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You'll swear your onions came from Maui or Walla Walla.

You'll swear your onions came from Maui or Walla Walla

"No more tears' is the promise of the remarkably mild and sweet Maui, Walla Walla, and Vidalia onions sold at gourmet markets. These onions can put a dent in your pocketbook, though, with the Mauis fetching $2 and up per pound. If you enjoy this type of mild onion for eating fresh in salads and sandwiches, you may want to grow your own.

Maui and Vidalia onions are Granex-type onions, such as "Granex 33' (shown on opposite page) or "Texas Grano 502'. Walla Wallas are a strain developed from seed thought to have come from Corsica. Seeds of all these are occasionally sold at nurseries, or you can buy them from mailorder sources (see list on page 242).

In all except coldest-winter areas, start these onions in fall. Once days reach a critical length in spring, plants start to produce bulbs. Harvest comes in late spring or early summer. At high elevations, or where ground freezes in winter (Sunset Western Garden Book zones 1 and 2), wait until spring to plant.

Grow Walla Wallas if you live in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, or Colorado. Gardeners in northern California (down to the Sacramento area) can also plant them. South of Sacramento and also in Arizona and New Mexico, plant a Granex type.

You can sow seeds in place, but it's generally easier to start them in containers or flats. (This reduces potential damage from snails, slugs, and competing weeds.) Sow about 1/4 inch deep, and thin emerging seedlings to at least 1/2 inch apart. Keep evenly moist.

Before planting in a sunny spot, add organic matter if your soil is compacted, and work in a complete fertilizer.

Water diligently, since severe drying can result in small bulbs or produce a hot flavor. Once the onions are growing well, fertilize monthly. But stop feeding after bulbs start to form in spring (too much fertilizer causes the onions to split).

After you dig the onions (step 4), let them dry in a shady, well-ventilated place for about three days until tops are papery. Then snip tops to 3 inches from bulbs and store onions in a cool, dry spot out of direct sun. Don't let them touch. These onions keep only for about a month, since the low sulfur content that helps make them sweet reduces their storage life.

Photo: Wheelbarrow of sweet onions is early summer reward for fall planting in Lester Brubaker's garden, Los Altos Hills, California

Photo: Munching raw slices, Sunset taste-testers compare flavor of store-bought Maui and Walla Walla onions with homegrown crops. Their verdict: all were deliciously sweet with only a mildly pungent aftertaste

Photo: 1. Seeds sown in deep flat or container filled with potting mix are ready to plant 40 to 60 days after sowing

Photo: 2. Gently plant, positioning base of seedling bulbs about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below soil surface, 4 inches apart

Photo: 3. Keep up with weeding. He's using a long-handled weeding fork between rows set 18 inches apart

Photo: 4. After about 70 percent of tops have fallen, dig up onions. Mature bulbs tend to push up out of the ground
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1984
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