Garden Phase 1: Operation Onion

I am not an experienced gardener. My experience with growing anything edible before this was limited to basil plants, which I grew for a few years in a row. (More on that another time.) What I learned from that experience was that plants, in general, want to grow. All you have to do is give them the tools to do it.

In my third week of quarantine, when I had resolved to only go grocery stopping every two weeks, I came down to my last yellow onion. You, like me, may have seen some articles floating around about how to propagate vegetables from what you have in your fridge. I was waiting for vegetable seeds to arrive, so this seemed like a good way to start my garden. I used about three-quarters of the onion in a stir fry and saved the end with the roots still attached.

Using unbent paperclips, I suspended it some water in a clear plastic jar so the top peaked above the surface of the water. Almost immediately, two faint green rings at the center of the onion began to push upwards and the pale yellow rings around it fell back. The wiry grey roots at the base of the onion were rejuvenated. In less than twenty-four hours, overnight from March 31 to April 1, new round white roots were visible.

I had done absolutely no research and was going mostly on a vague memory of one of those how-to articles. I had had no idea of what to expect, but I had assumed it would take longer to grow that it did. By the time its roots were reaching into the bottom of the jar, I didn’t have a pot ready for it. Using a kitchen knife, I cut four drainage holes at the base of a yoghurt container. The lid was the perfect size for a (very shallow) catch basin.

I was amazed at how quickly it grew. Once greenery emerged in earnest, change was visible from hour to hour. The onion was getting larger every day. (Also, my apartment was starting to smell like onion. Not rotting onion – just onion.) I was starting to think it was already time for a new pot, and I was out of yoghurt containers.

Then I found a surprise: a carrot top had propagated itself in the worm bin!

At this point, vegetable seeds were on the way but hadn’t arrived yet. What had arrived were a pair of railing planters. I had been planning on doing some research about which plants did best when planted next to each other and arranging them in the planters accordingly. Clearly, though, the onion and the carrot were going to take priority.

I looked through a little box of seeds I had been collecting over the years to see if there was anything in there that could keep my tiny vegetable garden company. I discovered several seeds hidden at the bottom of the box that were three years old: some freesia bulbs, tidy tips seeds, and milkweed seeds. (Tidy tips and milkweed are native to California.) Unfortunately, the freesias had sprouted inside their little bag, and there were still dried out wisps of the sprout attached to the bulbs. I decided to plant them anyway, hoping they would spout again next year even if they had given up on this season.

Since I didn’t have enough dirt, I mixed together all the bits of dirt I had in empty pots. (This turned out to be a bad idea – more on that later.) I decided to start my flower seeds in one half of the mostly empty planter. It is beneficial to plant flowers and vegetables together because flowers attract pollinators like bees. Many vegetable plants need them to pollinate their flowers before they grow fruit. Even though it was getting late in the year, I was hoping the flowers would still sprout and grow to maturity around the time my vegetables did.

This was only a temporary home for the carrot, which must have been at least 8” long in its previous iteration before I ate most of it. These railing planters work great on my sturdy railings, which are 6” wide, but they aren’t very deep.

I hope my milkweed makes it. They are the exclusive food of monarch caterpillars. They are perennials, not annuals like the others, so it would be great to have flowers I can grow year-round. I am concerned about the populations of monarch butterflies and bees, so I also wanted to be able to help them out. And maybe I’ll get an onion and a carrot, too!

Published by Ailee Feber

Writer and artist.

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