Growing Onions

Michelle RobertsGardening, Planting Tips


Onions – the mystical cure all, with no definite place of origin and found to be a part of ancient cultures all over the world. From the Sumerian’s to the Chinese, the Egyptians to the Native Americans, onions have been used as a food staple, burial adornments, and a healing herb since before written history.

The medicinal and nutritive value of onions would surprise most. Possessing generous amounts of quercetin, the onion protects against cataracts, cardiovascular disease, cancer, cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Onions are anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and anti fungal! The list of positive properties goes on and on.

We once heard that an onion would draw the croupy congestion out of your chest!  This is done by rubbing olive oil on the chest and back,  placing a sliced onion on the oiled areas, then wapping with an ace bandage. We tried it, and amazingly, it worked!  It is especially helpful for croup in little children, which always seems to attack at night.

According to Dr. Christopher 
[pullQuote position=”center”]”Onions will relieve headaches centered behind the forehead; earache in children and adults; stuffed up nose with discharge that makes nostrils and upper lip sore or stuffed up nose with discharge from the alternate nostril; toothache, especially in the molar area or the shifting from side to side or from one tooth to another; hoarseness and the early stages of laryngitis; abdominal colic in babies.”
[/pullQuote] [spacer height=”30″ mobile_hide=”true”] There are three different ways to plant onions; from seed, from onion sets, or from bundles of starts. The seed is by far the most economical, but the most difficult.  The easiest is to purchase the onion sets. The third, bundles of onion starts, produce large onions in the quickest time, but have their own disadvantages. Choose beds in full sun and enrich the soil with compost and calcium.  Again, Azomite provides not only calcium, but over 70 trace elements as well.  So it is an excellent way to supplement the soil.  Order Azomite at  here.

Planting From Seed

Start the seed indoors 4 – 6 weeks before setting out. Onions can be started early in the spring and planted in the ground as soon as the ground can be worked.  Anytime after the onion has its 4th shoot it can be successfully planted in the garden.

Unless you are planting green onions, it is hard to plant them far enough apart.  I prefer to start them elsewhere then transplant 3-4 inches apart in rows about 5 – 6 inches apart.  However, if you do direct seed, thin them to 3-4 inches apart and if you are careful you can transplant the thinned onions.

Planting In Sets

Choose the largest sets and plant them 3-4 inches apart in rows 5-6 inches apart..  These will grow into bulbs.  Plant the smaller sets right next to each other in a row.  These will become green onions and can be harvested much sooner.

Planting Bundles Of Starts

We like to poke holes about 4 inches into the ground with a piece of 12″ rebar or something close to that size.  Then we just stick the onion starts down into the holes and firm the soil up around them.  These are very easy to plant and will take root in in a week if the soil is kept evenly moist.  

The downside to these are the birds.  The onions are not rooted into the ground yet and for some reason, the birds are very attracted to them.  I think they must be attracted to their flexible, yet stick like shape and want them for their nests. As soon as they pluck them out of the ground, they seem to just let them drop or even fling them around – as if they are completely disgusted by the odor or something.

One year we endured the “mystery of the onion patch” as almost half of our hundreds of onion starts were flung all over the ground every morning. The crazy thing was, we never saw a bird near the onions. We finally had to cover the onions to save the crop.  Rooted onions don’t seem to have the same problem.

Watering onions – give onions an ample amount of water, but allow soil to dry somewhat between waterings.  We water our onions for 15 minutes a day every day.  Those in the hoop house get another watering in the afternoon.


Harvest Any Time During the Season

To store, Harvest before frost by pulling out of ground with greens attached, to cure the onions and get them ready for storage,  hang or set out to dry for about 3 weeks. Onions can be braided just like garlic.

A heads up about onions
 – depending on where you live, you need to grow onions that are either long day onions or short day onions.  For best results grow onions that are adapted to your day length. If a line were drawn between San Francisco and Washington, D.C., residents on the north side would grow long-day onions while those living on the south side would rely on the short-day onions.  

Most seed catalogues indicate (S) short or (L) long-day types. Usually, short day types are planted in the fall, long day types in the late winter, early spring. (Short-day onions develop bulbs in no more than 12 hours of daylight. Consequently, in the north where summer days are longer, these plants form extremely small bulbs prematurely.Long-day onions require 14-16 hrs of daylight and thus fail to form bulbs under short-day conditions.) The “middle half” of California can also grow intermediate day length varieties (13-15 hrs). These are planted in the fall and mature after short day varieties in the late spring, early summer.

I learned this the hard way one year.  I planted over a hundred onions in late summer.  They were the same seed that I had grown with great success all season long.  Unfortunately, they were long day onions. They grew voraciously in the hoop house all winter long, but never developed a bulb.  I couldn’t understand what the problem was as the soil had been amended the same.  After some research, it dawned on me that I had planted long-day onions just as the days were shortening and they did not develop a bulb because they did not have enough sun.
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