There's nothing better than when you're anticipating a task will be difficult, but it turns out totally easy and even pleasant.
The clay at our farm can be a real challenge. It likes to stick to itself in clumps rather than crumble, and nothing will improve it organically apart from applying compost and continuing to throw plants into it season after season. We apply as much compost as we can, but over 3 acres even an enormous pile of it turns out to be just a sprinkle. It has improved quite a bit since the first season, but it has a ways to go. Often transplanting into it is like working with gravel, until water makes its way through the bed and softens the clumps. This makes transplanting a challenge because you want good contact between the roots of the plant and the surrounding dirt, so it can be really slow going to get them seated nicely in the bed.
Well, imagine our delight when we noticed that the last couple of rains had melted the beds we pulled up weeks ago into soft, silty powder! As I described the other day, all we did was we sink in the drip tapes, wrap them in plastic, and get to planting.
Our transplanter wheels have been modified specifically for onion planting by drilling a bunch of additional holes and screwing bolts into them. As the wheels roll along, the bolts pop perfect little holes in the plastic mulch and underlying dirt. All you have to do is jam an onion slip into each hole and nudge the dirt around it. Not so easy into gravel; reeeeal easy into powder. And yes, that's right: every single onion goes into the ground by hand.
The first day we planted about 3,000 slips in three hours (or three and a half episodes of Judge John Hodgman through my earbuds). Second day it took a little longer because the slips were smaller and therefore more numerous (they're bunched from the seller by weight, not number) and it took closer to five hours to get the remaining 4,500 in (or almost ten episodes of Stuff You Should Know - did you know a fire in zero gravity burns as a sphere?). The slips were significantly larger overall than the ones we got last year, so we received fewer than expected and there's a little space to spare. I think we'll probably buy another case to fill it in.
In the ground are Yellow Granex, Texas Early White, Southern Belle Red, Borettana Cippolini, and Lancelot Leeks. We'll pull the first in April and May for market as fresh onions, then dry the rest in June to have for months and months.
When I closed my eyes to go to sleep last night I saw hundreds and hundreds of little slips. Fingers crossed the image fades quickly.