Onions are NOT a vegetables to plant in your kitchen garden to save money. They are very cheap to purchase and have a long growth period, taking up growing space for a long period of time. Despite this, if you have the space to grow them there are numerous compelling reasons to do so:
1. Experience the satisfaction that comes from piling up your home grown vegetables on the kitchen bench while you commence creating a healthy meal to share with your family from your harvest
2. If the produce comes from your back yard vegetable garden you know the growing conditions. You know if the plants have, or have not, been sprayed or chemically treated prior to eating them – You will have probably guessed if you spend any time here that I use organic growing methods, avoiding any sprays that I have not made myself from natural ingredients
3. The flavor. Home grown vegetables are more flavorsome
4. Home grown and harvested food is more nutrient dense
The combination of these four reasons makes my onions very valuable. I do not see them as a cheap crop, or a waste of space as I place a high value on using my own home grown produce in family meals.
How to plant onions:
Onions are part of the Liliaceae family (Alliums).
There are multiple varieties that can be planted across the seasons so be sure to check your seed growing notes to ensure that you are growing the correct variety at the correct time for your location. The skin may be white, brown, red, yellow or purple depending on the variety.
Onions are easy to raise from seed. They have a lengthy growing duration of 35+ weeks. When planting ensure that the roots have space to fall straight down into the hole (as opposed to being crumpled up)
When seedlings are large enough to transplant they should be planted in a free draining soil that has been fertalised. They will tolerate some shade but prefer a sunny (if that is possible in late Autumn/Winter!) open position.
Onion plants dislike being crowded – be sure to plant them a minimum of 10 cm apart in rows that are 30 cm apart.
Companion plants for onions:
Onions may be planted near :
How to grow onions:
I have grown onions each year for the last 4 years and to be honest I give them very little care or attention once they are in the grown and have become established.
Water new plants regularly until they become established and then as required, dependent on the weather. Once new seedlings have become established I rarely water any of the garden through Autumn and Winter.
Onions may bolt (go to flower) due to fluctuating weather. At the first sign of flower remove the plants from the ground, unless you wish to keep them in flower and gather the seeds. The bulbs get a hard thick core in the middle when the plant bolts which means that part of the bulb is not edible, they also fail to reach maximum size.
The roots of the onion plant sit shallow below the earth. Be careful if you are weeding around them or you may pull up an immature bulb.
Rotate the planting position of onions each year. My e-book Grow Your Own can help with planting notes and basic rotation tips if you require assistance with this.
When to harvest onions:
Onions can be harvested once the stems start to fall over and turn yellow. You will often see the bulb pushing up out of the soil at this point so that you can clearly see it is ready to harvest. Ideally this should occur prior to flowering.
Do not pull the plant out of the ground or you may break off the bulb from the stalk. Use a pitch fork to gently wiggle the earth around it until it is free to be removed.
Once the plants are harvested, lay them out in the sun, or a well ventilated light position if the weather does not allow them to be outdoors. When the skin has dried and feels papery the onions are ready for storage in a cool dark place. They may be plaited like garlic or simply put into string bags and hung in a position that has good ventilation. Variety will determine ideal storage duration.
For each of the vegetables that I plant in my backyard vegetable garden I have a set of recipes that I MUST make after each harvest every year and the rest is to try in new recipes and generally to just enjoy.
These two recipes are the ones that I must make after we harvest our onions:
Onions are widely known for their antiseptic properties. I have never tested this particular way to utilize those properties but it is the most interesting that I have come across! Tell me what you think, or if you have tried this. I have heard that when there is a cold/flu in the house that leaving a cut onion out will draw all of the germs to it and thus avoid the spread of the virus….I am not sure about that but I do enjoy using them in cooking. In combination with garlic they create a wonderful flavor base for a variety of meals including curries, casseroles and other slow cooked meals. My all time favorite way to enjoy them is straight from the BBQ, a little bit blackened. How about you???
Are you growing onions this season? Do you have a favorite recipe to use your harvest?
Matthew Biggs, The Complete Book of Vegetables, Kyle Cathie Limited, London, 2010
The Australian Gardening Encyclopedia, Murdoch Books, Millers Point, 2004
Organic Gardening in Australia, Pauline Pears (ed.), Dorling Kindersley, London, 2006
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