2012 Harvest

2012 Harvest

Monday, May 13, 2013

Planting Onions

Onions may not provide as much substance as other root vegetables, but they are certainly a necessity in our kitchen. They are easy to grow and with their long shelf life, a few rows can provide a family with a continuous supply of onions for months.

Onions can be planted in a number of different ways. They can be planted by seed of course, but because this method requires starting the seeds inside a few months in advance, most home gardeners use onion sets or onion sprouts. We've had better luck using onion sets and we find them much easier to work with than onion sprouts, so this article will mainly focus on that method. 

Preparing the Soil

In early spring we added about an inch or two of mushroom compost and have since tilled it into the soil. This is not something we would do every year, but it does add some nutrients back into the soil and helps create a softer, looser texture to the dirt. Using horse manure is even better, but it is not always easy to get this time of year, so we settled for mushroom compost.

Planting the Onion Sets

Onion sets are basically miniature onions, which makes them very easy to handle and very hardy when planted. They should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked (we planted ours on April 15). We plant our onions around 2-3” deep, about 4-6” apart, with 12” between rows. For a more comfortable walking path, you can space two rows together around 6-8” and then leave a gap of about 18-24” before the next pair of rows.  This method requires about the same amount of space, it just provides easier access to the middle of the rows for weeding.  Either way, because onions plants do not take up much space, we find 12” works just fine.  It never hurts to amend the soil by adding some leaf compost in the trench as well.

White Onion Sets
Onion Sets typically come in two different types, long day and short day varieties. If you live in the north, it is best to use long day varieties and avoid the short day varieties. The opposite is true for those who live in the south, there you will have much better luck growing short day varieties. Since we live in Pennsylvania, we planted the long day varieties. It is actually a very important distinction and if you accidentally use the wrong variety, your onions will likely not form bulbs. Here is a brief article that explains the difference between these two types of onions in more detail.

Onion Growth

Onion Sprout
Onions should begin sprouting through the soil within 2 weeks. While the greens of onions grow rather quickly, the actual bulb will not begin to form very much in the first 6-8 weeks. In climates similar to ours, the bulbs will not begin to form until the day length is between 14 and 16 hours. Some onions may begin to send up flower shoots. These are easily distinguishable from the rest of the plant and should be cut off as soon as possible.  

Harvesting Onions

Onions can be eaten at anytime during the growing season, but if long term storage is the goal, than it is best not to harvest the onions until the greens have turned brown and begin to fall over. After this has happened (generally 90-120 days), carefully uproot the onions using a small shovel. Once they have been uprooted, the onions should be easy to remove from the soil.