The Garden Patch: Spice it up with peppers and onions

052514-garden-excericiseWell, here we go again – this time we’re growin’ onions! This old favorite is eaten raw, cooked or any way you want them. We’re going to show you how to grow ’em – you figure out how you want to eat ’em! Here goes …

Onions add their pungent flair to dishes from soup to salad. And fresh ones from the garden taste great!

Sun and soil. Onions thrive in full sun and in light loam or sandy soil that’s well enriched with organic matter. They will not be happy in heavy clay soil. Amendments, anyone? Clay soil in Osage County? Who you kiddin’?

Planting. In general, onions are planted in the spring in our neck of the woods. More experienced gardeners may choose to grow onions directly from seed, but all gardeners find that onion sets are easy to work with. Plant them in the garden four to six weeks before the last expected frost. Simply poke each set into well-worked soil so the top of the set is about level with the soil surface. The set should sprout and grow rapidly in moist soil. Experienced gardeners may enjoy growing onions directly from seeds – or even raising their own sets.

Growing. Weed early and often. Onions don’t compete well with weeds because of their narrow foliage and shallow roots. Check soil moisture frequently, and if the soil is drying out, apply water to the top six inches of soil. Fertilize young onion plants, but stop about seven weeks before the expected harvest date. Late applications of fertilizer will prevent bulbs from maturing properly.

Problem Solving. If you see silvery or rusty streaks on leaves, onion thrips may be to blame. Spray plants with water to wash off thrips. Spraying plants with kaolin clay can also help, but thorough coverage is important.

A variety of fungal diseases can cause onions to rot, especially in cool or wet soil. The bulbs may develop a white, green or black mold or the neck may turn mushy. To prevent rot, plant in well drained soil that’s been enriched with compost. Some onion cultivars are resistant to smudge (the green mold).

Harvesting. Pull green onions (scallions) as soon as they reach the desired size. For storage onions, when about half of the top leaves dry out and topple, push the rest of the leaves over. Leave the onions in the soil to cure for a week. Bulbs should be 2 to 3 inches in diameter when you pull them.

Well, we’ve probably onioned enough for today, let’s move on to peppers!

Peppers come in all sizes, shapes, colors and flavors from sweet bell peppers to hot habaneros that will light up your mouth.

Sun and soil. Choose a well-drained site that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight a day. Peppers need very fertile soil, so add lots of compost. Too much nitrogen in the soil leads to lots of leaves and not many peppers. If your soil is lacking in phosphorus, add some rock phosphate or bone meal before planting.

Planting. Sow seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before planting-outside date, when soil is at least 65 degrees F.

Growing. Peppers won’t stand for wet feet so don’t overwater them. After the flowers have turned into baby peppers, sidedress with a balanced organic fertilizer, such as compost, around the base of the plants.

Problem Solving. Peppers are sometimes affected by early blight, a leaf-spot disease. You can identify blight by the dark, concentrically tinged spots that form on peppers’ leaves. Cut off infected leaves and apply mulch to prevent spores from splashing up off the soil surface. Spray compost tea or Bacillus subtilis to prevent blight from spreading. (Apply early in the day so foliage will dry rapidly.) Water by hand rather than with a sprinkler.

Harvesting. Harvest bell peppers when they’re just starting to turn color and let them ripen indoors at room temperature. Or leave them on the plant until they reach full ripeness. Pick Chile peppers as you need them. Harvest all peppers before the first frost.

Thanks for reading and love that garden! Happy gardening! Till next time.


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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