Seeding Allium and a Spring Awakening, or Planting Onions

I’m grumbling— just a tad— at having had to be up so early on a holiday Monday. But, these are farmer’s hours, after all—up at dawn, rain or shine. While I appreciate authenticity, it is a bit hard to get your head around the idea of spring planting when there’s about a foot of snow on the ground and more on the way. With the temperature a mere 18 degrees, I’m lucky our first seeding for Restoration Farm is planned in the relative warmth of the head grower’s basement.

two people pushing seeds into soil cells

I’m grumbling— just a tad— at having had to be up so early on a holiday Monday. But, these are farmer’s hours, after all—up at dawn, rain or shine. While I appreciate authenticity, it is a bit hard to get your head around the idea of spring planting when there’s about a foot of snow on the ground and more on the way. With the temperature a mere 18 degrees, I’m lucky our first seeding for Restoration Farm is planned in the relative warmth of the head grower’s basement.

I can’t quite pull myself out of this snowy rut I’m in, but I’m hoping the potluck lunch that follows the seeding will help. I’ve got a winter vegetable stew braising in the Dutch oven (an homage to the winter that just won’t die) and a blueberry lemon Bundt cake made with summer berries picked on the North Fork and stored in the freezer. My menu is a sure sign I’ve got a serious case of seasonal A.D.D.

packets of onion seeds

I’ve been part of the ad hoc seeding team at Restoration Farm for at least three seasons and have learned a lot the protocol for this annual planting ritual, mainly keep your fingernails clipped. Shortly we are plunging our index fingers into cold, clammy earth creating “dimples” to house the seeds.

Allium, otherwise known as onion, is always the first crop planted. Head grower Caroline Fanning schedules seeding activity according to the biodynamic calendar, which has something to do with the phases of the moon and the natural pull and tug of lunar energy on certain plants. We’ve got a small window for planting onions, and need to work fast. But, keep your reading glasses handy, most onion seeds are no bigger than a speck of dust.

You kind of get protective of the onions you plant—they are anything but common! Our onions have exotic names like “Sedona,” “Bandit,” and “King Richard.” The onion is fitting symbol for Restoration Farm and the start of a new season. As each bulb matures and expands, it adds layer-upon-layer of flavor and texture much like the growing season as a whole.

It’s perhaps hard to visualize fat, pungent onions emerging from miniscule seeds—let alone as a harbinger of spring—but from the looks of it, the seeding volunteers are not just happy, but downright relieved to start planting again. No onion tears for this crowd. We seed nearly 40 flats. It’s a sure sign the raging winter of 2014 may soon be coming to a close and, come summer, we’ll have bundles of aromatic vegetable in our CSA baskets.

T.W. Barritt blogs at culinarytypes.blogspot.com 

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T.W. Barritt is a passionate baker who studied the art of bread and pastry at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. He is the author of “Long Island Food: A History from Family Farms and Oysters to Craft Spirits" published by History Press.