Sweet crisp, eat like an apple, red onions are the harbingers of spring. Day length sensitive their expanding bulbs push out to form the onion revered in this county for over hundred years. The story goes that Ernie Vogliotti’s father acquired seed in the late 1800’s and over the next one hundred years they grew this onion on their ranch, selling first to the miners and then to the town folk. We acquired the seed by luck from Josephine (Ernie’s sister) in her 90’s. She was proud of the onion as an enduring accompaniment to her life of eating the foods they grew. It was around 1996 that we stepped down into her cellar with instructions to look for the “jar on the top shelf”. Less than 30% germinated and the first year we grew a small stand of onions and instead of eating them we replanted them in the fall, nursed them all winter and harvested thousands of seeds from their pompom flower heads in the spring. Today we only grow this variety, knowing how proud Josephine would be to know that we continued the legacy of the onion.
Every four years or so we do a very special thing – we plant the onion bulbs that have sprouted. The only way to keep the tradition going is keep planting the seed. Seeds remain viable for a set number of years and unfortunately the onion seed is on the lower end of the spectrum and therefore so easy to loose!
Come mid October we set aside a plot of land to the growing of the seed. This process takes us through early spring with the seed stalks rising high into the quickening days of summer. They flower like pompoms and pollinators from all over come to harvest the pollen and pollinate. The flowers within the pompoms are made of small pistils and stamens and pollinated by insect or wind, so to ensure good seed production we take a dry paint brush and lightly brush the heads, shake the stalks and scatter the pollen. We do this to about 30 plants, the more diversity the more genetic strength. By August the black seeds are ready to harvest and the planting begins. Josephine instructed specifically to plant the seed after the “first full moon in August”, and she would add if the “full moon comes too late just plant them by the 20th!” Such great advice, we’ve stuck with that for now over 20 years.
Sometimes and almost always these days the small acts are the most reverent!