The Q&A Archives: Onions go to seed, no bulbs

Question: Here in southern California, I like to start onions in winter and harvest in early summer. However, my Red Torpedo and Maui onion sets always go to seed before forming an onion. What can I do? R.F. Richardson Highland, CA

Answer: Both of those varieties are good in your area and should give you onions. but we recommend starting with seed rather than onion sets in California, says Ron Voss, Extension vegetable specialist at Davis. Sets are in their second year of growth and since onions are biennial, their natural tendency is to go to seed. Sets that are _ inch across or larger are especially prone to bolting. If they are exposed to either prolonged temperatures below 50_F or short periods at 30_F, they will go to seed before forming a bulb, says Voss. If you must stick with sets, be sure to plant them in late winter when the chances of that kind of weather are slim. However, Red Torpedo and Maui onions may not have enough time to develop if started that late, he explains. The preferred way to grow onions in our climate is to start onion seeds in September, transplant into the garden in November and harvest in May, says Voss. The bulbs are still small during the cool winter and so are less likely to bolt.

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