Lessons on Growing Onions
Last year’s crop of onions was great. It was a bumper crop and should have supplied the family with fresh onions through March and into April as the previous year’s crop. However, due to the early sprouting and a disease called neck rot, we finished eating the last onion shortly after Thanksgiving. Having never experienced this problem before, I decided to investigate the cause.
A commercial onion grower advised me that I should have dragged a timber over the onion bed as soon as the first onion exhibited signs of maturity. Commercial onion growers control the size of their bulbs by knocking down the tails once the majority of bulbs in a bed are two to two-and-a-half inches in diameter.
Not only does this control bulb size and limit early sprouting, it prevents neck rot. As the tails die back, they dry and cover the spaces in the bulb where the spores that cause neck rot enter. This method is cheaper and better than trying to control the disease with fungicides.
You’ll know your onions are beginning to mature when the tops of the plants start turning yellow and brown and the blue-green onion tails begin to gray. At this point, knock them down.
Order Onions Now
Now is the time to order onion plants. Onions can be grown from seeds sown in pots in the greenhouse or cold frame, but I get larger onions and fewer losses from onion plants purchased from a reputable seed catalog and transplanted in my garden.
I purchase mine from Dixon Dale Farms in Texas. The more bunches you order, the lower the price per bundle. You might consider combining orders with friends to get a better price. For best results I request delivery by mid-March, and I plant the onions as soon as I can prepare the soil. Onions come about 75 plants per bundle and can be stored in the fridge until the time of planting.
Purchase only long-day or day-neutral onion varieties for spring planting. Two of the best keepers available are Copra and First Edition. Candy is a very mild onion but is not a good keeper. Last year I tried Big Daddy, which was a large, sweet, beautiful-looking onion but not a long keeper.
How to Plant Them
Onions grow best in an almost neutral pH, and they love having lots of good compost mixed with the soil. I normally incorporate two to three inches of compost into the soil just before planting.
I plant the onions in a bed approximately 30 inches wide using four-by-four-inch spacing. To guide me in making my rows, I built a dibble board using three-inch-long pegs fastened to a board. When pressed into loose soil, the pegs make two rows of seven holes spaced four inches apart. I drop one seedling into each hole and wash the soil into the holes using a heavy stream of water.