The winter solstice occurs on 21st December and gives us the shortest day of the year. For six months afterwards the days will be getting incrementally longer and many plants will respond favourably. Growing crops becomes easier after the solstice.
Onions not only need days getting longer, they respond to the overall length of day. An onion suitable for the northern parts of the USA will not do well in The Bahamas. The best you can expect is something looking like a confused leek. The further north you go the longer the days become and onions for this region are called ‘long day’. Here in The Bahamas we need ‘short day’ onions in order to have substantial bulbing and the traditional onion shape. There are ‘day neutral’ onions and these will do us fine. Every package of onion seeds will have its day length requirements on the front.
Plant your onion seeds in trays at any time now and when they are 6-8 inches tall transplant the seedlings to their growing area with the bottom 3 to 4 inches buried. This ensures the onions will form underground rather than on the surface where they will be susceptible to sunburn in our climate. Onions like sandy soil with added compost.
Onions are slow growers and your harvest will probably arrive in May or June. Water your onions frequently in the early days but ease off when you notice bulbs begin to form.
You will know when to pull your onions because the long tubular leaves die back. Once the leaves are dry and the onions pulled, immediately cut away the roots. Thereafter you can store your onions in mesh bags and hang them where they receive good breeze but not direct sunlight. The dead leaves are strong so if you are clever you can plait them to form bunches. If, like me, you are not capable of plaiting you can tie the leaves together with twine and hang them. The seed package also tells you how good at storage your onions are. Short storage is usually 2 to 3 months while long storage can last 6 months. Do not refrigerate!
The last part of an onion to cure is the very top. If you cut the leaves away flush with the top of the bulb you will cut into residual leaf growth and the onion will start to rot. Onions sold in local stores are fully cured before going on sale and are nicely trimmed. If you keep your onions in a net bag instead of plaiting the leaves you can cut the leaves away but allow 2 inches to remain. Your onions with their umbilical cord will not look as handsome as store-bought ones but will last for their appointed season.
Commercial potatoes are grown from superior seed potatoes that are virtually impossible for local gardeners to buy. Good success can be had, however, by planting sections of healthy potatoes with developing ‘eyes’. Choose a store-bought potato and cut it into four chunks. Remove all the eyes embedded in the skin except for one or two. Allow the potato chunks to dry in a shaded area for couple of days.
Meantime, prepare your potato patch. Dig holes as deep as you can at least 2 feet apart. Add a little fertilizer to the bottom of each hole and then fill your holes with the removed soil until they are 5 – 6 inches deep. Dip your potato chunks into a weak solution of bleach, about one teaspoon bleach to a cup of water, in order to prevent the introduction of potato blight into your garden. Place your potato wedges into the ground, skin side up, and throw in a handful of soil. The eye will develop very quickly into a stem with leaves. As it grows, keep adding the evacuated soil until the stems are well above ground. Fertilize the surface of the soil with 6-6-6 every month.
Your potato wedge will develop roots that grow downwards. When the time comes small potatoes will form as tubers between the wedge (which by now has disappeared) and the surface of the soil. It is a good idea to mound extra soil around the base of the stem in order to stop tubers breaking ground. If sunlight touches a growing potato tuber it turns it green – and poisonous. When the potato plant flowers and the foliage dies back it is time to dig a meal, hopefully of large potatoes. You can dig up the rest of the potatoes at your leisure.