Saturday, June 21, 2014

Square Box Gardening #13 - How to Plant Big Bulb Onions in My Raised Bed Onion Box

Have you built the Raised Onion Bed that I give instruction for a few days ago?  Well, even if you haven't, this information will help you to get those Big Onions like you buy in the Grocery Store.  The only difference is they haven't aged in a warehouse for several weeks! You know exactly how they were Processed, Where they come from and how Fresh they are.  And using a raised bed in a box, you know exactly how much water you used, what kind of fertilizer, and what soil mix you used to get the best production.  To help you repeat the successes you had next year - or correct your failures!  The best part of Learning to Garden.  
 If you just found my blog, check the Article List in the right column to find the article that  immediately proceeds this one. "Growing Large Onions in a Raised Bed Onion Bed".

           Preparing the Raised Bed Onion Box for Planting

Find a level spot for your box if you can.  As you can see, the Onion Box I built is Not setting on a very level area.  The Right side is about 2 inches higher than the left!  I can dig down on the Right side (and both ends somewhat) to set the box down level with the Left side.  Or I could level the box, set it on some small blocks and shovel  a small truck load of Fill dirt on the Left side.  Or I could build a "Skirt" around the box that will keep the box level and save a ton of extra work.  At my age, I am Not into tons!  I am more into 2  or 3 gallons or even 2 or 3 cups!  It's the very reason I got interested in Square Box Gardening.  So I would still be able to garden after the lumbago and arthritis set in. Thankfully, I haven't suffered much from either one so far. I digress....  Anyway, I chose the "Skirting" method.  Which we will get to in a few minutes.

 Because of the semi-hurricane force winds we've been getting lately here in South Central Kansas, I layed it down and quickly threw a few chunks of soil on the plastic to keep the box from doing the kart-wheel, kite thing.  You probably know,  if you built one of these Onion Boxes,  as large as they are;  they are surprisingly light and can easily be toted to the garden under one arm.  Myself, I tracked down my dear wife playing free-cell on her laptop where it was air conditioned and comfy while I sweated and swatted  in the noon-day sun!   I figure two arm carriers  are better than one.  

                                      Leveling Out the Box

     The best tool for leveling is a large construction site level - but any level at hand will work.  You can even make your own.  Take a 2-liter bottle with a cap. You put water in it about half full. close the cap.  Lay the bottle on its side on a flat surface that is level.  With a marker, mark where the water comes to the center of the cap and another mark where the water comes to the center of the bottom.  Lay the bottle with it's marks on something you want to check for lever. Rotate the bottle until one of the marks meets the water line. Lift or lower the other end of the bottle until the opposite mark Also meets the water line.  When both points match up with each other, you have a Level  and your bottle is teetering right over the center of the earth!   Check your box with it. 
Save the water filled bottle. The next time your wash machine starts walking across the floor or your drier tries to fly, use your bottle to check for level.  In All directions - side to side; front to back.  Do likewise with your onion box.  This is probably one of the most important steps you will take in setting up your box correctly.  If your box is not fairly level, you may see a lot of soil and plants go over the side with the next big gully-washer you have.  You might even put a few marks around the box marking one inch up from the soil after it is firmed in.  Fill water in the box to this level and you have just added an equivalent of an inch of rain to your onions. In reality, if you have good draining soil, a half-inch mark might be more accurate when you are watering.  Experiment. 

Sometimes, your ground is just slopping to much like mine was in this picture.  In that case, you will need to have extra boards ready to "Skirt" the bottom of the box and make up the difference.  I draw a line all around the box that is 3 inches from the top.  Fit your boards to meet this line and screw them to the Onion Box.  Dig down along the sides until the boards set solid and the tops are level with the Onion Box.

If you have to skirt the box, place stakes around the sides of the     box to keep the pressure from the soil from bulging out the bottom.
I used 1 X 2 stakes.  Snugged them flush to the skirt sides and pounded them in deep.  

Here is a close-up showing how the corners were reinforced.  Use as many stakes as you need.

Add about a quarter of the soil mix at a time.  with the palm of your hand, gently firm the soil all around the box. A little more  firmer at the very edges of the box.  Just as you would a flower   pot.  Add more layers and firm the same until you are about 1-1/2 inches from the top of the box.     You need to leave about that
 much for when you need to add water.  Check your soil fairly often.  Your onion soil should be damp just below the surface at all times.  Never let the onions dry out.                                                  

I use a board marked off in 4 inch increments at a guide.  I also mark the top of the box along the length every 4 inches.  This gives me nice and uniform points to make holes for the Onion bulbs.  The holes should not be very deep.  About an inch. The tops should just barely poke through the soil.  This would be the pointy end up. The blunt end down.  As shown in the picture below.                               

The dirt encrusted Fore finger and Thumb nail  are extra. The bulbs should be plump and firm.  Throw any tiny bulbs or dried out husks away.  They will not sprout and would be a waste of space.

Your Onion Bed should look something like this when you are finished.  cover just a little and firm down with the palm of your hand.  I have heard that some onions are actually just dropped in an
open furrow and they plant themselves.  I really don't know about that.  About a week or two later your onion bed should look like this.  I water mine every day enough to keep the top moist.  If it looks like rain - I water it anyway.                                                          

I hope you enjoyed the articles about building an Onion Box and how to plant your onions.  This is a another article in the "Square box Series - although the box isn't square, the principals are the same.  If you get tired of planting onions in this box, you can plant spinach, or carrots, or just about anything will grow and grow well in these boxes.                                                                                 

Until next time, Happy Growing!
Robert Mader


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