[Our farm stands remain closed for the season, but I wanted to drop you all a note to remind you that we’re still here and working every day (well, maybe not every single day) in preparation for our reopening in March! The following is a little farm story, if you feel inclined to give it a read…]

What’s not to love about an onion? Once you get past the occasional crying fit an especially pungent allium might cause upon its dissection on the chopping block, there’s no denying that an onion sautéed to golden caramelized goodness adds flavor to a dish that can’t be equaled. From green onion to fresh spring onion to the final papery-covered bulb, there’s no substitute.

For this reason, and many others, the success of each year’s onion crop is high on our wish list.

Through a typical year, we experience a fair share of failures to go along with the successes. Farmer John and I, while not exactly embracing the disappointments along the way, have at least learned to try to mitigate them as much as we can. Like right now, we’re having a heck of a time getting carrot seeds to germinate. After two failed attempts in the fall (we’re starting to suspect fire ants as the culprits), we’ll try one more time in a different area of the farm with the fastest-growing carrot variety we have. Carrots need to mature before the days get too hot, else the end product has the consistency – and flavor – of a block of wood, so we’ll forego the slow-growing Sugar Snax this season for the quicker Mokum and hope for the best.

The carrot situation is frustrating, for sure, but at least we have this one last shot at it. Main crop onions aren’t so flexible. Ideally, we try to set out the first of the transplants in late December with successive plantings continuing through January. Once we’ve planted every available onion bed, the success or failure of this major crop lies almost exclusively with Mother Nature.

The entire process actually begins in early October, when John spreads tiny onion seeds, for both yellow and red onions, thickly along a 200-foot bed. There they grow in a mass until the onions are large enough to dig up for transplanting.

For the brief period between uprooting and replanting, we store the onions roots-down in a shallow pool of reconstituted kelp powder to give them a little additional oomph before they’re gently shoved into their semi-permanent, pre-harvest homes.

Most of our onion beds are 400-feet long, three rows per bed. One or two people are assigned as the layer-outers of the onions, while the others follow behind burying each slender stalk, one-by-one, a few inches apart.

Charles is partial to the layer-outer job. After grabbing a fistful of starts from the kelp bucket, he separates and places the onions along the drip tape at evenly-spaced intervals.

The onion planters – usually Mary, Vicky and I – crawl (and eventually hobble) down the long row, pushing the onions deeply into place. The deeper the better, so there’s plenty of white stalk underground to help form a nice, big bulb once all is said and done.

It’s a tedious, time-consuming process that’s still ongoing. We need to plant at least two more 400-foot beds, maybe three, before we move on to planting other spring crops. In the end, we should have a total of about 6,000-7,000 linear feet of onion starts in the ground.

If it turns out to be a good onion year, we’ll have an abundance to bring to our markets for many months. If it’s bad, pungency won’t be to blame for any crying fits. And by the time we’re able to recognize that the onion year is veering more towards bad than good, it’s too late to plant more. This is a one-shot deal, and it’s a big deal indeed.

Last year’s crop was a disappointment, as it was the year prior. We’re due for an onion bounty. Here’s hoping the tears shed over this year’s onions occur only occasionally, in the kitchen, at the chopping block.

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We hope you’re all doing well, and we look forward to seeing you in March!

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm