Early Onions and the Miracle of Microclimates

March 14th, 2009

Early OnionsI’m a little sad. I read these garden blogs of people to the south of me, even one state south like Indiana, and low and behold, they are gardening! They have things blooming, they are planting, and woe is me for I am not.

It isn’t that I’m even in northern Michigan, I could drive south for less than 90 minutes and be in Indiana. It has just been so cold up here.

Finally today was the first day I could really get out and do things and inspect things because it was warm, but not wet, and there was no remnant snow on the ground. Still, the ground is frozen in most places.

My primary place for growing vegetables is the south side of my house. I grow edibles all over, fruit trees and berry bushes etc, but for actual vegetables, it is pretty much the south side of the house. This small area has a two-story solid white vinyl siding wall to the north of it. A 6 foot solid white vinyl fence to the east of it, a low hedge of shrubbery to the west, and a 4 foot wood fence to the south. Not only is this area incredibly sheltered, the sun bounces off all the white warming up the area nicely, and I’m sure there is some heat leakage from the south side of the house helping as well. All told, this is one kicking microclimate.

A microclimate is a small area, possibly as small as a few square feet, that has a different climate than the surrounding area. Shelter, a heat source, water, and elevation can all come together to help produce a microclimate. By building a good microclimate you can make zone 5 seem like zone 6 or even 7 (or, if you’re unlucky, seem like zone 4).

Outside of this microclimate, nothing is growing yet. My crocus foliage is only about 2 inches high, and don’t even ask about blooms. Inside of this microclimate, my lilac bush has very large swollen buds, and today I found that onions I planted last year have foliage that, when straightened is about a foot long. Outside the microclimate 2 inch crocuses, inside 12 inch onions.

I’ve always known it was warmer and sunnier there (hence, why I placed my veggie garden there) but I’ve never had such a good example of just how much warmer it is there. If I can find my soil thermometer I will take some measurements

Now, the onions. Last year was my first year growing onions. Around May or June with food prices being so high I started really kicking it into gear trying to save money by growing my own food and started planting edibles in odd places (with mixed results). Some of those mixed results were the onions, I cut back a 6 inch strip of mulch from the exterior base of my raised bed and planted the onions there. I figured the soil was fertile (if not tilled) from the runoff from the raised bed, and it couldn’t hurt. But still, I was planting late, in not-ideal conditions. The onions never did anything. Come fall most had died back, I pulled up a couple to see tiny little bulbs, and left the rest.

So these onions growing were planted late last Spring, some too have multiplied and though I did not dig them up, I can tell by the foliage that two sibling bulbs are now growing next to each other.

Since I’ve never grown onions before last year, I’m not sure what I should do here. Let them be and hope they put on more weight this season, dig, divide, and replant, or is their age going to limit them ever being productive? Anyone have a tip?

6 Responses to “Early Onions and the Miracle of Microclimates”

  1. Denise  Says:

    You can split the onions. Its early. Thye may not get as big ans bulbs not disturbed but they will frow. You can also leave them together and use them more as green onions. You will loose some of the bulb but they will still be small green onions. I have left some in the ground before and done this.

    You might want to consider raised beds for you gardens. Thye are easy to set up in such a way that you can put windows or plastic over and create a cold frame greenhouse effect for extending your seaosns and planting earlier.

    You can also plant a lot in containers and most veggies do very well. And I know how you feel. I am a zone 5 and its just beginning to get nice here. Denise

  2. Administrator  Says:

    oh I do have a raised bed, thats where the onions are (just to the outside of it) and I try that plastic trick sometimes.

  3. Janel  Says:

    Oh, I Love the first flowers of Spring!!! The little crocus is always so sweet – great photo and glad I found your blog.

    I am in North Carolina but we’ve had lots of rain so it’s been hard to get out and garden as much as I’d like. I spend a great deal of time in March doing clean up from the winter and picking plants I want.

    I have never grown a vegetable (except herbs). We don’t have a lick of full sun in our yard and deer come from a neighboring field like crazy. I am thinking of trying some in containers on the deck where I could get about 5 hours of sun. Glad to find your blog!

  4. DHR  Says:

    I thought you might like to see this Email I just sent to Burpee. It would be nice if a few more people contacted them.
    I picked up a few packs of seeds yesterday to get started on this years garden. This morning I was looking at them and deciding which to start with when I noticed that they had come from Thailand. I wanted to let you know I will never again be purchasing Burpee products as there are plenty of resources available in the United States. With our economy so bad at present all companies need to be using US labor and products, not farming out work to other countries. Many Americans at present have no job. If this means that your company has to operate for a period without making a profit, I don’t see that as unreasonable. You have made profits here for many years. Don’t you owe something back to the US?
    David Reitz

  5. KRYAN  Says:

    Great Blog Site and way Cool Articles

  6. glenn crabtree  Says:

    new to gardening an well u guys an gals have taught me alot thanks from kentucky

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