Bolting Causes and Prevention
I was recently asked by our Vidalia, Georgia onion farmers why bolting occurred more than expected this past season. Bolting is when an onion plant produces a flower stalk. Bolted onion bulbs stop growing; they must be harvested and consumed right away, as they can't be stored.
Read on to learn what causes bolting, how you can prevent it, and why the Vidalia onion farmers had more than their usual share of bolted onions.
Bolting is a survival response. Abnormal growing conditions make the onion think it's dying, and it sends up a flower so it can reproduce. At this point, the bulb stops growing altogether because the plant needs energy to make the flower stalk. The abnormal growing conditions that can cause bolting are:
Temperature fluctuations and cold weather stress. When the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for a prolonged period, the plant becomes dormant. When the temperature rises, the plant grows. If cold weather returns, the plant goes dormant again, and with returning warmth, it will grow again. Two or more dormant/growth cycles will likely result in bolting.
Loose soil. When the soil is too loose, an onion plant's roots are more easily disturbed. Thinking it's starving, the onion reacts by trying to spread its seed.
Over-fertilization. This causes onions to grow too vigorously too early in their development. We offer some fertilizing tips in our Onion Planting Guide that will help you give your plants the right amount of food so you can prevent bolting.
Why the Vidalia Onions Bolted
Here's what happened in the Vidalia region this year: the onions planted on November 1 were more vulnerable to bolting due to (a) the cool, wet weather from mid-January to mid-March, during which there were warmer periods alternating with cooler ones; and (b) the fact that those onions were already fairly mature. Onions planted on December 1 had fewer incidents of bolting, because planting a month later meant the plants were not as far along in the growing process.
How to Prevent Bolting
Though you can't control the weather, there are some steps you can take to discourage your onions from bolting.
Choose the right variety. Be sure to pick onions of a suitable day-length for your climate, or they'll get confused and may bolt. The southern tier states require short-day onions, because they rarely get more than 12 hours of good daylight during growing season. Intermediate-day onions are best for the middle of the country, where they bulb once the day-length reaches 12-14 hours of sunlight. The upper portion of the country needs long-day onions, which mature once days exceed 14 hours of sunlight.
Plant at the right time. Planting at the correct time for the variety in question is the most important factor for limiting bolting. Planting should occur 4-6 weeks before the last estimated spring frost/freeze. You can use this chart to find your average last spring frost date, and of course our shipping chart will also provide the week that your plants will arrive, according to your zip code.
Fertilize appropriately. Fertilize according to instructions every two to three weeks after planting. Stop as soon as the onions start to bulb. We've got a YouTube video that offers some great fertilizing tips.
Maximizing Your Crop
To get the most onions for your money, do your best to prevent bolting. Onions that bolt are finished growing and should be harvested right away. Though they won't store well, they're perfectly edible and should be consumed as soon as possible.
The bolting prevention tips above, if carefully followed, should be sufficient to limit bolting in your onions, so you can be sure you have plenty to last you through the off-season.
Bruce "Onionman" Frasier
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From Our Friends
Walla Walla Wow
Louis Hoying of Minster, Ohio tells us, "Another great year of producing a great crop of onions, and it all started with Dixondale's quality onion plants and growing instructions.
"My Walla Walla, Copra, and Red Wing plants all grew larger than advertised, despite the roller coaster weather this year! Thanks again!"
Happy to help, Louis!
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Around the Farm
Making It Happen
Every fall, we introduce our hard-working customer service representatives to you. This year's team is:
Front Row, Left to Right: Jiovana Jaime, Rose Hernandez, and Lori Lira. Back Row, Left to Right: EJ Balderas, Melissa Romo, Janice Carrillo, Mary Caddell, Bonnie Hernandez, and Aby Lira.
And here's what each has to say about the Dixondale experience!
Jiovana Jaime (Shipping & Plant Packing Supervisor): Dixondale Farms has been a part of my family since my childhood days. I'm proud to be a part of it!
Rose Hernandez (Customer Service & Printing): I'm excited to start my third season as a customer service representative for Dixondale Farms. I look forward to another year of helping all of our customers plant and grow the onions that they love.
Lori Lira (Website Orders): I'm ready for my second year with a GREAT group of people. I'm super excited about hearing from and helping our customers this year.
EJ Balderas (I.T.): I'm excited about my second onion season with Dixondale Farms. Last year was a bit of a challenge, but nothing I couldn't handle!
Melissa Romo (Customer Service): I'm on my second onion season, and excited to work with a lot of great co-workers and help my customers.
Janice Carrillo (Shipping): This is my second year at Dixondale Farms. I have learned so much and I am eager to learn more. I'm looking forward to another great onion season!
Mary Caddell (Office Manager, Customer Service): We're going into a new season, and time has flown by faster than ever before. We're starting this year with the strongest staff we've had in years. Everyone is back and ready to help our customers -- and I am especially proud of every one of them. We look forward to this being the best year ever. I'm going into my 11th year here, and I want to say "thank you" to our customers, and to the Frasiers and the Martins for letting me be a part of a special family.
Bonnie Hernandez (Shipping & Drop Shipping Manager): After a great summer break, I'm eager to get back to work. Hope to hear from you soon!
Aby Lira (Customer Service): A year and half here at Dixondale Farms has been a wonderful experience. New learning opportunities always make Dixondale Farms very interesting.
|Cooking with Onions
- 2 large yellow or white onions, peeled
- 2 tablespoons tomato juice
- 1-1/2 pounds tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon paprika
Cut onions in half crosswise and place, cut side up, in a baking dish. Combine remaining ingredients in saucepan on low until butter is melted; stir well. Pour over center of each onion half and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
Q & A: Withered Leaves
Q. Do I have a problem with my onions, since the leaves did not fall over? They turned brown, dried up, and are just withering away. The onions look good except for the leaves. Should I pull them now or wait a while?
A. When the tops of onion plants just die before they fall over, there are two possible causes. The most probable cause is downy mildew. This disease presents as a furry growth on older onion leaves that can vary in color from grayish-white to purple. The leaves themselves turn first pale green and then yellow before wilting and dying. A good fungicide, sprayed as soon as you notice the disease, can wipe out downy mildew. Be sure to cover the foliage thoroughly, and repeat the treatment once a week if necessary.
This can also happen if the wrong day-length variety
was planted. But judging from your order of long-day varieties, this doesn't apply in your case. So downy mildew must be the culprit.
Though your onions may be small, I would harvest them and make sure the neck dries down as much as possible before clipping the tops. They won't store well, so you should eat them soon.
Fun Onion Facts
Did you know that onions caused political change in the most populous country in the world?
In India, onions are an indispensable ingredient in the national cuisine, so it's no surprise that people were up in arms when onion prices skyrocketed in late 2010. Unusual rainfall patterns led to shortages in the onion-producing region of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Prices more than doubled. Public demonstrations against price-gouging included a 20,000-member protest march in New Delhi, where some protestors wore garlands of onions to protest the price inflation.
As a result, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government banned onion exports, lowered tariffs on imports, and arranged for onion shipments from Pakistan. This pushed prices down to reasonable levels.
All Your Questions Answered
We have answers to your frequently asked questions! Just click the link for information on when to order your onions and how to find your frost and freeze dates, as well as for tips on planting, caring, feeding, harvesting, and storing them.
Over the years, we've noticed that onion gardening is very much a multigenerational activity. Children often learn the wonders that patience and careful TLC can result in from their elders, and love to harvest the huge onions that result. They also get to enjoy the onions themselves, especially as onion rings!
We often receive pictures of grandparents, parents, and children showing off their crops. And then there are all the kids who grow prizewinning onions that receive awards at county fairs.
We're proud of all of you, and happy we've been able to serve you for 100 years now. We're family oriented ourselves -- the farm has been passed down through the generations for its entire existence. We know our next century in business will be as successful and satisfying as our first!
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About Dixondale Farms
As the largest and oldest onion plant farm in the U.S. (100 years strong!), Dixondale Farms offers a wide selection of top-quality, disease-free, ready-to-plant onion plants. To see our complete product line, request a catalog, or for growing tips and cultural information, visit our Web site.
Whether you're planting one bunch or thousands of acres, we're committed to your success. We've posted answers to frequently asked questions about growing onions on our FAQ page. And of course, we're also available from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM CT at 877-367-1015, or e-mail us any time at email@example.com.
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Join the community of friends and growers on our Facebook page! You can connect with us and fellow growers to share stories, photos, recipes, and even weather information and other tips.
And be sure to check out our short videos, on topics ranging from bolting and fertilizing to how onion plants are harvested and how they deal with cold weather.