2012 Exhibition Onion Growing Attempt.




ThisThis year's Exhibition Onion Growing attempt starts here. 



After my best results ever in 2011 I'm going to try to repeat the feat or try to go one step further at Harrogate in 2012 in the 5 onion class,and I fancy a crack at the set of 3 or 5 large exhibition onions class too if I can grow some larger ones than normal.

And hopefully this year I can finally grow a 10lb+ onion for the first time and beat my 9lb 2oz one above, as I'm supposed to be getting the odd plant grown for me by Paul for next year which will have been grown from the same seed that the World Record one was grown from this year.

So If I can't do it this time I never will.

November 27th 2011.

So it all starts here.

This year I've decided to grow a few Kelsae Onions from seed quite early on so that I can hopefully get some to weigh around the 5 pound mark by August.

I usually start with small plants I get delivered in mid April but these are hard to get above 3-3.5lb by Mid August.


So the variety I'm growing is Kelsae,I grew some of these to over 6 pounds later in 2011 but too late for any shows.

So I'm hoping that sowing earlier will mean I can get some 5 pounders around August time.

I just sowed them 2 to a module,with the modules being quite deep as onions have an extensive deep root system early on.

Most people sow in trays and prick out but I'm just too lazy !


So I'll pull out any weaker seedlings should 2 germinate and leave 1 per module.And if I get any blanks then I do have a spare tray sowed to fill in any gaps.

I'm only hoping to grow 20 maximum in the polytunnel so it'll be a bit of re-potting and rejecting the weaker plants as time goes on.


I put the 72 cells in propagators on my aquarium which gives gentle bottom heat of about 70f which should see them start to germinate in a couple of weeks or so.

Then they'll be going under the small CFL grow light for 12hrs a day or so and we'll see how they get on.

December 10th.

Well,2 weeks after sowing I've got around 50% germination with 38 seedlings through and hopefully will get around 80%+ eventually in another week.


I've lined my little grow chamber with foil to maximise any light and reduce light loss.

I ordered a light meter to see how strong the intensity was,but It's not arrived yet.

Just a bit of name dropping here,I asked Peter Glazebrook what he aims for as far as LUX (light intensity),and he kindly replied telling me he aims for a minimum of 15,000 at the top of the pot level.

So when the light meter arrives I can see if I have sufficient with the lamp I have,otherwise I'll have to get a highter wattage bulb.

One thing I do seem to have right is the temperature which is 16-18c during the day and around 10-12 at night.

Any higher and the plants will just get too leggy which has happened to me in the past when growing in the house and the temperature hitting 30c during the day and not falling below 16c at night.

So at this very early stage things seem to be doing fine.

December 14th.

My light meter arrived all the way from Hong Kong in less than a week today.


I was after a minimum of 15,000 Lux as a reading at tray level and luckily I was bang on,well actually 20,000 when the reflective curtain was replaced.

The light did decrease towards the edge of growing area to around 15,000 but it's still about right.

And only about 16 seeds have failed to germinate so I've got 56 up and running so far.

Dec 19th.

Just about got all 72 seedlings up and growing now.I decided that I needed a little more light so I rigged up my other lamp alongside the other and this seems to be giving the desired effect.


I'm now getting around 20,000 lux in the centre and around 18,500 at the edges.

Also some of the earlier sprouters are starting to grow their first true leaves now.


The modules that they're growing in are about half the size of a 3" pot but the same depth,I'm hoping to grow them on in these for about 3-4 weeks and then once they have about 4 leaves on I'll pot them on into 4" pots and reject the weaker ones and just grow on about 36.

Dec 26th.

I've decided to try to get some seed from this years onions that I got a 2nd place with at Harrogate.

They were the best shape that I'd grown so I thought I might as well give it a go and try to get some seed from them.


I'm not sure how it's done but It seems that you simply plant the bulbs in a pot and next year hopefully a seed head emerges and hey presto ! Seed.

I've seen people strip the bulbs right back of any soft or mouldy skins, but as these are still firm I'll just cut the necks off to help any shoots grow out of the top and only strip back if and when they do decide to go soft or mouldy.

I tried this before but I put them in the tunnel the year it went down to -15c and they just froze solid and went to mush.

This time I'll be leaving them on a window sill at home and putting them in the tunnel later on after all risk of severe cold has passed.


Over on this years Kelsae seedlings,a month after sowing,I have 70 out of 72 growing with most now growing their 1st true leaf and a few just starting to grow the 2nd.

So still doing OK.

January 2nd 2012.

Just a quick update.


Plenty now growing the 3rd leaf,so hopefully in about 2-3 weeks I'll be potting up the best 30 or so into 1litre or 10x10x10cm pots once they have 4-5 leaves on.

Then hopefully this should give me 20 or so good ones to grow on in the tunnel in April.

I'm watering them with a weak solution of Maxicrop Seaweed Extract with no feed mixed at 1tsp to 2 litres at every watering,this just adds extra humus and makes the plants more resistant to diseases.

I leave the water bottle in the grow chamber so that it's the same temperature as the plants,you don't really want to get cold water out of the tap as this can be a bit of a shock to the young plants if it's really cold.

Jan 7th.

Seedling still look to be doing well,some now starting to produce the 4th leaf.


Took one out of the cell to see how the roots were doing and they look pretty strong and white which is a good sign.

I think I'll leave them another 10-14 days and then repot them into 4" pots.

Jan 11th.

One of the onions I put down for seed has started to sprout.


All three are firmly rooted so hopefully they should all start growing an I can try to get my first ever seed.

Jan 15th.

I decided,after checking some of the seedings roots that it was time to pot some on into 4" pots.

The roots had reached the bottom and were wrapping around themselves,so a bigger pot seemed to be necessary.


This gave me the chance to get the new mixer up and running.

To be honest I'm sick of mixing compost mixes by hand for different veg like carrots,onions and parsnips,and you'll never get them mixed as well as you would with a mixer.

It wasn't expensive and as I do a fair bit of building work now and again at home it seemed justified to buy one.

Anyway,I decided to make 50 litre mix of 6 parts compost to 1 part Vermiculite and 1 part John Innes no.3.

My thinking being that adding a bit of John Innes adds some proper soil and hopefully a few trace elements and makes it a bit easier to transplant them into my final soil beds as they have been grown in a "stronger" mix rather than just pure compost.

The vermiculite is just there to aid aeration,open up the structure and add moisture retention.

To be honest,it's just a concoction I came up with as a gut instinct.


So,yet again at this early stage I am happy with the progress,I have 24 potted into 4" pots with 3-4 leaves and the remaining 36 still in the cells.

Hopefully in a week I'll pot the remaining 12 best smaller ones and then I'll have 36 to go at.

It's amazed me how well they've grown and to be honest the plants that I planted out last year in mid April weren't much bigger than these are now.

So God knows what these will will be like come April.

Jan 18th.                      OH  B#LLOCKS !

Just as everything seemed to be going along nicely I find that I have got a nasty Onion disease.


At a glance things look fine.


On closer inspection I've found that plenty of my plants  tips of the older leaves starting to go yellow.

Then very quickly within a couple of days they turn white and shrivel,and die back down the leaf.

I've been reliably informed by a couple of fellow growers, one of whom turned 50 today that it is White Tip Die Back.

A fungal disease that affects many of the Allium family and having the latin name   Phytophthora porri.

So needless to say I'm not happy,so I managed to buy myself some Fungicide Spray today which after doing some research on the net is apparently similar to what is used to combat the problem in agriculture,given the active ingredient is the same in both,but usually used as a preventative measure rather than a curative one.

Anyway If it does stop the disease from progressing any further then they should recover somewhat,but to be honest I don't really know.

So It'll either kill 'em or cure 'em.....we'll have to wait and see.

Jan 21st.

Well,I've now followed the advice of two far better Onion growers than me and snipped the affected tips off all the onion leaves and sprayed them with two different types of fungicide and although it's only been 3 days there doesn't seem to be any more that are becoming affected.


Also following tha advice of Graham below in the comments I have replaced some of the tin foil with a matt white board which by all accounts produces better full spectrum light reflection than foil.


And finally,the onions that I've put down for seed this year are flying along and sending out loads of leaves,the roots are already coming out of the bottom too.

So hopefully later on these will produce some seed heads and I can get my own seed for the 1st time.  

Feb 4th.

Well on the Kelsae Onion Saga I'm not sure I've completely cured the problem but they do look a bit happier and are growing away well.


I've thinned them down to the strongest 24 now too so they should get a little more light.


As you can see they're doing OK and are as big as the ones I usually plant out in mid April already.

So hopefully by April they should be ready to plant out.

Feb 12th.

Things still doing OK.


Seem to have defeated the fungal problem and the plants are now about 9-12" tall and starting to thicken up a bit.


The plants are now almost touching the lights,but as they are only warm it doesn't do them any harm.

And the onions I put down for seed are absolutely flying away.

Feb 18th.

Just a quick update.


Onions starting to really thicken up quickly now and quite a few are about pencil thickness with 6 true leaves on.

I've been watering from the bottom to try to reduce the moisture and help the fungal problems from returning and it seems to be working.


So here's a bit of a guide to the size vs a 2 litre bottle.

I've been watering too with a very dilute solution of lime,2litres of water to about 1/4 tsp of hydrated lime and a similar amount of sulphate of ammonia just to give a tiny amount of nitrogen and calcium which seems to do them no harm.

So given my utter despondency a few weeks ago I'm very happy with the progress now.

Feb 26th.

I'm amazed at the recent growth in the last week,so much so I had to re-pot the onions into 6" pots,something I never thought I'd need to do.


Had a quick check of the roots and as you can see they are in need of a repotting.

They look really healthy white strong roots so I potted them up into 6" flowerpots.

So,so far so good.


The plants are getting on for about 12-15" now and I need to keep raising the lights in the grow chamber,but I'm really happy with them now ,especially after the earlier probs.

March 3rd.

A quick update a week after repotting.


All seems well,getting a bit of tip burn from the leaves touching the lights,other than that things seem OK.

March 11th.

Time to start to fertilize the Onion Beds.


So this year's recipe is as follows : every square yard :

5oz Vitax Q4                     NPK 5:7:10 + 3 Mg
1oz Slow release fert     NPK 12:8:17 plus trace elements
2oz Nutrimate                  (extra Humic acid,hopefully)
2oz Calcified Seaweed  (More magnesium and trace elements)


My thinking being that last year I had a few go double necked which can be caused by too much Nitrogen,so this time I've used some slow release pellets which are more Potash biased.

Who knows ?,I always wing it anyway so this year is no different.

Anyway I spread all the stuff on the beds and mixed it into the top 4-5" inches and then gave a good watering,as you need to get the fert "going" a bit before planting time and not plant into fresh fertilizer.

So,we'll see how this new fert regime fairs later.

March 17th.

The Kelsaes are really starting to outgrow the growing chamber now and are in need of being planted out.


They are getting on for 15-18" tall with 7 leaves on now and some of the shafts are about as thick as my little finger.


I fertilized my larger onion bed and put some polythene over the smaller one which I'll be planting the onions out into in around 10 days time to hopefully warm the soil up a little more.

Not ideal but they're just too big to be kept under the lights.

March 21st.

Well,I know it's way too early to be planting my onions into my unheated polytunnel but I had no option as they were getting too big.


So I loaded all 18 of the best plants into my van for the drive to the plot hoping not to snap any leaves off.


The plants had a cracking set of healthy white roots and hopefully should establish pretty quickly.

I planted 18 out at a distance of 18" each way and put some support hoops over to carry the leaves.


I put a small hoop over about 8" above and a larger one at about 16" to hold all the lower and larger leaves.

So that's it,planted out way too early and they will get a sub zero night or two but as we get a frost until the end of May up here all my onions in the past also have had a frosting and never taken any harm from it.

So 13 weeks after sowing,and my early problems this is where we are at.

The fun starts here !

March 24th.

Just a quick update on the Onions I put to seed.


I've got them in big pots now in the tunnel and the amount of leaves they've chucked out is bonkers.

The bulbs have withered away to nothing so there shouldn't be any problem with rotting now.

So we'll see what happens later on.

April 7th.

A quick update on the onion progress.


Given that I've already had temperatures down to -1.8c in the tunnel and up to 43c in the sunshine I'm amazed at the growth.

Whether or not they go to seed or grow double later on remains to be seen, but to be honest my onions always get a cold spell and bouts of excessive heat and it doesn't seem to do them any harm on previous years experiences,so we'll see.


So I'm really happy with the plants and they seem to have taken really well,sending out another couple of leaves since transplanting.

They're a good 6 weeks ahead of normal so hopefully I can add a couple of  extra pounds to the weight by August  and have a few 5-6 pounders to choose from.

April 14th.

Onions still doing well,got their 8th leaf on now.

Over on the Kelsaes I laid down to seed.


Plants have split into several growing points and are now sending up a flower spike on each..Wahey..Success.so far anyway.

April 18th.

My smaller kelsae seedlings arrived today which I'm growing for the 1-1.5kg class.

As you'll see they are absolutely tiny,but they're the same size as last year and I managed to grow them on to get a 2nd at Harrogate,mind you we were in a heatwave for 6 weeks this time last year and it's still bloody freezing up here this year.


Here's a comparison between this year's home grown Kelsaes and the little ones.

I reckon I'm a good 7 weeks ahead with the home grown ones so hopefully 5 pounders plus shouldn't be too much to ask considering I'm hoping the little seedlings are going to make 3-3.5 lb.


So that's the onion beds fully planted out now,36 smaller Kelsaes and another 18 of the bigger ones behind.

Oh,and 4 plants I got from Paul from Peter Glazebrooks strain that got him to almost 18lb last year.

I've got 2 in big pots and another 2 at the end of the big bed,so we'll see how big I can get those.

Did a quick vid of the progress below,click to play.


May 5th.

Just a quick update on the big kelsae front.


Still growing really well,and no visible problems so far but whether or not the really cold nights will make them grow double laser remains to be seen.


So far so good,still a good 6-7 weeks ahaed of last year so hopefully a few decent big 'uns by August.

Mind you there's still plenty of time for it all to go horribly wrong.

May 19th.

A quick update on last years best onions I put to seed.


The one I have in the greenhouse is about 6ft tall now and some of the flower heads are just starting to open.

Don't know the procedure for pollenation so I'll have to ask a grown up about that.

Anyway back onto this years onions.


Despite the cold weather they're still motoring along and just about starting to bulb up a little.


They're quite a size for this time of year and still no problems so far.

The smaller Kelsaes for the smaller 3lb class are just starting to grow a bit after transplanting about a month ago.


So that's about it at the moment,growing really well so far with about 11-12 big thick leaves about 4ft tall.

May 27th.

Well a week of extreme temperatures over 35C in the tunnel and bright strong sunshine and the Onions were starting to get their leaves scorched.

So I had to quickly try to shade half the polytunnel before they were all ruined.


I managed to rig up a green shade net outside on the South facing side to reduce the strength of the sun and I covered them inside with some fleece to further reduce the UV from destroying the leaves which can happen quite quickly to soft grown indoor onions in extreme conditions.


Anyway i managed to avert disaster and just the odd leaf was scorched,so hopefully nothing serious.


So things still flying along,got around 13 leaves on the majority now and they are just starting to visibly bulb up,which is about 4-5 weeks before they normally do.

No pests or disease as yet, touch wood but whether the combination of extreme cold and extreme heat will make them misbehave later we'll have to wait and see.

June 1st.


I knew it was too good to be true.


When growing onions the last thing you want to see is this.

The more eagle eyed might have spotted the problem,the newest shoot growing in the wrong place.

All the new growth should come right out of the middle or it's a sure sign that the onion has "Gone Double" meaning that the bulb will eventually split into two after becoming deformed.

So as you can see the newest leaf is to the left of the last one it's doomed !

This has happened to 5 of my 18  big onions within 2 days at the end of the prolonged hot spell,other causes are overwatering and excess nitrogenenous fertilizer neither of which I am guilty of.

So I can only put it down to the excess heat making the Onions put on a growth spurt and mess up.

There is an old wives tale that onions stop growing in temperatures exceeding 30C,I can tell you they don't ! as mine have put on 3 new leaves in the heatwave.

Anyway after noticing the problem 4 days ago no more seem to have succumbed so hopefully that's the last of it,but I'm now down to just 13 big ones and 2 of those aren't much cop so trying to get a set of 3 will be a bit tough.


So I might have to rely on the smaller Kelsaes which are a mile behind but will hopefully be ok for the 1-1.5kg class as they too are starting to grow quite well.


So here's a pic of me looking none too happy,stress fag in order after finding the problems.

Last years seeded onion behind,it's a monster !

Nil Desperandum.....I suppose.

June 10th.

A quick update 10 days after the splittng disaster.


No more problems after the heatwave ended of any more going double necked.

The bigger kelsaes on the left and the smaller on the right for the 1-1.5kg class.


I haven't mentioned the giant Peter Glazebrook onions I got from Paul so far,as to be honest initially they looked a bit pathetic and none too well I think mainly due to the early cold weather,but they have perked up now and are growing away well now.

I have 2 in the soil bed and 2 in 60 litre pots of M3+Perlite,both seem to be growing identically so it's just a matter of keeping them growing as long as possible and seeing what weight I can manage.

I would love to beat my P.B of 9lb2oz but to manage to break the 10 pound mark would be fantastic.


So here are the 30 smaller Kelsaes.


And here are the bigger Kelsaes.

June 22nd.

Just a quick update.


Now that the longest day has passes you can almost see the bulbs increase in size on a daily basis.

Some of the big ones are getting on for 14-15" now.

One major problem that happened today is that after 4" of rain my tunnel had a river running through it which will unfortunately absolutely soak my beds,and as this is the main cause of problems,overwatering,I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Especially now they are bulbing up you don't want to overwater as this makes them grow too quickly and literally split.

July 1st.

Still growing.


6 weeks to go so should have a few decent ones if we have any decent weather ?

But given that there's been no sunshine for a month,100% humidity,if I don't get botrytis I'll be amazed.

What a shite country we live in !!!!!

July 6th.

Still no sunshine but still ticking over.


Size is about 15-15.5" circ now.


The giant Peter Glazebrook ones are catching up after a very slow start and are around 15" circ.

July 27th.

Well, I'm not happy.


While the rest of the country seemed to have a small heatwave and a change from the rain I've just had continued wet damp mould inducing weather.

I'm now suffering from serious fungal leaf problems but thankfully none on the bulbs.

Also the necks are way too thick as the subwater after all the rain has just made them grow too much.


Average circ is now 18.5" but given the leaf troubles and still no bloody sunshine I'm just about ready to give up.

I'm not going to water anymore and give them about another 10-14 days and lift the lot to see what I can manage....not a lot probably.


The smaller kelsaes for the 1-1.5kg class will not make the weight this time and are way behind last year,again due to lack of any light to bulk them up.

Pulled one tonight and it was only 1lb 12oz,great shape but no weight to it.

They also decided to grow double en masse so I can only put this down to the crap way they were grown by the supplier over Winter as they've been grown on the same way as my home grown ones,watering etc and only a handfull of those went double over the long distant hot spell.

So I'm sick to death of the sight of misplaced leaves.


The giant P.G onion has also decided to give up growing at 21" so all in all things are a bit depressing !

August 10th.

Decided to harvest all the onions this week as there was a mini heatwave forecast and the last thing I wanted was a final growth spurt and skins splitting.


Over all I'm pretty happy.

Managet to get a set of 3 at 4 lb 12oz and another 3 at 4lb 8 oz plus plenty of other smaller sets for collections,top trays etc.

These are now going to be placed on a douvet out of direct sunlight and a desk fan blowing on them 24/7 to help them dry out.

Nothing else,no talcum powder or anything,just a fan to help keep the air moving.

Did a vid of the harvest,click below to play, cheers.



August 25th.

A week until my 1st show and the onions are ripening up nicely.


Keeping a fan blowing 24/7 really helped to dry them out and I have a few decent sets to go at.


Anyway these are the 2 pairs that are going into next Sundays show.

September 3rd.

Well, I entered 3 pairs into the Local Show on Sunday.


To say I was happy was an understatement.

I got 1st,2nd&3rd and also the best exhibit in the Veg Show and to top it all off the Blue Ribbon for the best exhibit in the whole show.

That's one thing that I've never won before and was really chuffed.

Next was the Westmorland Horticultural Show the following Tuesday week.

September 12th.

Onto a bigger and higher quality show than my local one.

Westmorland Horticultural Society Annual Show.


I entered six of the smaller onions in the Onion Championship and managed to win it.

The onions weren't as big as I'd have hoped but they were a nice set anyway.


And I entered my best three biggest onions into the Premier Tray Class which I also managed to win but better than the win was a comment of "outstanding" on the score card from the Famous Leek and Onion grower and National Judge Dave Metcalf.

That was really satisfying.

The worry was whether the onions would suffer as they were to be entered into the 3 Large Exhibition Onion Class at Harrogate just 2 days later.

September 17th.

Onto the largest Horticultural Show in the North of England next to the Harrogate Autumn Show.

The main hope was with the 3 Large Onions but only a very feint chance of a card as this is a class that attracts some of the best onion growers in history like the legendary Vin Throup.


Amazingly I managed a 3rd place which for me is the best I could have dreamed of as I was beaten by last years winner and the legend that is Vin Throup who won every other onion class in the show including BOTH National onion championship classes.

So for me this was like a Gold Medal.

So that's about all the shows done this year and to be honest after all the early set backs I couldn't really have hoped for any better results whatsoever.

The onion I set for seed from last years Harrogate 2nd placed onion has produced some cracking seed and this is what I'll be sowing for next years onions and can call it my own strain which will be a bit strange.

Anyway I did a vid of Harrogate including the weigh in of Peter Glazebrooks amazing 18 pound world record onion.





I've got myself a Facebook Page click the link if you're interested,Cheers.



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