by Devin Foote | April 16, 2009 • About three weeks ago I sat patiently in the greenhouse with a pair of scissors, trimming onion tops. We trim our onion tops down to four inches about two weeks prior to transplanting in the field (photo). Researchers tell me that doing so invigorates the plants for transplanting and once transplanted, they really kick into gear. On that note, here’s a bit of what I know about onions:

Onions are day-length sensitive. While the days are lengthening, the earlier they are set out, the more chance they have to make top growth. The more top growth, the greater the bulb size. After summer solstice and day length begins to shorten, their energy switches to bulb growth.

Devin Foote is a 24-year-old beginning farmer at Common Ground Farm in Beacon, New York. Throughout the growing season, Devin will be chronicling his experiences as a young farmer growing for a local food system.

Onions contain allicin, which benefits the heart and immune functions and aids the onion plant with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Gardeners and small-scale farmers often use a garlic spray to help in protecting against diseases. Researchers have seen effective results in the use of liquid allicin compounds against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in hospitals—and maybe now for hog farmers. Research at Cornell University has shown that the more pungent the variety, the more cancer-fighting antioxidants it contains. Breeders are trying to develop sweeter, less pungent onions that retain the nutritional benefits.

Onions provided an important part of the diet in ancient Egypt. Seeds were found in a tomb dating from 3,200 BCE, according to Allison and Paul Wiediger in Growing for Market, Greek athletes ate pounds of onions, drank onion juice and rubbed the juice on their bodies to prepare themselves for competition.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

Onions are second only to tomatoes as the world’s most economically important vegetable. In the United States they have a $4 billion annual retail value. While the average American eats 18.7 lb per year, Libyans consume almost four times as many per capita.

All in all we planted more than 10,000 onion plants. It took us approximately three full days. About 7,000 of the total are storage onions that will be used for distribution beyond the expected harvest sometime around the middle of July. We expect 10,000 onions will cover our 120-member CSA for approximately 16 weeks of our 23-week distribution season.