Homegrown onions can be useful in a variety of dishes, from salsas and stews to Thanksgiving stuffing and burger toppings, and with only one square foot of space needed to grow two onions, even gardeners with small plots can fit in a few.
While seeds should be started indoors and planted outdoors in late spring, gardeners still have a chance to plant onions in the summer season. Stores like Home Depot sell both seedlings and bulbs. The lateness (or earliness) of the season should help growers determine which of the three – seeds, seedlings, or bulbs – would be best in their garden.
When considering seeds and seedlings, a simple glance at the calendar can help determine when a bulb will appear. Walla Walla Onions and Sweet Spanish Onions are “Long Day Onions,” forming a bulb when there is 14-16 hours of sunlight, while “Short Day Onions” like Red Burgundy begin to form bulbs at 12-14 hours of sunlight.
Planting onions along the outside of gardens in their own area can offer a bonus: animals like deer and bunnies do not like the taste.
Onions can be fussy about the amount of water they receive. Overwatering is a common problem when growing the vegetable – if the green shoots of the onion begins to yellow and drop, hold off on watering and ensure the area is draining properly. Adequate drainage also helps to prevent mildew and rot.
Another problem gardeners can face when growing the vegetable: onions can poke up out of the soil, exposing the top to the sun and hungry pests. Check them periodically to ensure that they are fully covered.
Onions are ready to harvest when the greens fall to the ground. Dry the onion, intact, for two days, then trim off the roots and greens. Allow the trimmed onion to dry in open air for another 1-2 days before use; this can prevent premature spoiling.
Take care that unharvested onions are not allowed to go to seed – once onions invade other areas of a garden, they are almost impossible to eradicate. Generally, as biennials, onions go to seed in their second year when a rigid stalk with a seedpod at the end appears.
Creative Serving Suggestion
Rather than dump salsa into a plain serving dish, create a bowl out of a large cooked onion. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut the top quarter off the top of a large onion, and wrap the onion in foil. Cook until soft, about 90 minutes. Unwrap and let cool. Starting at the center, pull out the inner layers of the onion, leaving a flavorful bowl to fill with salsa or other dips.
Tips for a Dicey Vegetable
• Avoid watering eyes by placing the onion into the freezer for 10-15 minutes (don’t freeze it or you won’t be able to cut through it).
• Another way to keep your eyes dry while working with onions is to burn a candle close to your workspace – the flames will burn off the fumes that makes eyes water.
• Onions emit a gas that causes foods like potatoes to decompose quicker, so make sure to store onions separately in a cool, dry, and dark place.
About the Author
Darcy Anne Shepard is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.