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Growing onions: seeds versus sets
If you grow your own onions then one choice you have is whether to raise your crop from seed or from onion sets. Both methods have their pros and cons, so the decision isn’t a straightforward one.
In the past I’ve always opted for onion sets, which are small onions that can be planted straight out on the plot during March or April. The sets slowly swell into large onions, ready to harvest in late summer. Onion sets are convenient, as they don’t take up valuable greenhouse space at a time when it’s at a premium.
However, this year I decided to grow my onions from seed, and I’ve just been assessing the results. Yes, I did need to sow them in modular trays in the greenhouse in March, and could have started them even earlier if I’d had a heated propagator large enough to hold everything.
When seedlings had rooted well into their modules I planted them out in rows in May, and they grew really well through summer. They did need regular watering throughout the dry summer we had in the East Midlands, but that would also have been the case with onions grown from sets. The results were superb, and I was surprised at just how large the onions grew from seed.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of seeds over sets is the money that can be saved. Taking the variety ‘Red Baron’ as an example, I can buy a packet containing 250 seeds for £1.45, or a pack of about 40 heat-treated sets for £3.99. If they all grew then an onion grown from seed costs less than 1p, while one grown from a set costs 10 times that at 10p.
If you’re planning to grow your own onions during 2012, then growing from seed will certainly save you money compared to buying sets, seedlings and young plants. I know these are all convenient ways to grow crops, but you’ll be paying far more than you need to.
As my mother-in-law always says, “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”. Look closely at the things you’re buying, and work out just much money could you save.
And if you collect your own seed from suitable crops you could be saving even more, but let’s leave that subject for another time.
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