Set for Steady Cash Flow

Courtesy of Wally S.,Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

I picked up my onion sets today. Unit cost was  $1.388 per lb. for bulk sets, around $70 per 50 lb. bag. Total cost  was $416. Not the type of cash you want to lay out this time of the year, but if you want to make money, you have to spend some, and onions are a  guaranteed moneymaker. Sets are worth the cost because they give you a jump on production and get some cash flowing early in the season.  .

I  use several different cropping strategies, planting over the next few months for scallion, green onion, and mature. Onions are one of those crops that  produces a steady return on investment throughout the entire season. They contribute at least $10k to my total revenue target. Over the season those $10k’s add up..

Growing onions from sets is a good approach for early season production and for growers with short seasons.

Growing onions from sets is a good approach for early season production and for growers with short seasons.



How to Get Big Sales of Big Onions

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

One way SPIN farmers make bigger sales is by using a mix and match multiple unit pricing strategy – $3/unit, 2 for $5, 5 for $10. We sell our onions in mesh bags, and this fits this strategy well, with small onions making up about a half pound bag. But what do you do with large size onions that weigh a half pound or more? They can’t be plugged into this strategy.

What works for me is marketing them in braid form. The large onions sell at well at $10 a braid. Each braid has 5 onions and are about 3 lbs. per braid. I also test marketed an upscale version with garlic and dry peppers. Those go for $20. This customer bought one of each, for a nice $30 sale.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

Some come to SPIN expecting hard and fast rules, like always following a set pricing strategy. But that’s not how farming works. When it comes to pricing strategies an important point to understand is that practice overrules orthodoxy. SPIN farmers are master rule breakers – especially rules of their own making! So be creative not just with your braiding, bu also in your marketing and pricing strategies.



Here’s a Crop That Grows Itself – Onions

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Want a crop that grows and sells itself? Onions come close. I call them a “fire and forget it” crop. Because it does not require much watering or weeding, it’s perfect for one of my peri-urban sites that I don’t visit very often throughout the season.

We planted about 1.5 segments of onion sets yesterday (a segment is 1,000 sq. ft.) I’ll plant three or four other sites for a total production of about 5 segments.

SF photo banner onion planting


Bed prep is done with a 8 HP BCS tiller. Three row beds are then marked out with a wheel hoe.

SF photo onion planting

When planting, the straddle method can be a little hard on the knees. Kneeling down, or sitting, on the walkways for slow motion work rates work very well.Two people can plant three beds at a time in about a half hour, using a tag team method. For a task like this, a three person crew can put in nine hours of work, virtually a full day’s work, in less than half a day’s time.

SPIN classifies onions as a very high value crop. It costs about $5 cost to seed a bed, and targeted revenue per bed is around $187. It’s  an easy crop to sell, and there is always demand for it at market.

Onions should have a prominent place in your crop repertoire, if you have the space. If you don’t have the space, it might be worth it to find it.

Looking ahead to see how Wally will harvest and preps his onions, join him in at his multi-locational farm here:

Cipollini Onions Earn Their Keep This Time of Year

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

In SPIN-Farming, every crop has to earn its keep, especially in winter. Onions need to make  me at least $3 lb. I am not going to get that with the standard large onions that  supermarkets offer. And I’m not going to get that from consumers looking to buy a 5 lb. bag for $3 twice a year. That’s why I grow cipollini onions. Here is a $30 order I am about to deliver to a high-profile local restaurant.

SF photo Wally onions tips blog

It took me about 5 minutes to assemble this 10 lbs. bag. The chef is content with the price. At the farmer’s market, I am the only one now with onions, and I keep them in the small to mid-size range, with 4 – 5 onions per bag, to differentiate them from supermarket fare. I sell 1/2 lb. bags at SPIN’s mix-and-match multiple unit pricing of $3.00 each, 2/$5.00, or any five items for 10. I expect to hold my prices at this type of level, and I have never had any one complain.

Cipollini onions have a lot going for them. They are easy to plant, tend, harvest and store. These were from onion sets planted last May/June and harvested last fall, and I’ll have product for at least another two months. Compared to the supermarket, these are mighty expensive onions. But for those who aspire to serve 4 star restaurant meals at home, they’re worth every dollar.

Using Onion Sets

Courtesy of Bingo B. Boise, ID

Technically, chives are a perennial and have really thin tops, from a pencil lead or a toothpick-sized leaf. Scallions are onions that are harvested small so that the bulb portion hasn’t formed yet. Some varieties of onions resist setting a bulb for quite some time and are more scallion varieties. (See Tokyo long and other oriental varieties.) The larger they get (the longer you let them grow) the more likely they’ll begin to form a small bulb. At this point they are technically called green onions. Again, if you give these enough space and time, most will grow into a large bulb onion. Of course, then there’s the short day and long day varieties that are tuned in to the amount of sun you get depending if you are in the North or South.Thoroughly confused yet? Most customers glaze over when I try to explain the difference to them.

This is my first year growing sets from seed started in pots. I plant about 25 seeds in a 4×4 pot and let them get to about 4-5″. I cut the tops at about 5″ to encourage root growth. The hope is that by early May they will be big enough to transplant out into the garden as sets.
I’m growing Walla Wallas, a purple Greek salad onion and a couple of Cipollini varieties. I’m also doing shallots this way.

Idaho has a quarantine on onion sets from outside the state so if we want unique varieties to sell we have to start from seed. There are a few bulb sets around available at nurseries, but we’re limited to “white”, “yellow” and “purple”. I planted scallion varieties and green onions from seed directly in the soil last year and they grew great.

Last year I planted “yellow” and “purple” bulb sets thick and thinned them early in the season for “green onions” leaving space for the rest to grow into big onions in the fall. It worked great.

One thing that really got attention at my market was a bag with an onion, a couple peppers and a few tomatoes. I called it a salsa in a bag kit and they sold great. This year I’m growing a lot of cilantro to enhance the bag. These were a hit when everyone at the market had tons of tomatoes and you practically couldn’t give them away.