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Growing Onions

The Art of Growing Onions

Growing Onions

You're getting ready to set out your garden, and there are some vegetables that you're particularly excited about. Growing your own onions, for example, seems like a great way to add some home-grown flavor to many of your favorite recipes. Before you dig into the dirt, however, make sure you're familiar with the basics of onion-growing to ensure that you get the best possible results from your efforts. 

When to Plant Your Onions

Onions are a great early-season vegetable: in some regions, you can plant them as early as March or April, since they can be put in the ground as soon as you can work it in early spring. Make sure that the temperature isn't going to drop drastically after your planting (or at least as sure as you can), since onions don't do well below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The good news is, this hardy vegetable can withstand plenty of temperature changes, so they'll likely be one of your toughest plants even if the weather surprises you. 

Where to Plant Your Onions

You know that many crops are highly specific about the type of soil where they like to grow. Thankfully, onions aren't quite so picky! They'll grow wherever you plant them. You have two goals for your onion crop: full sun and a neutral PH. Onions have shallow roots, so they'll need a well-fertilized base in order to grow their best. 

How to Plant Your Onion Crop

In spite of the fact that they appear to be a root vegetable, onions shouldn't be planted like them. Instead, treat them like a leaf vegetable: plant each onion seed no more than an inch below the soil. Planting your onions too deep can restrict the growth of the bulb, which means your onions won't grow to their full potential! There are several other things to keep in mind when you're planting your onions, too:

  • If you're starting your seeds indoors--a great way to get an early start on the planting season!--start your onions approximately six weeks before you plan to move them outside.
  • Seeds should be planted approximately 4-5 inches apart, with 12-18 inches between your rows.
  • Note that onion seeds don't last indefinitely; you'll want to start with fresh seeds each year in order to get the best possible crop. 

Following these guidelines will give your seeds the best possible start, increasing the odds that you'll get a great onion crop that will have you sharing with friends and family throughout the season. 

Caring for Your Onions

Onions, with their shallow roots, can't dig deep into the soil to find water. That means that you need to make the effort to keep your soil moist at all times--but don't over-water! Onions need approximately one inch of water per week, including rainwater, in order to grow properly. You'll also want to be sure that your onions get a few key bits of care throughout the spring and summer.

  • For bigger bulbs, fertilize your onions with nitrogen every few weeks. 
  • If you want sweeter onions, water them more often. A little extra water can make a big difference in the taste of your onions.
  • Be familiar with common onion pests: onion maggots and thrips are the most common issues when you're growing onions. 

The Pests

Problems with pests can ruin your entire crop for the season. Make sure you're prepared to deal with common onion pests before they attack your crops.

Thrips: Small--about the width of a sewing needle--and yellow or black in color, thrips are a fairly common garden pest. Luckily, getting rid of them is also fairly simple: a basic dose of pesticide, administered according to the package directions twice, will likely take care of your pest problem. 

Onion maggots: Onion maggots are most common if you have a rainy, wet season. They like to burrow in close to the roots of your plants, so if you're having problems with onion maggots, cover your immature onion plants with a fine mesh net. Mound soil at the edges of the net to seal it and keep your onions protected while they're growing. 

Harvesting Your Onions

You've planted your onions. You've watched them grow. Finally, it's time to harvest the results of all of your hard work! 

  • Immature green onions can be harvested approximately 3-4 weeks after planting. At this point, the bulbs should be no larger than the plant's leaves. In general, these are pulled as needed when the stems are approximately 1/4 inch thick. 
  • Full-size onion bulbs will take approximately 3-4 months to grow to maturity.
  • Plants that have formed flower stalks should be pulled and used immediately.

All About Onions

Onions vary greatly in size depending on what you're waiting for. Small green onions are a popular addition to many dishes, while fully mature onions may measure as much as 4 inches in size. Most commonly, onions that are sold in stores grow approximately 2-3 inches in diameter.

Onions offer a great nutritional punch that makes them an excellent addition to both your garden and many of your favorite dishes. At only 64 calories per medium onion, these vegetable powerhouses offer a great boost of Vitamin C and fiber. They contain no fat and no cholesterol, so they'll fit into many of your favorite dishes with no issue at all! 

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