No garden will ever be complete until you’ve made room for planting onions; they are a must in every cook’s kitchen. They grow fairly quickly and take up little space.
There is a large range of varieties, colors, tastes, and sizes. You can grow them from seed, seedlings or sets (small dry bulbs have grown the previous year). Planting onions in the North are best done in spring to produce a spring summer and fall crop whereas in the South they thrive in the fall, winter and spring.
When choosing onions for planting in your garden you should pick the right variety for your area. Long day varieties need more than 14 hours of sunshine per day and are best for northern use while short day varieties need 11 hours of sunshine and more suitable for southern use.
As always, the preparation of the soil is essential. Before planting onions, dig plenty of organic matter into the soil and ensure it is well drained, a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 will see them thrive. Raised garden beds are ideal for planting onions; make sure their garden bed is exposed to lots of sunshine.
If using sets for planting onions, place 4-6 inches apart and press the bulb into the soil so the pointed tip just breaks the surface. Use the larger sets for green onions or scallions as they tend to bolt (produce a flower stalk) and the smaller ones to produce mature bulbs.
If planting onions from seed, sow inch deep inch apart with 12 inches between rows. These will need to be thinned to 4 inches apart for large bulb or less if you wish to grow scallions. This is the least expensive method of growing but also the most difficult.
For transplants or seedlings, (which can also be purchased from garden centers or seed catalogs) sow the seed indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost, harden off, then plant in the garden bed 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart.
Take a look at Gurney’s Seed and Nursery for great deals on vegetable seeds and plants.
After planting onions, be aware that they grow quite quickly, you can start picking them after a few weeks whilst they are young as scallions or green onions. Look for the white bases and long green stalks, this is before they start to develop into a bulb, and use them with salad, the whole plant is edible and very tasty. They can also be cooked and the tops substituted for chives in many dishes. To get full-sized bulbs you need to wait a while longer, from seed about 80-120 days, from sets 30-40 days.
The bulbs are ready to harvest when they are big and the tops have started to yellow and topple over. You then remove them from the ground, shake any excess soil off, and then hang them up to dry. Be sure not to remove the tops and don’t get them wet while they’re in the curing process, the bulbs must be kept dry and aired.
After 1-2 weeks the neck above the bulb will have dried out and this natural process seals the top of the bulb deterring rot. At this stage you can remove the tops and roots and store in a cool dry place, a shed or cellar is ideal.
When planting onions, weeding can sometimes be a problem because of their shallow roots and proximity to the surface. Usually, this has to be done by hand.
To help deter pests, try planting onions with beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, or parsley, they are good companions.