I love onions in all their forms and colors. We grow onions of several varieties in our home garden. Green onions (aka scallions) are one of our first spring crops, and occasionally we grow “bunching” green onions through Winter. They are good for garnishing soups and they are awesome grilled. Those of us who really love onions, though, know that they are best right out of the garden. Red onions are a classic salad or sandwich topping because of their slightly milder flavor. Here in Georgia the Vidalia is king, with its flat-globe shape,yellow flesh, and super sweet flavor. Whatever your choice, onions will add a flavorful dimension to your garden.
Prepare for Success
While wild onions seem to grow just fine in competition with the lawn, the domesticated varieties will do best in a well prepared, weed free part of the garden. Till in a generous amount of compost to help maintain good fertility as onions need plenty of nutrition. This will also ensure the best flavor.
What to Start With
Onions can be grown from seeds, sets, or transplants. Sets are small onions usually grown from seed in the prior year. Transplants are this year’s seedlings, normally sold in bare root bunches. Sets are the fastest to produce, and have the highest percentage of success. In the case of “multiplier” onions, sets are the only option for planting. Transplants are a relatively fast way to grow onions, shortening the time commitment by six weeks or so compared with seeds. The benefit of transplants and seed grown onions over sets is in the storage quality. Onions grown from transplants or seed hold up much better in longer term storage conditions than those grown from sets. While being the slowest option, seed gives the widest array of varieties from which to choose.
Choosing Onion Varieties
Most onion varieties are adapted to grow within a particular latitude range due to the hours of daylight received during the growing season. They are classified as “short day”, “intermediate day”, or “long day”. Short day onions are good for the south, requiring as little as 10 hours of daylight to begin forming bulbs. The sweetest onions are from this group, they generally only store for a few weeks. Intermediate day varieties need between 12 and 14 hours of sun, and will do well in the middle part of the country. The most northern areas will be suitable for long day onions which require 14-16 hours of daylight to form bulbs. These mostly pungent varieties are the best types for long term storage.
In The Garden
Sets and transplants can be planted six weeks prior to the last frost date in your well prepared bed. Seeds are best started indoors over the winter. They will germinate at temperatures between 60-75 degrees. Plant in the garden up to six weeks prior to the last frost date. Using a corn gluten based pre-emergent herbicide will help to keep the onion bed weed free as well as provide a shot of nitrogen to keep the young plants growing. As mentioned earlier, onions are heavy feeders so plan on front loading the fertilization schedule. Flavor is improved if the crop is fed heavily early on while new leaves are forming, then “starved” toward the end of the season as the bulb is expanding. This is why organic fertilizer or compost is a great way to prepare the bed…either will give a long, steady feed without burning and the available nutrients will gradually deplete over the course of the season as the onions use it up. Lastly, keep water consistent. A steadily moist, but not wet, soil will also help to ensure a flavorful but less pungent flavor.
For green onions, harvest when the main stems are just larger than a pencil. Pull only what you need for a day or so because the garden will keep them fresh for you. Use thinnings of bulbing onions as green onions. Bulbing onions will be ready when the tops fall over. Pull them out and if the weather is dry, leave them in the field to dry for a day or so before bringing them in for storage.
A Really Cool Variety
Egyptian walking onions are a fun variety for home gardeners to try. They are widely adapted, only produce scallions, grow through summer and winter in a large part of the country, and self perpetuate. They are a “bunching” onion which forms baby onions as side shoots on the parent plant. Also, they get their name from the characteristic way that they produce bulbils or “sets” instead of flowers. If left to do so, when the tops fall over in the late summer, the bulbils sprout forming a new colony of onions where they land.
Thanks Seven Thirty Three for the link-up!