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Time to Get Your Onions Growing. Here’s How:

March 30, 2012

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to pick up starts to grow onions at home. Do it now before they’re all sold out for the season. Nurseries sell bundles of young onions in late winter through early spring.

Young Onion Starts Beside Lime Thyme

Young Onion Starts Beside Lime Thyme

Bulb onions are also available, but quite often here in Western Washington, I find these more likely to rot in our soggy, cold spring soils. Too, seed is an option, but ideally those seeds would have been sown last fall to grow over the winter for transplanting this spring. (Maybe we’ll do that this fall.)

This year, we’ve already put in two succession plantings of Walla-Walla Sweet onion starts in the garden. They’re in a bed that will soon be planted with starts from the brassica family — cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and various forms of broccoli. These are companions in the garden — while aphids love to invade the brassicas, they abhor alliums (onion family members). Hopefully, the onions will keep these nasty little suckers away from my beloved broccoli and family.

To plant & cultivate bundled onion starts: After you purchase your banded bundles of onions at the nursery, be sure to have time to get them into the ground shortly after. Begin by separating each onion start from the others. Plant the individual onions such that the white portion of the onion is beneath the soil, and be sure to plant into well-drained soil in full sun. Clip off an inch or more of the top green growth when you plant; this will encourage the plant to put more energy into the bulb. If you’re tight on space — like we are — you can choose to plant the onions about 3″ apart. Then, as they begin to mature, harvest them by removing every other onion at a time. This will give the remaining onions more room to get larger over the growing season. Onions begin to show their “shoulders” above the soil as the bulbs mature. Once this happens, they can be harvested at any time. Be careful not to overwater them, which can lead to rot. And, keep an eye out for any that show signs of flowering. If they begin to send up flower spikes, cut these out and harvest soon after. And, if some of the onions seem to disappear, they may just be going dormant. Last year, although I didn’t plant any onions, I found a few that had gone dormant in the prior summer only to grow stronger and larger over the winter. It was delicious!

And, unlike last year, I hope not to be crying over our lack of onions in the garden. I cook with onions almost daily, so even if these Walla Walla’s aren’t good storage crops, we’ll have no trouble gobbling up over the summer ahead.

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