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Grow Winter Onions - Tips

Updated on February 25, 2019
Georgina_writes profile image

Georgina has had short articles and tips published in Garden Answers and the Gardener's World Magazine and likes t o share gardening ideas.

Grow winter onions

Grow Winter Onions

In this day and age we're all trying to save money, and what better way to do this than growing your own vegetables. Gardening a couple of times a week burns calories and can help you lose weight and keep fit, plus you have the benefits of lovely fresh vegetables at the end of it, and we should all be inluding more fruit and veg in our diet.

Don't have a garden? Consider taking on an allotment then not only will you reap the benefits listed above, but you'll be part of a growing community (excuse the pun!). Or maybe you could share a garden with someone who can't manage to work theirs themselves. Many towns are now developing garden-share schemes for example Totnes in Devon, which is becoming a transition town.

The Benefits of Winter Onions

The main benefit of growing winter onions is that as you are planting them in October, they have a much longer growing season, and generally more consistent weather, so you have much bigger onions earlier than main-crop onions.

They are less likely to bolt due to the more consistent weather conditions. My biggest winter onion grown this year weighed one and a quarter pounds.

Also, they don't have as much competition from weeds as main crops do, as generally weeds are slower growing in winter.

Flavour-wise, they are every bit as good as main crop onions.

Which Onion Variety?

First source reputable onion sets. The two varieties I have tried have been Senshyu, a Japanese variety, golden-skinned and globe-shaped. The other is Radar a good white onion.

As with garlic I plant the sets just below the soil on ground which is well tilled, and which was manured the previous year.

I feed the onions with an organic manure once between autumn and Christmas, and then throughout the growing season the next year.

Some growers, once they have the soil just right to grow a good crop of onions will keep onions on that patch forever. I don't do this, fearing that disease could build up in the soil and easily wipe out the whole crop, so I rotate my onions as part of my usual crop rotation plan.

As with garlic, it's important to keep the crop well weeded, and this is where a good, sharp hoe comes in. When planting it's a good idea to leave enough room between each set, so that the hoe can get through, otherwise you'll end up hand-weeding. If you don't have a good hoe see if you can persuade someone to buy one as a garden gift for you, then you can keep them weed free over winter.

Once you have the equipment, it's easy to keep it sharp using a whetstone. My whetstone was a Christmas gift from my son, cost around two quid and is one of the most useful garden tools that I have. Working with sharp tools makes a job so much easier.

Harvesting Winter Crop Onions

By early summer, winter onions will be huge. I had so many questions about mine from fellow allotmenteers - they caused quite a stir!

Onions are ready for harvesting when the tops go brown and die back, however, I don't always wait for that. If the chef needs onions to cook my supper I pull them up whilst still green, knowing that if I run out of winter onions I've plenty of main-crops still to come. Using them green seems to make no difference to the flavour. They're just as good.

Whenever you decide to harvest the onions just lift them with a garden fork and leave them lying on the soil for a few days to dry out. Have a contingency drying out area (child's bedroom, airing cupboard, partner's side of the bed) if the British weather decides to rain for six months.

How to Store Onion Crops

I don't fuss over my onions too much, simply twist off the brown tops and rub off any loose skin and soil. Garden experts tell you that Senshyu doesn't store very well, I find that it does, but has to be scrupulously dry first, so with this variety I take off a little more skin than usual to make sure there are no damp areas.

I store the onions in my little polythene greenhouse, until needed, but anywhere dry and ventilated would be fine.

Good luck - get growing!

Diane's Onion Soup Recipe

This is my sister in law's recipe for Dutch onion soup. Her recipe includes meatballs, as her Dutch family love their meatballs, but we often eat it without.

Cook 500g diced onion in butter until soft, but DO NOT BROWN IT.

In a pan boil 1litre of water with a stock cube.

In a separate pan make a roux with 30g of butter and 40g of plain flour, then gradually add a small carton of single cream, with 50mls of milk. Slowly add the boiling stock and keep stirring.

Season with salt, black pepper, rosemary, a bayleaf, marjoram, thyme, basil and crushed garlic. Add a small glass of white wine.

If you want to add meatballs, do it now. The Dutch meatballs are made from good quality ground beef, simply rolled into balls about the size of a Malteser, about 1cm diameter (just under 1/2").

Simmer for thirty minutes and serve with fresh bread and if you're feeling really piggy a side dish of grated cheese.


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    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      8 years ago from Dartmoor

      How cold does it get? We have -16 for the last few years and winter onions were fine. .

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      what about the minnesota winters can i still plant in october ?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i am new to onions sets and was given a bag of seed onion for fall planting in zone 3. my question i break up the sets into individual onion bulbs to plant?..or do i throw the whole orb of bulbs in together as a unit?..i cant seem to find any answers to this online.

      thank you gilian

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      8 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      This is great! Thank you!

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      9 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks jetta 17

    • jetta17 profile image


      9 years ago

      Very informative article. I learned a good deal. Thank you

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      9 years ago from Dartmoor

      Strange isn't it - this hub receives thousands of hits and is really popular - I guess people are just taking notes on how to grow them!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      9 years ago

      Where are all the comments for this fabulous Hub? Thanks so much for the information. Blessings, Debby

    • Georgina_writes profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgina Crawford 

      10 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thy're well worth it Indoor Greenhouse Guy

    • profile image

      Indoor Greenhouse Guy 

      10 years ago

      Hi Georgina, thanks for a useful Hub, i grow most of my vegetables indoors but I do tend to struggle in the warmer months with onions bolting. I still use them but I don't find them to be as good really. I'll certainly be trying out winter onions in my garden after reading this. Thanks for sharing!


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