How To Grow Onions

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It is summer. It is hot. Why, oh why, would anyone be planting a crop that grows during “cool” weather? Because, Grasshopper, fall will be here soon and we need to get the fall crops in the ground now. There are lettuce seeds, spinach seeds, beets, peas, cabbage, kale and onions that must be planted. Yea! Gardening!

I grow onions every year. Usually twice a year. Spring and fall.

Onions are a “cool season crop.” This means they will grow and thrive when the weather is cool. Some other plants that like cool weather include: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, beets, lettuce, spinach, radishes, asparagus, kale and many herbs. All of these will enjoy cool days and frosty nights.

Growing onions is a joy. There are some crops that are just fun and easy. There aren’t any real bugs, diseases or funk associated with them. Onions are one of those lovely garden additions. They are predictable and faithful. I know what I plant will come back out of the ground healthy and easily. No blight. No squash bugs. No cabbage worms. No fungus. Yea! Onions!

Here are the pros and cons:

• No pests
• No diseases
• Easy to plant
• Grow quickly
• Easy to harvest (just yank on the top)
• Will store in my basement for seven to nine months
• Natural healing properties (really good for you)

• They are a pain to weed
• Will have lots of weeds because there is nothing to shade the ground beneath the thin stalks (mulching around the stalks will help)

For planting onions, you’ll need two things things:
1. Onion sets
2. Any garden tool with a straight handle

These are called onion “sets.” This is not the only type of onion you can plant. There are onion seeds. There is also the clump of onions sold at the big box home improvement store that looks like a bunch of green onions all rubber-banded together.

I think the sets perform best in my garden. They are easy to plant and will be as big as an orange in a few months.

You may need to take a drive into the country to find onion sets. I have only found them for sale at country stores, farm stores and rural stores. They can usually be found in blue laundry baskets on the front porch of the store.

They are sold by the pound and are practically free.

Let me tell you, a pound of onion sets is A LOT of onions. These tiny balls weigh nothing.

They come in three varieties (at my store): white, purple and yellow. I’m pretty sure “White,” “Purple” and “Yellow” are their scientific name, kingdom and phylum. Grin.

The white onions are the strongest and store the best. The yellow onions are milder and sweeter (they store well too, this is what I grow the most of). The purple onions are beautiful, but do not store worth a darn and will bruise and rot if you look at them wrong.

I have raised beds filled with goat, cow, chicken and horse manure, not to mention random bits of hay, straw, sawdust and random plant debris from last year’s crops. It’s not pretty but it’s fluffy and easy to work in.

We don’t need shovels. I can dig holes with my hand.

Or …

I can poke holes with the handle of my metal rake.

Poke, Poke, Poke!

After you poke a 3- to 4-inch hole in the ground, drop in the onion set – root side down.

After I jam my stick in the ground, my youngest daughter follows behind me and drops onions in each hole. I suppose you could drop the onions in yourself, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.

Once all the holes have onions, cover with soil. That’s it!

Give the guys a couple of weeks and you’ll have shoots coming out of the ground.

In a month or two they’ll really take off. In no time it will be time to harvest your onions.

How do you know when it’s time to harvest?

Here are some signs to look for:
• the tips are beginning to turn brown
• the stalks are flopping over

Harvesting onions is easy. Just grab the top and pull.

After they are all out of the ground tie them into bundles.

Hang the bundles in a dry (preferably warm) place to cure. Curing removes all the moisture from the outside of the onion bulbs. This will allow them to store for months and months and months in a cool place (like a basement or root cellar). If you were to skip the curing and take the onions straight from the garden to cool storage you would end up with a bunch of moldy, squishy bulbs in a few weeks. Gross.

I allow mine to hang out in our barn for three to four weeks. Once they are hard and dry I can easily brush off the dirt and braid them. I then move the onion braids to a cool, dry place for long term storage.

If properly cured, these onions will last until next February! Maybe longer, but I am always out by February.

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Happy Harvesting!
– Candi