The end of February is the ideal planting time for many of my kitchen staples. These include vegetables that are in the allium family. Growing up, I was not a huge fan of onions, but I feel that it is imperative that every kitchen has at least has three onions ready at any time. Where would a good soup be without an onion? Onions are probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow in Tennessee, provided you purchase the correct ones for our area. In fact, it’s a great crop for kids to watch grow also due to its ease of growing.
There are three main types of onions that can be purchased. Long-day onions require 14 hours or longer of sunlight to produce bulbs, while intermediate require 13-14 hours and short-day require 10-13 hours. Long-day onions are typically grown in the North, while short-day onions are grown in the South. In Tennessee we need to focus on purchasing those onions that are intermediate type onions. The other types can be grown, but they may or may not actually form a bulb. Some great cultivars for Tennessee gardeners include Super Star, Candy and Cabernet. These are all intermediate type onions and will generally produce a bulb in Tennessee.
Leeks and shallots can be difficult. They’re difficult because they require a long growing season in order to fully mature. Depending on where you are they are generally planted in the fall and left out in the winter, much like we do garlic here in Tennessee. The real challenge is trying to guess the weather. They prefer cooler temperatures and if they haven’t matured by the time summer hits, they most likely will not.
The greatest challenge with growing these alliums is the weeds. If you have the ability to grow them under plastic or some type of weed barrier it would help the plant grow to its maximum size. Weeds will make the bulbs grow smaller and take nutrients from the soil that were meant for the onions. Keep the weeds at bay!
As always, if you have any questions regarding any horticulture facet, feel free to contact Lucas Holman, Horticulture UT-TSU Extension Agent, Wilson County at 615-444-9584 or Lholman1@utk.edu.