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Auburn gardener savors joys of onion growing

By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Over the years, lifelong Auburn resident Buddy Bloxham has grown a variety of vegetables on his land just outside of town. But, for him, nothing beats the onion. “They’re easy to grow,” Bloxham said recently. “All you have to do is put them in the ground.” He began cultivating onions a couple of years ago. Last year’s crop produced some the size of baseballs. But this year he has bigger dreams. His crop is a mix of local starts he planted in the fall, and several specialties he just put into the garden during the past couple of weeks. “I started putting in the ones from Eisley’s just before that heavy rain,” he said. “They took off like you wouldn’t believe. As long as it doesn’t get down into the 20s, the onions will survive. They’re pretty hardy.” The Alicia Craigs, Big Daddy and Candy varieties are from Dixondale Farms. The grower, located in Texas, bills itself as the largest and oldest onion plant grower in the nation. Bloxham consulted with a Dixondale expert and did research on the UC Davis Web site. He planted the onions in 50-gallon plastic barrels that he cut in half. “That gives me two solid bottoms,” he explained. “You’ve got to have enough drainage, so I cut them again about another half on each end. Some of the barrels are totally wide open like a big ring. Then I put dirt into the planters. They will drain great and there are no weeds.” His system seems to be working well. “They’re already up about 4 or 5 inches,” he said about the newest plantings. “ All you have to do is keep up with them.” Bloxham uses regular potting soil. “It needs to be 6.2 to 6.8 pH,”he said. Choosing the right fertilizer is another key to ensuring success. “You want to start out with a 10-20-10 (mix) until they start coming up and bulbing,” he said. “Once the plants start bulbing, switch to 21-0-0 — almost solid nitrogen — adding it every three weeks.” Once the tops start to fall over, it’s time to stop adding fertilizer. When choosing onion starts, it’s important to know if you’re in a long-day or short-day growing season area. “We’re intermediate-day onions,” Bloxham said. “So any of your long day or intermediate-day (plants) will grow here as long as they’re getting the proper amount of fertilizer.” He estimates his crop will be ready for harvest in June. That means plenty of onions for friends and family. I give a lot of them away, he said. But he’ll keep some for himself, too. “There are so many things you can do with onions — make a good French onion soup or put them into salads or burgers,” he said. “The real sweet ones you can eat like an apple.” French onion soup is at the top of his list. “Take some Worcestershire sauce, chop up the onions and brown them with butter,” he said. “Put that into the crock pot. Then just add what you want. (When the soup is ready), toast some good French bread. Put it under the broiler with Parmesan and set that right on top.” At Eisley Nursery, longtime employee Cyndi Davis said fall and right now are good times to plant onions. Locally there are several types that do very well. “We typically carry the California red,” she said. “Walla Walla does fine here and there’s a Bermuda (onion). Weed control is very important. “(Onions) don’t like competition,” Davis said. “They like regular watering — they don’t like long dry-out periods. Generally speaking, feed them with even-numbered or regular vegetable food or an even-numbered fertilizer when you first plant. Once the plants are well developed and you are starting to let them size up, no more nitrogen.” According to aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu, gardeners should stop fertilizing onions once the neck softens — about four weeks prior to harvest.