MG. Fertilize with a good fertilizer like Espoma or Dr Earth or any of the good organic fertilizers but please stay away from MG or Scotts products. Even their organic products are IMO sub-standard. Add a LOT of organic materials, leaves, clippings, kitchen waste, compost etc. Use molasses to jump start the soil micro-organisms. Use liquid seaweed on your garden. It provides a lot of minerals that onions need which synthetic fertilizers do not have.
And, here I was under the impression that onions were relatively easy to grow. I will take your suggestions under advisement. Hey, as Brooklyn Dodger fans used to cry..."there's always next year!" Thanks!
 
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That could well be a big part of the problem...if you want to grow more than scrawny onions. My soil is about 6 and produces huge delicious onions.

"Onions, like most veggies, grow best in slightly acidic soil. Ideally, soil for onions should have a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5, according to the National Gardening Association. At the high end of this range, soil nutrients are most easily accessed. While onions can survive when grown at a different pH level, they won't grow particularly well. "
I will keep an eye on the old "power of Hydrogen". Thanks.
 
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And, here I was under the impression that onions were relatively easy to grow. I will take your suggestions under advisement. Hey, as Brooklyn Dodger fans used to cry..."there's always next year!" Thanks!
They are easy to grow if planted in fertile soil and MG does NOT make for a fertile soil. Organic material does.
 
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Howdy Chris. I've grown a lot onions for a lot of years here in Texas and maybe learned a few thing along the way. My conditions are very different here from what you grow in, but take that into account.

First comes the choice of the set or seed if you prefer. You will need a long day variety in your area. Select recommended varieties for your specific area.

Sets should be planted as shallow as possible. The soil should be prepared well in advance of planting. Additives like bone meal, cow manure, and ground rock phosphorous should be worked into the soil well in advance of planting. Also, they need a relatively neutral ph so add lime if needed again well in advance of planting. Soil preparation is extremely important. I constantly try to improve my soils with cover crops and additives. The big onions are "grown" well before you actually plant, if you understand what I mean.

Now for planting...Give them plenty of room to grow in...4-6 inch diameter onions need space. You want to encourage as many leafs as possible, as they make the big bulbs. As far as fertilizer goes after planting, go with high nitrogen. Your "P" and "K" should have already been worked into the soil before planting. I like fish emulsion applied weekly during growing season.

I'm a complete believer in loosening the dirt around the bulb or better yet pulling dirt back some. Do this when the bulb really takes off in growth. They need regular water about 1 inch a week. Do not under any circumstances let them get extremely dry during growth. Withdraw water about a week before harvest to improve storage.

Those are the important big ticket items that come to mind. I'm sure I've forgot something so a question or two or three might jog my memory and would be welcome.

I love to grow big onions....last year's crop was topped by a 4 plus pounder, delicious. Very fun and very rewarding.
Lots of info to digest. Meadowlark. I lived in San Antonio for 4 years. Did not do any
They are easy to grow if planted in fertile soil and MG does NOT make for a fertile soil. Organic material does.
I grew this year's onion plants in conditioned straw bales. I used the recommended high nitrogen lawn fertilizer to condition them for 18 days according to the "experts". The straw breaks down into a high nitrogen compost that one plants the onions into. I was getting great tops with lots of leaves and developing bulbs, but then, they just stopped growing. I had used more of the lawn fertilizer as suggested and watered them once a week. More mysteries. Thanks for your suggestions.
 
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Lots of info to digest. Meadowlark. I lived in San Antonio for 4 years. Did not do any

I grew this year's onion plants in conditioned straw bales. I used the recommended high nitrogen lawn fertilizer to condition them for 18 days according to the "experts". The straw breaks down into a high nitrogen compost that one plants the onions into. I was getting great tops with lots of leaves and developing bulbs, but then, they just stopped growing. I had used more of the lawn fertilizer as suggested and watered them once a week. More mysteries. Thanks for your suggestions.
The highest nitrogen of straw is with alfalfa straw/hay and it is 2.50. All the high nitrogen lawn fertilizer did was to break down the straw and literally reduce the amount of nitrogen available to the plant. The higher the nitrogen content of synthetic fertilizer is the faster it leaches away. It is a matter of positive and negative ions as to the length of time a fertilizer will be available to a plant. Soil has negative ions. Synthetic fertilizers is also negative ions. Negative to negative =repel. What this means is that synthetic fertilizers do not adhere to the soil, organics have positive ions and does adhere. The chemical fertilizer either dissipates or leaches away or if available to a plant the plant uptakes it. It does absolutely nothing for the soil. Synthetics literally burn away organic matter and leave behind mineral salts. Your onions are literally starving. It is true that an onion leaf causes an onion ring. If your onion has had 13 leaves it will have 13 rings but that does not necessarily mean that those rings will be of any size. P and K are also important and so are minerals. I could explain all of this in much better detail but it would require a thread of its own and a lot of time. Suffice it to say that by using organic fertilizers, organic matter and organic techniques you will be successful. If you would have used organic fertilizer on the straw instead of a high nitrate chemical compound you would have been successful. What I would do now is take all that straw and incorporate it into your soil, throw away your high nitrogen "fertilizer" and replace it with a good organic. After 12 years of chemical fertilizers I would say you have depleted whatever organic material you may have had in your soil along with most of your soil biology. If you want to be sucessful now is the time to start building for next year.
 

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I'm probably not much help with growing conditions in America but I would think about shade netting, often had some reasonably sized onions when they get shaded out by weeds.
 
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The highest nitrogen of straw is with alfalfa straw/hay and it is 2.50. All the high nitrogen lawn fertilizer did was to break down the straw and literally reduce the amount of nitrogen available to the plant. The higher the nitrogen content of synthetic fertilizer is the faster it leaches away. It is a matter of positive and negative ions as to the length of time a fertilizer will be available to a plant. Soil has negative ions. Synthetic fertilizers is also negative ions. Negative to negative =repel. What this means is that synthetic fertilizers do not adhere to the soil, organics have positive ions and does adhere. The chemical fertilizer either dissipates or leaches away or if available to a plant the plant uptakes it. It does absolutely nothing for the soil. Synthetics literally burn away organic matter and leave behind mineral salts. Your onions are literally starving. It is true that an onion leaf causes an onion ring. If your onion has had 13 leaves it will have 13 rings but that does not necessarily mean that those rings will be of any size. P and K are also important and so are minerals. I could explain all of this in much better detail but it would require a thread of its own and a lot of time. Suffice it to say that by using organic fertilizers, organic matter and organic techniques you will be successful. If you would have used organic fertilizer on the straw instead of a high nitrate chemical compound you would have been successful. What I would do now is take all that straw and incorporate it into your soil, throw away your high nitrogen "fertilizer" and replace it with a good organic. After 12 years of chemical fertilizers I would say you have depleted whatever organic material you may have had in your soil along with most of your soil biology. If you want to be sucessful now is the time to start building for next year.
Thanks for your response. Interesting take. I can tell that you are a dedicated organic grower. That is a good thing. However, I know plenty of people who use synthetic fertilizers and get tremendous results. One neighbor grows potatoes the size of softballs; another gets onions the size of baseballs. I know that organic gardening methods are certainly good for the soil...no question. But, they are also more expensive and time-consuming (at least from what I've heard from others). With that said, I am desperate enough to give some of your suggestions a try next year. Nothing ventured,,,nothing gained. I appreciate your time to get back to me. BTW, the tomatoes that I grew in just one straw bale grew incredibly well. I had to trellis them to a height of almost 7 feet. Too many to pick and use. And that was from just 4 plants in the bale.
 
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I'm probably not much help with growing conditions in America but I would think about shade netting, often had some reasonably sized onions when they get shaded out by weeds.
My answers to my problem remind me of the old joke about beekeepers (of which I am one): "ask 6 beekeepers a question and you'll get 8 different answers." I have heard mainly that onions prefer full sun. Go figure. Anyway, thanks for the shout back.
 
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That could well be a big part of the problem...if you want to grow more than scrawny onions. My soil is about 6 and produces huge delicious onions.

"Onions, like most veggies, grow best in slightly acidic soil. Ideally, soil for onions should have a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5, according to the National Gardening Association. At the high end of this range, soil nutrients are most easily accessed. While onions can survive when grown at a different pH level, they won't grow particularly well. "
I will check the pH next year prior to planting. Thanks
 

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