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Onion care and handling

By Ray Ridlen

Whether in home or market gardens, onions are a favorite of many vegetable growers. Onion transplants should begin vigorous growth soon, if they have not done so already. Do not overlook the need for nitrogen fertilizer for producing large onions. Unless the garden has a very fertile soil, now is the time to apply nitrogen fertilizer to enable vigorous growth.

Two possible sources of nitrogen are ammonium nitrate or urea. A rough estimate of how much fertilizer to use is 1/4 pound for 20 feet of row. Scatter the fertilizer along the 20 feet distance so that it covers 1 1/2 feet on each side of the row. Do not put the fertilizer directly on the plants and do not concentrate it at the base of the plants. Doing so could cause injury to shallow plant roots. Fertilizer can be left on the surface or scratched lightly into the soil surface. Water gently following fertilizer application.

Primary pest problems observed in onions in southeast Oklahoma include thrips, purple blotch, and black mold. There are additional pests that affect onions to be watched for. Thrips are tiny insects that feed on the leaf surface. Heavy infestation will result in leaves taking on a silvery appearance. Thrips are mostly observed when leaves are gently separated at the onion neck. The insect will appear as tiny yellow or dark colored specks that move when disturbed. Although tiny, thrips can be very damaging to onions. Two species are commonly present; onion thrips and eastern flower thrips. Not readily distinguished by an untrained observer, insecticide treatment for thrips will depend on the particular producer’s situation. Inspect onions frequently to determine if the plants have an infestation.

Fungal diseases are another concern in onions. Healthy leaves are needed to produce an onion bulb. Diseases of the foliage can quickly destroy healthy plants. Purple blotch is one of these and is first observed as tiny water-soaked lesions on the leaves. If conditions are suitable, the lesions can enlarge and destroy the leaf. To control purple blotch, use preventive fungicide applications; applied before the disease is observed. The threat of this disease is greatest under rainy, wet and humid conditions. When conditions such as these are forecast, the use of fungicide in advance of the wet weather is highly recommended.

Black mold is a disease observed in harvested onions. The onion bulbs appear normal at harvest but began to develop black powdery material under the dry outer scales. This mold infects onions due to extremely wet condition at harvest. Suggested control measures are to store onions at temperatures below 60 degrees. Avoid bruising onions during harvesting and handling.

Date: 5/6/2013

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