Early last spring, I brought a bunch of baby Vidalia onions and a bunch of Red Burgundy onions home from the store. I planted them in one of my garden boxes in an adorable little grid pattern, and left them there to grow. All summer we ate onions. All fall we ate onions. When winter came we were still eating onions. (Sometimes I wonder if the whole small-things-become-big-things thing isn't a conspiracy to get you to take too many plants/puppies/chickens home with you. You should see how many tomato plants Father Bird buys each spring, because they're soo tiny...)
When we were good and sick of onions, we stopped pulling them, and forgot whether there were any still out there in the garden.
Very, very early this spring, more like late this winter, I happened to glance over there and see that there were still a handful of onions over there in that box. And now they didn't have one stalk apiece, they had dozens each. I came over for a closer look. And right here's where I made my mistake.
I pulled each of the bulbs apart and found that each onion had grown, within its bulb, many small onions. Onions that looked identical to the plants I'd bought last spring that had made fat, wonderful, delicious onions. (See, by now the onion-exhaustion had worn off.) I glanced from the box that was one-quarter full of many-bulbed onions, to the box next door to it, that was empty and waiting. Why not, I thought. So I dug those babies out, divided them up, and put them in the empty box. And didn't bother to buy any backup onion plants in case this whole experiment didn't work out.
This is what they did this summer:
That's them in the background of a shoot I was doing of those leggings. These onions...didn't look like they looked last year. These were way more spectacular. The bees loved them. The tops were huge. There must be mammoth onions under there!
When the onion tops started to die back, as onion tops will, I started to pull them up, and found this...
Oh! I didn't realize...until I saw them...what must have happened. Onions, I remembered, are a biennial, which means that they live their life cycle over two years. The first year they form a big bulb so that they can make it through the winter, when they're not growing, and the second year they form a flower head, so they can make seeds. Then, having done all their duty on this earth, they expire. And leave you, standing in the garden, holding their pathetic, tiny roots, and realizing that not only have you been fooled out of onions for your hamburgers, but you fooled yourself.
No. I mean, I fooled myself. And I, well, I shoulda known. Now, knowing what I know, you'll never have to stand in your garden looking foolish like me. At least, not over second-year onions.