Georgina has had short articles and tips published in Garden Answers and the Gardener's World Magazine and likes t o share gardening ideas.
In this day and age, we're all trying to save money, and what better way to do this than by growing your own vegetables. Gardening a couple of times a week burns calories and can help you lose weight and keep fit—plus you have the benefits of lovely fresh vegetables at the end of it, and we should all be including more fruit and veg in our diet.
Don't have a garden? Consider taking on an allotment—then not only will you reap the benefits listed above, but you'll be part of a growing community (excuse the pun!). Or maybe you could share a garden with someone who can't manage to work theirs themselves. Many towns (such as Totnes in Devon) are now developing garden-share schemes.
The Benefits of Winter Onions
The main benefit of growing winter onions is that they are planted in October, which means that they have a much longer growing season and generally more consistent weather, so you have much bigger onions earlier than main-crop onions. They also encounter fewer pests and are less likely to be eaten by insects.
They are less likely to bolt due to the more consistent weather conditions. My biggest winter onion grown this year weighed 1 1/4 pounds.
Also, they don't have as much competition from weeds as main crops do, as generally weeds are slower growing in winter.
Flavour-wise, they are every bit as good as main-crop onions.
Which Onion Variety Should You Choose?
First, source good-quality onion sets from reputable growers, as these should be disease free. The two varieties I have had most success with are Senshyu, a Japanese variety, golden-skinned and globe-shaped, and Radar, a good white onion. I've also tried Red Barron, a red onion that did OK, and Winter Moon, a white onion that did very well.
Over the last couple of years I've noticed a trend in seed-saving. I would be very reluctant to save immature onions to use the following year, because of possible disease spread. However, you could let a few onions go to seed then let that seed dry out to be sown in the spring. You would have to sow these, then grow them on to onion set size before replanting as you would a normal onion set, in order to achieve a crop.
As with garlic, I plant the sets just below the soil on ground that is well tilled and which was manured the previous year.
The onions should be fed once between autumn and Christmas, and then throughout the growing season the next year.
Some growers, once they have the soil just right to grow a good crop of onions, will keep onions on that patch forever. I don't do this, fearing that disease could build up in the soil and easily wipe out the whole crop. So I rotate my onions as part of my usual crop rotation plan.
As with garlic, it's important to keep the crop well weeded, and this is where a good, sharp hoe comes in. When planting, it's a good idea to leave enough room between each set, so that the hoe can get through. Otherwise, you'll end up hand-weeding, which can be backbreaking work.
Once you have a hoe, it's easy to keep it sharp using a whetstone. Working with sharp tools makes gardening jobs so much easier to manage.
Since moving to Scotland, I've discovered that high winds in winter can cause a problem. The onions can be battered too much causing the green leaves to bend at the neck and the onion to stop growing. If you're in a windy area you might want to consider some wind protection. You can buy various wind meshes and tunnels at the garden store or online.
Harvesting Winter Crop Onions
By the time that early summer arrives, winter-sown onions will be huge and far bigger than any onions sown in spring. They are ready for harvesting when the tops go brown and die back, however, I don't always wait for that. If the chef needs onions to cook my supper, I pull them up whilst still green, knowing that if I run out of winter onions I've plenty of main crops still to come. Using them while green seems to make no difference to the flavour—they're just as good.
Whenever you decide to harvest the onions, just lift them with a garden fork and leave them lying on the soil for a few days to dry out. Have a contingency drying out area (child's bedroom, airing cupboard, partner's side of the bed) if the weather turns to rain and cold.
How to Store Onion Crops
I don't fuss over my onions too much, simply twist off the brown tops and rub off any loose skin and soil, then store them somewhere cool and dry, preferably not touching each other.
Garden experts tell you that Senshyu doesn't store very well. I find that it does, but has to be scrupulously dry first. So with this variety, I take off a little more skin than usual to make sure there are no damp areas.
I store the onions in my little polythene greenhouse, until needed, but anywhere dry and ventilated would be fine.
Good luck and get growing!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Georgina Crawford (author) from Dartmoor on October 01, 2012:
How cold does it get? We have -16 for the last few years and winter onions were fine. .
ruby on September 29, 2012:
what about the minnesota winters can i still plant in october ?
gillian on August 15, 2012:
i am new to onions sets and was given a bag of seed onion for fall planting in zone 3. my question is...do i break up the sets into individual onion bulbs to plant?..or do i throw the whole orb of bulbs in together as a unit?..i cant seem to find any answers to this online.
thank you gilian
Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 15, 2012:
This is great! Thank you!
Georgina Crawford (author) from Dartmoor on February 22, 2011:
Thanks jetta 17
jetta17 on February 16, 2011:
Very informative article. I learned a good deal. Thank you
Georgina Crawford (author) from Dartmoor on November 07, 2010:
Strange isn't it - this hub receives thousands of hits and is really popular - I guess people are just taking notes on how to grow them!
Debby Bruck on November 05, 2010:
Where are all the comments for this fabulous Hub? Thanks so much for the information. Blessings, Debby
Georgina Crawford (author) from Dartmoor on August 24, 2010:
Thy're well worth it Indoor Greenhouse Guy
Indoor Greenhouse Guy on August 21, 2010:
Hi Georgina, thanks for a useful Hub, i grow most of my vegetables indoors but I do tend to struggle in the warmer months with onions bolting. I still use them but I don't find them to be as good really. I'll certainly be trying out winter onions in my garden after reading this. Thanks for sharing!