How to grow organic onions
Grow big yellow onions
Read before you plant any type of onions
Plus, tips to plant scallions, leeks, chives, onions and shallots
It is well worth it to invest time preparing the soil before planting onions. Onions are shallow rooted, require fertile soil and plenty of water. Preparing the bed and making sure there is access to water are the first steps.
Loosen up the soil to six inches deep. Work in plenty of compost to increase fertility and improve water retention. Make soil loose and crumbly, removing all clots.
Because onions are shallow rooted, they do not compete well with weeds for nutrients or water. Be diligent about weeding right from the start. A regular watering schedule is best.
Gardeners anxious to begin the growing season, should consider growing onions. Organic onions cost more than inorganic onions. But once you plant some of these onion varieties you will never have to buy them again.
Seeds, starts or sets?
Growing plants in the onion family may be the first seeds (scallions) that you sow in spring and the last crop (leeks) you harvest in the fall. Onions are a cool season crop that can be grown as sets, transplants or seeds.
Organic seed is easier to locate than organic sets or transplants. Young onion plants will survive in the soil in cold weather as long as the ground doesn't freeze. Sow seeds directly into the garden or get an early start indoors.
Start seeds in trays then plant into the garden in late winter or early spring. This is the most time consuming and most economical way to produce onions in the home garden.
How to grow onions
Onions prefer light, sandy, loamy soils, good drainage and full sun. They will grow in other types of soil, including clay. Green onions can be grown in partial shade.
Begin growing onions indoors from seed about six weeks before the last predicted frost date. Sow in flats, then transplant onions to 1"-2" apart. Harden off onion seedling before transplanting to prevent sunscald.
I have my best luck growing onions from sets. These baby onions are well established and partly grown. Even though sets are more expensive, they can be directly planted where the onions will grow. Or, plant them closer, thinning and using green onions (scallions) until the remaining onions are properly spaced.
Spacing depends on the variety of onion. Generally, planting to 3" - 4" inches apart for green onions and thinning to at least 5-6 inches apart for large bulbing onions. Proper spacing will affect the size of the mature onion.
Harvest onions a week after the tops have started to yellow and fall over.
Red Torpedo Tropea
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Chive plants grow in a clump of hollow, grass-like leaves. The quickest way to get a blooming pant, is to buy a small starter plant. Once planted and established the chives will produce flowers.
Leave some blooms to self seed. Pick the rest to make a beautiful pink herb vinegar. Here's how to make chive herb vinegar. Homemade herb vinegars To harvest clip with scissors just an inch above the ground.
Uses: Use in place of green onions in any recipe or salad. Chopped chives are a welcome garnish on any savory dish. Top salads, soup, baked potato skins. Honey mustard salad dressing, herb butter.
Scallions are also called spring onions, green onions, or salad onions. They are the imature onion, picked before the bulb has formed. Generally planted on crowded rows with the expectation the the onions will bulb if properly thinned. The thinnings, or long slim green onion is a scallion.
These scallions could grow up to be hot or sweet, red, yellow or white, torpedo shaped, or a flattened globe. Some are sweet and as big as a baseball. Some are spicy, flattened globes or biscuit shaped and very hot.
As plants are thinned, the remaining plants in the ground should be spaced at least 4 inches apart. Shallow rooted onions, can not compete with aggressive weeds. Good soil and plenty of fertizer and water are your job. Now stand back and let these onions grow to maturity.
Store Onions Cool and Dry
Bulbing or storage onions
Long-day and short-day onions
There are two basic types of bulbing onions, long-day onions, grown in northern latitudes and short-day onions grown in southern latitudes. Short-day onions begin to form bulbs when the day length is between 12 and 14 hours. Long-day onions start forming bulbs when the day length is between 14 and 16 hours.
The sweetest onions have the shortest storage life and need to be used or processed within weeks. The less sugar, or sweetness in an onion, the longer it will store. Short day onions are usually sweet.
Any onion can be planted in your garden. The day length guide will help you select varieties for the best success in your part of the country. Day length affects the bulbing process. Onions need daylight hour to form bulbs.
Choose onions by day length
10 -12 hrs of sun per day
12 - 14 hrs of sun per day
14 - 16 hrs of sun per day
Texas Early White
Red Apple Candy
Little Onion "Cipollini"
Vidalia, cipollini, torpedo
Cipollini – a small, flat slightly sweet and mild white onion that gets better when stored. Cipollini means small onion in Italian. About 1 ½ - 2 ½” across.
You can never have too many of these mini onions. Trust me on this.There are also red Cipollini.
Uses: roasted, carmelized, baked, turns this little onion into the best thing you have ever eaten Perfect size for shish kabobs, good grilled or pickled. .
Vidalia onions are grown only in Georgia. The low sulpher content in the soil contributes to the sweetness. Known for their mild, sweet flavor, you can have it shipped from Vidalia, Georgia. These sweet, short day onions originate from Yellow Ganex onion seed.
Uses: These sweeties are best fresh in salads, potato salad, cold marinated vegetables. Onion rings. Just onion rings.
Red Torpedo Tropea - sweet red, long day, torpedo shaped. Red Torpedo Tropea Be sure to loosen soil and plant a bit deeper to get that torpedo shape. Water regularly. Another Italian treasure.
Uses: Make pickled onions with these red and you get pink pickles. Great on any kind of salad or sandwich.
All the shallots you want
Shallots (Allium ascalonium) plant individual cloves 1 inch deep in the fall (in the southern US) and 6 inches apart. When you plant garlic is a good time to plant shallots. Bulbs should just be barely covered. They will produce a cluster of bulbs which can be harvested and can be separated replanted in the late spring/early summer.
Plant shallots in the spring after all danger of frost. Dig and divide fall planted bulblets, separating and planting about 6 inches apart. You can begin clipping a few green tops as you would chives around 45 days after spring planting.
Gardeners can have plenty shallots nearly year round. Cooks who must purchase shallots tend to be rather conservative in their use. Harvest shallots, like onions, when tops yellow and fall over. Save some for replanting in the fall.
Uses: French chefs can turn shollots into culinary perfection. Try roasted chicken and shallots. Use shallots in salad dressing, in potato salad, light soups, marinated vegetables, spring salad greens. Onions and garlic are often used as a foundation in recipes. Shallots are more often used to finish a dish.
Leeks - are not dependent on day length. They are milder flavored than onions. Plant starts when you plant onions. There is no need to harvest until you want to eat them. Just leave leeks in the garden.
Growing methods is similar to storage onions. Plant them deeper than onions in rich soil with a regular water schedule.
Uses: Most famous in Vichyssois, a chilled potato-leek soup. Serve leeks roasted or steamed as you would prepare asparagus or new potatoes. Tasty in quiche and with roasted vegetables or meats.
The mild favor is distinctly different than onions. Some people who can not eat onions can substitute leeks.
Downton Abbey fans might consider this vichyssoise recipe.
- Garlic grows much differently than onions, chives, shallots and leeks. Planting harvest and storage are very different.
How to grow organic garlic (Allium sativum) - when and where to plant garlic
How to store and use homegrown garlic and onions - includes recipes for pickled onions, roasted garlic
All in the onion family
- What is organic gardening? Organic gardeners use manures, compost, and crop rotation, avoiding synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on their plants or soil. It is sustainable gardening without the use of chemical herbicides or pesticudes.
- Do I need organic seed to grow organically? Yes. Look for 100% organically grown seed. Organic seed does not contain any residues that might be in chemically treated plants and soil.
- What fertilizers can I use in organic gardening? The best thing is well decomposed compost. You can make organic compost or buy it. Compost adds nutrients, increases water holding ability, slows erosion and improves the soil quality. Other examples are bone meal, kelp, fish meal and, blood meal.
- What is organic matter? Carbon-based materials that were once living and will eventually decompose into humus. For example, leaves, grass clippings, animal manure. Fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds, teabags and filters. Other organic matter includes shredded paper, sawdust, wood ash and tree trimmings.
In the zone
Onion Rings - Home grown and homemade
Seeds, starts, sets
More about growing and preserving onions
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