Growing onion … without stress!
Onion is one of those ingredients that cannot be missing in the refrigerator, or better, in the pantry, since many people suggest not to keep it fresh but to keep it at room temperature in a bag of fabric or jute.
There is no sauce prepared without a good sauté with onion, on this we almost all agree, but the onion is also used to enrich a dish of vegetables cooked in a pan or to season the salad. White or golden, it doesn’t matter, onion is always in the kitchen and that’s why starting to grow it yourself can only be an excellent idea.
But how is onion grown?
In reality, there is more than one method for growing onion and today we offer you two three, happy to offer you perhaps less known but certainly very appreciated methods by those who, like us, intend gardening and growing vegetables as an activity which must above all relax us.
So let’s get started right away.
1. Grow the onion from a simple package of bulbs
If you take a tour at any specialized store that sells plants, flowers, and seeds, you will also find them, the onion bulbs in a mini version, those that give life to the bulb already formed after 10-12 hours after planting them on the ground.
These are simple kits, therefore perfect also for beginners, which contain bulbs, which in turn were grown starting from seeds, taken in their immature phase. Yes, it is true, this method is not exactly in line with what could be called respect for the cycle of nature, but to start and above all to learn, you can make some small tears to the rule, at least at the beginning.
The plant is set up two to four weeks before the average frost date; in general, the rule is to plant onions in autumn or winter.
Place the contents of the kit in a shallow groove and cover with the soil in sufficient quantity. The distance between the onions should be, in optimal conditions, 10 centimeters – a distance that also varies depending on the size of the onion variety you have chosen. However, it is possible to place the bulbs a little closer if you are going to harvest green onions, so in a somewhat premature phase.
The disadvantage of relying on this method is the limited choice of varieties. Most stores and garden centers label onion bulb sets by color (white, yellow or golden). So if you have decided to focus on more than one variety you will have to rely on multiple kits to combine. But this, to date, does not seem to us an insurmountable problem.
2. Onions ready to be transplanted
Another effective and rather simple method for growing onions is to directly transplant bundles of already grown onions that you can buy directly in the shops. The transplant, in this case, will be done in winter or in early spring.
Place the seedlings in a sheltered place but that is outdoors for a few hours a day, gradually acclimating them to a full day of direct sunlight. On the day you decide to plant garden onions, carefully lift the seedlings and gently shake their roots.
Dig a hole for the seedlings and place them slightly deep. As with the bulb sets, the seedlings can be planted closer than their maximum distance of 10 cm only if you intend to harvest the green onions ahead of time.
The different varieties of onion
Onions can be of different varieties, with different growing periods. Generally, red onions are early, white onions are considered early seeds while late golden onions. The sowing periods are different from each other, also because there are winter varieties and spring varieties of onions.
There are varieties of onion, mostly indicated for fresh consumption, which are usually sown in September and then transplanted in November. After winter, these species will develop the bulb which can be harvested in the spring. If you choose to plant small winter onion bulbs, you can do it in November.
Summer onion varieties are sown at the end of winter (in February you work in a seedbed, while between March and April you transplant in the vegetable garden). The onions will be ready in the summer and in the summer version they are considered the longest lasting variety. This variety comes in all colors: white or red, or golden.
From the botanical point of view, the onions are always onions, cultivated for the leaves rather than for the bulb. Just like for bulb onion, spring onions can be grown from autumn to spring (with sowing in October) or from spring to summer (sowing must be carried out between March and April).
The red onion of Tropea
The Tropea red onion variety is today among the most appreciated, both for its flavor and for its lightness and digestibility. This variety belongs to the family of summer onions, to be sown in February from a seedbed or from March in open ground.
Growing onions is not difficult. What matters is that the soil is the right one and that the right irrigation is guaranteed.
Weeding is an important operation that serves to defend onions from all those weeds. Good weed control ensures that the plant has adequate space and nourishment to develop well.
Oxygenate the soil and keep it loose: this is very important! Pass the hoe at least 3 times during the cultivation of onions to crumble the soil (be careful not to damage the roots). If you have clay soil, work it more often.
A good trick to work well in the rows of crops is to use the clod breaker, a little known but very useful tool. The tool is very simple to use: a clod wheel in front moves, followed by a blade that goes a few millimeters below the ground level and cuts the herbs. A recommendation, however: if you pass too close to the plant you risk ruining the roots that are on the surface.
Those who do not have time to regularly weed the soil and want a vegetable garden that requires as little time as possible in terms of commitment can also opt for mulching the soil. Onions, due to their sixth plant, are very suitable for the use of straw, a natural material, biodegradable and also at no cost. Mulching also saves on irrigation, since ground cover helps retain moisture.
Onions are undemanding vegetables when it comes to water; you will only need to water when the soil is dry, being careful not to overdo it since the roots of the onions, which are rather superficial, tend to rot in case of stagnation. During the summer it is important to prevent the soil from drying out and hardening in the sun by wetting regularly. In many cases, a drip irrigation system can be useful.
The cultivation of spring onions
Spring onions are different from onion in that vegetables are harvested differently and above all, in the kitchen, they have a different use, much more similar to that of leeks. However, as a plant from the botanical point of view, we are talking about allium cepa: a variety where the bulb grows little, while the leaves grow tender and are suitable for consumption. The difference between the classic onion and the spring onion lies in the harvest: the first we collect the bulb, the second instead we collect the whole plant.
From the point of view of cultivation, the onion needs some precautions
- Fertilize with nitrogen, in order to favor the leaves.
- Plant the spring onion in the growing moon phase and not in the waning phase, as you do with onion.
- During cultivation, you will find support to help the stem whiten better.
- Water must never be missing or the stem will become fibrous.
Grow potted onions
If you have a vegetable garden on your balcony, onion is unfortunately not the best choice: to grow it well you need a large pot but you will still get a very poor harvest. In a nutshell, it’s not worth it.
So, our advice is not to grow this vegetable on the balcony, but rather to use the space you have for other vegetables that can give you greater satisfaction.
For trouble-free cultivation
Onions are quite resistant plants and not subject to attack by pests and diseases. This is why they are perfect for organic cultivation. Here are some general precautions to prevent some problems.
- The crop rotation: the onion must not be grown on plots where you have previously grown another plant of a similar family (therefore other onions, garlic, leek, and shallots).
- The consolidations. Pairing onions and carrots, for example, is very positive for both vegetables.
- Proper soil tillage. It is very important to guarantee the onions excellent drainage of the water: in this way, the onset of diseases is reduced.
- The care of irrigation. Try to avoid excess water, responsible for the formation of rotting which can be harmful.