- Kelly Grummons
Q: Our family uses a lot of onions in the kitchen. I’ve tried to grow them for a couple of years but was disappointed with the size of the bulbs. What can I do to have a better crop?
A: You can grow some wonderful varieties that are not normally found in the grocery store. I find that most beginning gardeners plant the onions a little too late in the spring. I sow the seeds of my various onions in early February in community pots under my grow light setup. The best sweet onions are generally from seed. You can also buy sweet onion transplants at the nursery and they usually come in banded bunches of live plantlets. Try to get them into the ground by April 1st.
Seeding directly into the ground can be done but needs to occur in the fall or in February/March. I’ve had better crops by starting the seedlings indoors. The small onion bulbs that are available in nurseries are generally pungent (hot) onions. Plant them early too. Onions will tolerate dryer conditions but if you want them to be big and succulent, don’t let the plants dry out. Prepare well-drained, organic rich soil in a sunny location. I usually incorporate a small amount of organic Phosphorus and general-purpose organic fertilizer every time I prepare the soil. The frosts that occur in April and May are okay for the onions. This should provide you with really nice onions.
Many onion varieties will send up flower stalks in July/August. Remove these to increase the quality of the bulbs. When the onion leaves begin to collapse and yellow stop watering them. In a week or so, dig the bulbs and place them, leaves and all, in a shady, dry place like the garage or under the patio cover. This is how we cure the bulbs. This will toughen the skins which preserves them. After a couple of weeks of curing, remove the shriveled tops and put the bulbs into storage. I put them into slotted crates in single layers in the cool part of the garage or shed. By mid to late October when freezing temperatures threaten the bulbs, I place them into the refrigerator crisper where they will keep nicely all winter.
Written by Kelly Grummons, who writes our Q & A column, is co-owner of the mail order nursery businesses, coldhardycactus.com and dogtuffgrass.com