2/12/10

Growing Onions

I used the last of my homegrown onions last night :-(   I had planted 100 last year, so I'll need to increase that. I find onions relatively easy to grow, here in gardening zone 7. Here are my tips:
  • Buy good onion sets - these are the tiny onions which you use to start your plants. (Starting from seed takes a lo-o-o-ong time before harvest). They should not be shriveled, but plump just like full grown except in size. Locally, I found great onion sets at Sweetwater Fruit Market last year. They are usually sold in bunches of 50 or 100, so share if that's too much for your garden space.
  • The stronger the onion, the longer it stores. You might like sweet onions for eating fresh, but yellow onions are stronger in flavor and store better, so that's my choice.
  • If you believe in gardening by the moon, plant this root crop during the two weeks after the full moon. (As the moon wanes, the energy is drawing down. The gravitation pull is high, creating more moisture in the soil, but the moonlight is decreasing, putting energy into the roots).
  • Onions like soil with a pH of 6 to 7.5
  • Fertilize the onion bed regularly, until one month before harvesting for storage. Each green stalk is another ring on the onion root, so vigorous growth is good. I garden organically, and I like to use Espoma brand organic fertilizer, which I find at Lowes and Home Depot.
  • It's ok to harvest and eat the green tops as the onions grow. If you see the plant send up a thick green stalk from the center, cut that back to the ground level - it is the onion "flower" and you don't want the plant to put its energy into flowering and going to seed, but rather into root growth
  • My gardening friend Susan learned from an old-time gardener that you should harvest onions around July 4th if you plant to store them, here in zone 7.
  • You can, of course, harvest onions for immediate fresh use. You can also chop and freeze them. I've dehydrated chopped onions too, and these work well when added to dips and soups. 
  • For longtime storage, let the newly dug onions dry for  7-14 days (depends on the heat and humidity) in a dry place outdoors. I use my porch dining table, covered with newspapers, and spread the onions in a single layer. I have had success in braiding their tops or cutting the tops about 1" above the root and storing in mesh bags in my basement. Watch the stored onions so you can remove any which start to rot (perhaps not dried enough).
I have a good bed of "winter onions" in my garden now. They are a perennial plant, and the green tops are harvested like scallions, throughout the winter. I picked some yesterday for our dinner soup. So that will have to suffice for my onion needs for the next few months!