I had read about planting onion sets in the fall and I though “well that would be nice. I can give my onions a head start, have something growing in the garden bed and save some work in the busy spring time.”
A head start for the onions would be great, since my onions from last year where not very big.
To have something growing in the garden beds is important. I hate to leave a garden bed empty over winter. Nature does not leave the soil empty over winter either. When onions do not have a lot of growth above ground, at least there are roots in the soil. This helps the microbes in the ground and keeps the soil healthy. To compensate the lack of growth above ground I cover the soil with some straw to protect the soil against the harsh winds we have and prevent the soil from drying out. With time the straw breaks down and ads compost to the garden beds as well.
The spring time is a very busy time with pre-cultivating al sorts of vegetables indoors and in the greenhouse, planting and preparing new garden beds, so I am happy to spread out some of the work if I can. Besides, flower bulbs are planted in the fall as well.
So I thought and I thought wrong. After checking my garden beds with the onion sets last week I wondered why I am seeing only a few sat onion leaves. In the fall I hat already seen all of the onions growing, but now there are only a handful of onions growing.
What happened with the onions?
Maybe some where eaten by mice, but after doing some digging I found some leftovers from the onion sets which have simply rotten.
Apparently onion sets are not like flower bulbs and do not act like flower bulbs as well. Of course I had covered the onion sets with a layer of straw and we hat a wet fall and winter, so that could have been the problem. On the other hand, if I don’t cover them with straw, we also get frost down to -20°C in winter without snow covering and protecting the vegetation, so that would also kill the onion sets.
What did we learn?
Where we live we should plant onion sets in the spring. And so we did. Double cost and double work, but I planted new onion sets. Even more than I did last fall, since I use a lot of onions while cooking and I want to make sure I will have enough onions for next season. Last year I did not grow enough and I will run out of onions soon.
Planting onion sets
The recommended spacing for onions in the row is about 30cm, but since I want to sow carrots in between I will have more space between the rows. Within the row the onion sets should have a spacing of 5-10cm, which I eyeballed. For the planting depth 4-5cm are recommended. I plant onion sets so that the top side of the bulb is level with the top of the soil and than I put the straw mulch back. There is nothing more to it.
O, and onions are middle hungry. This means I should have put some compost on the beds last fall, which I did not do. When I find the time I will divide some well composted horse manure between the onions this spring.
Now to the carrots
I mainly pack these together with onions & garlic. Carrots love to be surrounded by onions & garlic, since these give some protection against the carrot fly (Chamaepsila rosae). The carrot fly is a very common pest which I had some problem with last year. The sent of carrots draws them to the carrots from all over the place. By sowing the carrots in between rows of onions & garlic the carrot fly does not find the carrots any more, since the onions & garlic have a much stronger smell. Leeks & chives apparently do the same. Maybe I will try that as well.
I also did an entire raised bed with only carrots. We use a lot of carrots and if I only sow carrots in between onions and garlic I will not have enough. This raised bed is next to a garlic bed and I have some garlic from last years harvest popping up that I missed out on harvesting last year. I will replant these in this carrot bed and hope it will do against the carrot fly. The carrot fly is very, very tiny, so I am not sure if putting a fine mesh over these carrots would help keeping them out.
Another reason why I sowed this entire raised bed with carrots is while there where green beans (and one big sunflower) in here last year. Green beans are a legume, which means they improve the soil. Carrots do not like when the soil is freshly manured, but growing carrots after legumes is ideal. Do not pull out the legumes, but cut them of above ground. They have small nodules on there roots which help to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the ground for plants to use. So we want to keep these in the ground.
The recommended distances for carrots are 30-50cm for the rows and 2-3cm in the row. My raised beds are only 80 cm wide and only 2 rows in one bed seem a little scant, so I sowed the carrot rows only 20 cm apart to have 3 rows in my raised bed.
To sow the carrots 2-3cm apart is a bit tricky and not bad if it will be less. Once the carrots have grown a bit and need more space it is time to harvest the first young carrots. We will enjoy these and the other carrots have the space they need to grow.
To sow the carrots I first pushed aside the straw to create a furrow. Seeds always need contact with the soil. After sowing I merely move with my fingers trough the soil a bit, not really covering the seed, since carrots need light to properly germinate. After that I lightly cover the rows with some straw, but not too much. I did not bother watering the seeds, since a lot of rain has been predicted.
The carrots I sowed here are the once with the shortest vegetation time. We will start picking these for fresh eating long before they are finished growing, merely because the kids love to eat carrots direct from the garden. I have to make sure to sow the storage variety somewhere a bit of to where they usually play, so the storage carrots will not be eaten before fall. And of course I will have to sow more then enough carrots for fresh eating.
Housemother caterpillar (Noctua pronuba)
While sowing carrots I found this Housemother caterpillar (Noctua pronuba). A lovely little creature. This one is light in colour. In the next stage the Housemother caterpillar takes a dark colour before pupating into the Housemother. We have also found some of the dark coloured caterpillars. The Housemother usually flies at night (visiting flowers).
Time will show if I did things right, so stay tuned for up-dates this season.