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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Time to Order Onions and Potatoes

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long
You probably have your garden tools put away and think that planting time is a long way off but seed catalogs are arriving daily and garden planting isn’t far away. If you’ve followed my columns over the past 20 years, you know that I’ll be encouraging onion planting at the end of January. And I’ll start recommending, as I do each year, getting peas in the ground by Valentine’s Day, and potatoes planted before the end of February.
Part of my garden's raised beds.

This is my 32nd year of gardening on my farm and during that time I’ve learned the earlier I plant onions, peas and potatoes, the fewer pests I have and the better those crops do. All three are winter hardy, especially if you apply some loose straw over the bed at the time of planting. My method is to put about 8 inches of loose straw over the entire bed, then I make a row and plant through the straw.
A Dixondale customer with his onions. No, that's not me.

The difficulty I had for many years was finding onions early enough to plant in our mild Ozarks climate. Many seed companies are located in more northerly states and if you order potatoes and onions, they will ship them only,  “ at the proper planting time for your area.” That means they decide when they think you should plant, and if you wait on them, you’ll be planting too late for the Ozarks season.
Red Candy Apple onions.
Over the years I’ve found two companies that are happy to ship my onion plants and seed potatoes at the time I want them, rather than on their whims. The first is Dixondale Farms in Texas; I have found that the Intermediate Day varieties do the best for me. By planting early (late January for me) and planting the Intermediate Day varieties, I have little problem with the onions flowering before the bulbs are made. Also, the earlier you plant, the larger the bulbs will be. Often the varieties you find in grocery or feed stores are just generic onions that may or may not be varieties best suited for the Ozarks region. I order the Intermediate Day Sampler, which includes Candy, Red Candy Apple and Super Star varieties. 
You may also remember last spring I did a test trial, planting both onion sets (bulbs) and  onion plants. I planted at the same time, side by side. The plants produced bulbs faster and I had onions almost 10 days earlier than with the sets.
Potatoes used to be an even bigger problem to find for my early garden. I’ve had seed companies simply refuse to ship my seed potatoes before mid-March, which they deem “correct” for my area. If I plant potatoes that late, I am assured a good crop of potato beetles. Plant early and you avoid those completely! I found Wood Prairie Farm a few years back. Even though they’re located in Maine, they will ship seed potatoes as early as I want. They have a large selection to choose from and I always try to get my seed potatoes shipped the first week of February. Wood Prairie Farm is a family-run farm and they also offer some garden seed as well as maple syrup from their area.
Happy gardening in 2012!

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