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Vidalia onions, peaches profit from chill - so far

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

One crop is soaking up the daylight and growing in fields. Another is quietly staying dormant in orchards. If all goes well, there should be plenty of Vidalia onions and Georgia peaches come harvesttime.

Vidalia onion farmers started placing their plants into fields around Thanksgiving. Most were finished before the first of the year, said George Boyhan, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Cool and dry

"This year's onion crop is in good shape right now," Boyhan said. "Diseases are light and the weather so far has generally been good to them."

Boyhan figures growers planted about 14,000 acres this year, about 1,000 acres more than last year.

Onions prefer cool, dry weather. But cold snaps in February and March can damage maturing onions.

The onion harvest begins around April and runs through June. Not all onions are sent directly to stores. Some are stored. Most stored Vidalias are sold by September, though. Sweet onions from other parts of the world usually hit the U.S. markets in October.

However, you might find some young, fresh Vidalia onions in stores right now.

Vidalia onions that were planted in August are now being sold as salad onions in some grocery stores. These onions aren't fully matured and are much like large green onions, or scallions.

At planting, each young onion plant is placed by hand into fields. There can be as many as 80,000 onion plants per acre in a field. Tomatoes and peppers, however, generally have fewer than 10,000 plants per acre, Boyhan said.

About 20 Vidalia onion varieties are grown in Georgia. They are known as short-day onions. They grow to maturity depending on the amount of sunlight in a day. Vidalias generally will start to bulb when days are about 11 hours long.

Chilled

Weather, so far, has been kind to Georgia peaches, too.

Nature's on track to give Georgia's peach trees enough chill hours (hours below 45 degrees), said Kathy Taylor, a UGA Extension horticulturist. Depending on the variety, Georgia peach trees need between 400 and 1,100 chill hours to properly bloom in spring and produce fruits at the first of summer.

Peaches in south Georgia have had 325 to 350 chill hours. That's right on track, Taylor said, for most varieties there to get the 750 or so chill hours they need by Feb. 15, the usual end to the chill hour count.

Middle Georgia peaches have had 550 to 575 chill hours. Again, that's good news and adding up nicely. Most varieties there need around 1,100 hours before Feb. 15.

Too many warm snaps like the days Georgia had over the holidays could reverse the beneficial effects of the chill hours. But Taylor doesn't believe it will be a problem this year.

Peach farmers are happy to get cold weather now. But freezing weather in late-March and in April has caused serious problems in the past.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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