One of my goals this year was to grow a year’s worth of onions and harvest the seeds from them for use next year. So far, so good. And yes, I planted a heirloom onion called Utah Spanish Sweet. I am really pleased with the onion, it seems to do very well here in the desert southwest where water is at a premium. But you wanted to hear about the lessons I learned while harvesting the seeds…
I have been holding on to several large seed heads from the onion tops. I didn’t do anything special, just put them on a table on the patio under the roof. But I did put off harvesting them as long as possible. Why? I’ve been working on my radio boxes, power boxes, and solar projects lately and wanted to stay focused on them. But this morning I had some time before getting ready for church so today was the day for harvesting seed.
First let me say, onion seeds are really small and my hands are really large. They are not easy for me to pick up. So the person in your family with small hands is probably the one most suited to this task. I am thinking “wife” from now on.
And I really wasn’t sure how many seeds to harvest so I figured I would gather approximately as many as I remembered were in the package from last year. Seemed reasonable at the time.
The seed heads were nice and dry, ready to go. I got a toothpick and started picking apart the seed pods allowing the little (tiny actually) seeds to fall onto the paper towel I had set on the dining room table. I was about 30 seed pods into it when I was bored out of my mind. Yeah, my ADD/ADHD kicked in and I was ready to move on to something else. But duty was calling…back to harvesting.
I knew there had to be a better way of getting the seeds out of the pods. I was right. I simply got a bunch of dried seed pods in my hands and started to gently rub them together in my hands. Sure enough, the seed pods broke open and out came the seeds. And with the seeds came the seed pod husks and the tiny little stems that had formerly been attached to the seed pods. So now I had seeds, seed pod husks, stems, and a bunch of finely ground powder that came from the husks, stems, and who knows what all. But I had a mess on my hands. But I knew a solution…pioneer skills!
Yup, I remembered reading about the days of wheat threshing, something the pioneers did back in the 1800’s and earlier. It is basically throwing the wheat up in the air and the heavier wheat berries fall back onto a canvas cloth and the wheat chaff gets blown away in the wind. In my cupped hands went a thimble sized amount of seeds and onion seed pod chaff…then I gently blew on it. It worked! But it was really slow.
Out to the shop I went, located a small glass jar, got my can of spray air and cupped my hand over the jar that now held a bunch of seeds and chaff. I stuck the air can nozzle in and gently started introducing air. It worked!! And it was pretty fast.
I cleaned up the last of it on a paper towel, let the seeds dry in the air for a day, then put them in a little plastic ziplock baggie. And now I have about 2 – 3 growing seasons worth of heirloom onion seeds ready for planting. All total I think I had about 1-1/2 hours in the entire process, including the learning curve.
So what lessons did I learn? The following:
- It takes a lot of seeds to supply enough onions for a whole family.
- It takes a lot of time to harvest onion seeds.
- I thought I had to figure out a “process” to speed things up. But the toothpick method would have been fine. It might have taken me 3 – 4 hours but it would have worked out with no problems. Maye even “cleaner” seeds when I was all done.
- Life after grid-down will flow at a slower pace…a lot slower. And you know, I think that is just fine.
- I might not get any opinions out of those seeds next year. Yup, I mean, how do I know that the seeds are actually any good? They should be, I know. But I’ve never done it before so I have no firsthand knowledge or experience doing it. So will it work out? I certainly hope so. But what if this was already grid-down? How do you like the idea of rolling the dice, your food dice?
So the number one thing I took away…I better make sure I can verify and validate all these little issues and challenges so I know for a surety that what I “hope” will work, “actually” will work. I don’t want to be basing the well-being of my family on “hope.” We know how that works, don’t we.
Information on the Utah Yellow Sweet Spanish Onion –
A large, sweet yellow onion. Loved for it’s mild, sweet flavor, it is excellent raw. It does well in Western states and similar climates. This sweet onion is very popular for slicing and eating raw because of its mild sweet taste, and is delicious baked, sautéed, or fried.
• It has fair storage characteristics.
• Large bulbs sometimes weighing a pound or more.
• Skin is a straw color and the flesh is white.
• Plant very early in the spring in a sunny location as soon as the ground may be cultivated and enriched with organic material. Plant seeds 1/4 of an inch deep, 2 inches apart with 18 inches between plants. Press soil firmly over seeds.
• Germination in 7 to 12 days at 50 to 60 F.
• 115(+/-) days to harvest.
• Allow plant tops to fall and die before harvesting.
• Deep globe up to 6″ in diameter and up to 2lbs. each.
• Shiny straw brown skin with white medium firm flesh is a heavy producer.
• Smaller bulb sets can be stored to replant next year.
Update Note: In 2016 I used my saved seed to plant that year’s crop of onions. I had great onions!!! Harvesting the seed worked out just fine.
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