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Starting from Scratch
Martha Maletta, Home Horticultural Consultant
Dated -  March 04, 2005

I’m late this year sending for mail-order seeds. As soon as they arrive it will be time...if not a little past time...to start some growing. I’ve been raising garden transplants from seed indoors for almost thirty years. Why? Lots of plant choices and the basic satisfaction of “starting from scratch”. There are a few critical keys to success.

Starting plants from seed means many newer varieties and cultivars are there to be tried. The 2005 All America Selections winners include: eggplant ‘Fairy Tale’ that produces violet- purple fruit on a small plant suitable for container culture; ‘Sugary’ cherry tomato that produces extra sweet, oval fruit; ‘Magellan Coral’ zinnia with large, dahlia-type blooms; and ‘First Kiss Blueberry’ vinca featuring violet-blue blossoms. Among former AAS winners is an onion that might be worth a try in Hunterdon County. ‘Super Star’ was a 2001 AAS winner, the only onion so designated in over 50 years. The reason: this is a day neutral sweet white hybrid that has the potential to do well throughout the country. Most onions fall into one of two groups: long-day or short-day. The long-day onions need a certain day length to bulb, 14-16 hours, reached here in summer. Short-day onions need only 12-14 hour days to bulb. This is why short-day onions only perform well in the southern states where maximum day length is about 12 hours. If they are grown in the north, the day-length requirement is met when the plants are still small and the bulbs will not develop any size. Unfortunately for “long-day” gardeners, many of the mild, sweet onions are short-day types. Until now. ‘Super Star’ may be the northern onion grower’s answer because it does not have the day-length requirement and reportedly has the mild, sweet flavor favored for grilling or raw eating. This is not an onion for long storage, however. It does require about 100 days to reach maturity so would best be grown from seed sown indoors about 8 weeks before transplanting in late March/early April. That means very soon!

For more details on raising transplants from seed indoors, send a SASE for the Fact Sheet “Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors” to RCRE Hunterdon County, P.O. Box 2900, Flemington, NJ, 08822 or go to “Publications” on the RCRE website: www.rce.rugters.edu. The information is relevant for ornamentals as well as vegetables.

Here are a few onion growing tips. Onion needs a fertile soil with plenty of organic matter, especially if the soil is heavy as are many in Hunterdon County. Plant transplants 2-3 inches apart and thin to 6-8 inches, using the thinnings as green onions. Set the transplants deep enough to support the plant but do not cover the youngest leaf. Harvest when the tops of 1/4 to 1/2 the plants have fallen over. Onions can be harvested earlier, as needed, but won’t be as large. Weed control is very important. Hand pulling and shallow cultivation are the main options for young plants. Mulch may help on established plants.

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