Why am I still writing about onions?
Because at this time of year, when I'm grumpy about the seed-starting thing…Why won't those peppers and eggplants germinate? Why am I spending all this time in my dank basement, where some previous owner covered over all the windows with plywood? Why I am down here with the watering can day and night like an overzealous busboy? …
…that's when I really appreciate how easy the allium family is to get going from seed.
I've been growing leeks from seed for years because the nurseries near me don't, and because my kids love potato-leek soup. I start them in the house, just on a windowsill, at some point early, anywhere from late February to late March. They are forgiving about the timing, forgiving about everything. They germinate in a snap. They don't need to be thinned. Even though they generally look spindly, crowded, and frail by the time I poke my index finger in the ground in late May to make room for them in the garden, they are always perfect by late summer.
Scallions, I just direct-seed a few times a summer–again, easy, forgiving.
My onions on the other hand, I used to grow carelessly from sets, or small bulbs. But in 2009, my local Agway stopped carrying onion sets, so beginning last year, I started them from seed, too. I chose a flat Italian red variety called Piatta di Bergamo because I thought they looked cool. They also did so well that I wound up using them for everything, sauteeing them for dishes in which I'd ordinarily use a yellow onion. And they were so sweet and profound in every dish I used them in, that this year, I've added another Italian red variety, Tropea Rossa Tondo.
I love the fact that onion seedlings keep me out of the basement. These are long day varieties, which means that they wait to bulb up until the days get long. So, according to the onion lore, you don't even want to set them in the basement along with the 16-hour-a-day fluorescent light hogs, or else they might bulb up as infants.
I understand that certain things represent compelling reasons to spend time in the basement: 'Pineapple' and 'Matt's Wild Cherry' tomatoes, and 'Rosa Bianca' eggplants. But I think if I could get everything going above-grade, I'd be a cheerier person.