BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: Onions
If you grow onions, now is the time you are enjoying the harvest. Lucky you! Who can resist the wonderful scent of sauteed onions cooking in the kitchen, or the fresh bite of pickled onions on a favorite sandwich. If you haven’t grown them and you have a lot of direct sunlight in your yard you might want to consider this.
Growing from seed. When shopping for seed, look for long-day varieties such as Copra and Early Yellow Globe for yellow onions. Try Mambo and Southport Red Globe for red onions, and Bedfordshire Champion and Snow White for white onions. Good, mild onions for short-term storage include Ailsa Craig Exhibition and Walla Walla Sweet.
Where. Onions grow best in fertile soil that drains well. But they also grow in sandy or clay soils that have been amended with organic material. Apply approximately one and one-half inches deep of organic material over the soil and work it in to a depth of eight inches before planting.
When. Onion seeds should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, depending on spring weather. For most lower elevations in our diocese late March is best, but onions can be planted until late April, depending on the variety. Hard freezes can damage young seedlings. Since onion seedlings are fairly cold-tolerant, they do survive in the soil in cold weather as long as the ground doesn’t freeze.
How. Plant the seeds about one inch deep and one and one-half inches apart. When the plants have five to 10 leaves, thin to three inches apart, and eat the pulled onions as scallions. Onions require added nitrogen until mid-July.
Water. Since onion roots are shallow, water them frequently and never allow them to dry during bulbing or the bulbs will be small and leathery. Preventing drought-stress in onions can also help to prevent insect problems. Don’t be concerned if bulbs develop mostly out of the soil. By late August, the tops of onion plants will begin to lay over on the ground. Food made in the leaves will be stored in the onion bulbs. Stop watering them at this point.
Keep it clean. It’s always good practice to keep gardens weed-free with added mulch. Onions don’t compete well with fast-growing weeds. Thrips are the most common insect to attack onions and can emerge from the soil. They live on weeds, so mulching and weeding are natural controls. Damaged plants will look silver. Thrips can be controlled with insecticidal soaps.
Harvesting. When most of the tops are on the ground, lift the onions to break the bulbs from the roots. Leave the bulbs on the ground exactly as they were growing to cure them for storage and prevent sunburn. Bulbs will be ready for harvest in a week or two. Be sure to bring onions in before snow, rain or freezing temperatures. Cut off the tops when they are completely dry.
Storage. Store the bulbs in a burlap sack or an open crate in a dark area with temperatures as close to freezing as possible without actually freezing. Promote good air circulation by leaving space between crates or bulked onions and outer walls of the shed. Do not stack onion bins in direct sunlight before storing because translucent scales may occur or moisture may accumulate at the necks of bulbs.
Get the brats grilling for summer’s last hurrah and don’t forget to top them off with sauteed onions!