Oh onion, how sweet thou art


Mid-January to mid- February is the time to plant onions. Some people also add other rules, such as waiting until after President’s Day to plant. Others will wait until the dark of the moon. Whenever you get yours planted, feel assured that they will do well. Texas is a perfect place to grow onions. They were named our state vegetable in 1997.

As a matter of fact onions are Texas’ leading vegetable crop. Texas ranks sixth in U.S. onion production, with an impact of about $350 million per year on the Texas economy. Texas is famous for the sweet Texas 1015 onion grown in South Texas. The “1015” comes from the fact it was bred to be planted around October 15 in that region.

The sweet onions came to Texas by way of Bermuda in 1898 when a farmer planted the first Bermuda onion seeds near Cotulla. The Caribbean islands supplied Texas farmers with yellow and white Bermuda onion seed through the mid-1940s. By that time, high demand for the seed made it difficult to get quality seed, so the state began experimenting with the Grano onion from Spain to produce a quality sweet onion better adapted to South Texas.

This onion, called the “Grano 502”, is the ancestor of all sweet onions produced in Texas. The “502” is the field number of where these onions were originally grown.

In 1944, Texas A&M released this onion as the “Texas Early Grano”, which proceeded to be grown in warm regions around the world. One of the Grano 502’s derivations is the Texasbred Granex. Transplants of the Granex were planted in Vidalia, Georgia, where the sweet “Vidalia” onion gets its name.

Granex onions come in red, white, and yellow. The white Granex is also called “Miss Society”. Any of these onions will do well in Texas; however, the yellows don’t keep as long. You can also pick immature Granex to use as green onions.

The most famous Texas onion, 1015Y, has the super-sweet, mild flavor. These onions come from cross-breeding the Grano 502 and the Ben Shemen onion. The different varieties are the 1015Y, 1020Y, 1025Y, 1030Y, and 1015Y. Any of these Texas onions will do well in our area. Plant pencil sized transplants and not seed.

If you want onions from seed, wait until October/November. Don’t plant transplants in the fall; however, as they have the possibility of flowering, which creates a less-dense onion more prone to decay.

Onions are ready to pick when their tops fall over. You can tell the size of the onion from the size and number of leaves. Each leaf represents a ring of onion. As well, the larger the leaf, the larger the onion ring.

Ever wonder why you cry when you chop onions? The reason is because the onion contains sulfur. When you cut the onion, a gas is released that carries the sulfur to your nose and eyes. When the gas hits the water in the eye, it creates sulfuric acid. This irritates the eye, which produces tears to irrigate and flush the acid from the eye.

You can cut the onion under running water to minimize the gas. You could freeze it for twenty minutes before cutting, or you can boil it and then cut. Or, just deal with the tears.

Egyptians believed the onion’s shape and rings symbolized eternal life. Roman gladiators rubbed onion on their bodies to firm their muscles. They called it “unio”, which means “large pearl” in Latin.

Onions were such a valued food during the Middle Ages that people paid their rent with them. It was during this time the “unio” became “unyon” in Middle English. El Camino Real Master Naturalists: Little River Basin Master Gardeners:

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