Onions, an Easy To Grow Must
Onions are a staple in many local gardens, and in the kitchen. They are a hardy, easy to grow vegetable that can be started from seed, set or transplant. There are many different varieties of onions, with different tastes, and colours of red, white and yellow.
In early summer , people enjoy using the mild, green bunching varieties, where the whole onion is used, including the tops. For salads and onion rings, the mild, sweet tasting Spanish onion is a favourite, and the regular cooking onions which have a stronger taste, are good for winter storage.
Starting onions from seed can take a bit of time, especially if you want to grow the large Spanish onion or the storage onion. It is suggested that the seeds be started indoors 6-10 weeks (mid March) before the last spring frost. Use plastic trays, and inserts, filled with a moistened, starter mix, or a light indoor soil. Follow the planting instructions given on the seed packet, and place the planted tray in a warm area, keeping the soil moist. It can take 10-14 days for the seed to germinate.
In mid May the young plants can be transplanted outdoors. When planting the young plants outdoors, don’t plant them too deep as they only need to have their roots buried. The advantage to starting your own plants from seed is the large selection of seeds and the money saved.
Another method of growing your own onions is by using onion sets.
An onion set is an immature bulb which when planted will grow and mature into a full sized onion. There are ‘dutch’ onion sets which are the cooking onions, ‘multipliers’ are the sets that produce 6-7 green bunching onions per set, red onions, and shallots.
Onion sets are planted in early May. Press the set into the prepared garden soil so that only the tip remains above the soil line. When choosing Dutch onion sets, look for small, firm sets, as these will be less prone to bolting. The advantage to using onion sets is that they are faster to mature into an onion and tend to be less susceptible to disease and pests. The disadvantage would be the smaller selection of variety, they cost more, and the onions tend to be smaller in size, compared to onions started from seed or transplant.
Grow onions in a sunny location, in single rows or raised beds. When growing in raised beds, space the rows 15 cm apart, with 4 rows to a bed. Onions are spaced 8-10 cm apart depending on type and variety. They can be spaced closer together and then thinned out later, using the thinned out onions as green onions. Onions grow best in a fertile, well-drained soil that has a pH of 6.0-6.8. Onions have a shallow root system and moisture is important in growing healthy onions so water them when the soil is dry, and keep them weeded so they are not competing with the weeds for moisture and nutrients. Green onions take very little space and grow well in containers. Mix them in with the herbs.
A common problem when growing onions is root maggots. You usually don’t notice it until it is too late. The infected plant will wilt, turn yellow and die. When the affected onion is pulled out of the soil you will notice little holes in the bulb with tiny legless creamy white larvae inside the bulb. To help prevent this problem practice crop rotation, work the soil in the fall, keep weeds down to expose the adult fly, space onions further apart making it harder for the maggot to go from onion to the next, and use a floating crop cover. We used a floating crop cover last summer for the onions and carrots and it worked very well. The crop cover prevents the adult fly from laying its eggs on the surface of the soil next to the onion.
Onions can be harvested at any time. For winter storage, the onions should be left in the ground until it has matured and the top falls over at the neck of the plant. Pull the onion out and allow it to sit in the sun for a few days . When the green part of the onion has dried it is removed 5 cm from the bulb of the onion and the onion is ready to be stored.
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp Home and Garden Centres in Prince George
- Highway 16 West at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 North at Northwood Pulpmill Road (closed for the season)