How to Grow Onions: A Detailed Step-by-Step Guide
Why You Should Grow Onions
Onions are hard bulbs in the allium family (which consists of onions, scallions, and leeks) that have a distinct flavour. They are excellent for use in cooking, especially onions fresh from the garden! There are many recipes that you can do using onions, and they add a fantastic flavour to any meal, salad, or soup.
In the garden, onions are easy to grow, require little cultivation, and are a great starter vegetable for beginners. Even if you don't have a garden, onions can be grown in pots indoors, if you live in the city. If you live in a house with a relatively small garden, you can grow many onions with a small plot.
Health-wise, there are so many benefits of eating onions! Here are just a few:
- Onions contain high amounts of folic acid, vitamins B1 and B6, fibre, calcium, chromium, and vitamin C.
- Onions are extremely beneficial to your heart, studies have shown. They thin the blood, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower triglycerides.
- They also contain flavonoids that are anti-oxidants, which boost your immune system and repel cancer.
“My own remedy is always to eat, just before I step in to bed, a hot roasted onion, if I have a cold.”— George Washington
Climate and Soil
Onions need a certain soil and climate to grow successfully; however, onions are suited to most climates and soils. To be more specific, onions loves to grow in a sunny spot with plenty of sunlight. As for the soil? You can grow your onions in any kind of soil, except heavy, dense clay. If you have less fertile soil, add some fertiliser to your soil, or mix in a bag of compost. This will add nutrients to the soil and cause your onions to grow bigger and better.
You can plant the onions in late autumn or early spring (February, March) and harvest in late spring.
In specially prepared soil, onions thrive, and this will help you to get your onions to grow bigger and tastier. First of all, make sure your soil is free of weeds and rocks. Loosen the soil with a rake, and mix in half a bag to a full bag of compost. You can add some fertiliser, too, if you wish; this is to help the onions to get a good head start. Loosen the soil again and rake it. Then, flatten the soil down with your shoe or the head of the rake. Onions love hard soil—the harder the better.
What You Will Need
To grow your onions, you will need a few easy-to-find items that can be found in supermarkets or garden centres, or you can even try scavenging in your own garage; you are bound to find some gardening tools in there.
You can grow your onions from seed or onion sets, which are like small bulbs. While I use onion sets in this article, you can use onion seeds if you prefer.
Here is a list of the things you will need:
- Onion Sets—These can usually be bought very cheaply in garden centres and in large quantities, too. The variety of your onions depends on where you live, but all types of normal onions will do fine.
- Watering Can—During the summer months, you may need to water your onions.
- Trowel—This is used for clearing weeds and for planting your onions into the soil.
- Compost—You can mix some compost into the soil to have more nutrients in the soil.
- String—This is used for creating a perfectly straight line when setting the onions.
- Fertiliser—This can be bought at any garden centre and is also known as 'vegetable feed'. You can use this if you wish, but you will generally get larger onions if you spray them with fertiliser every three to four weeks. Follow the instructions on the fertiliser. If you want to stay organic, avoid spraying the onions with fertiliser or vegetable feed.
- Hard Rake—A hard rake is used for soil, not for leaves. However, any rake will do. You must rake the soil prior to planting.
Planting Your Onions Using Onion Sets
Now that you have your onion sets and your garden tools, it is time to get planting!
- Firstly, weed out the small, soft onion sets from the larger, harder ones. The larger ones are the best to grow. Throw the bad ones away.
- Clear any weeds from your garden using a trowel.
- Make a straight line using a long piece of string and make holes in the soil using your trowel about 10 centimetres apart. Each row should be about 25 cm apart. Make sure the holes are about 1 inch deep.
- Place the onions pointing upwards and make sure that the green shoot is a few millimetres over the soil when covered up.
- Cover up the holes and water them.
Planting Your Onions Using Onion Seeds
If you don't want to use onion sets or cannot find any at your local garden centre, you can always use onion seeds. They are a little slower to grow, but they only take about three months. The steps to planting onion seeds are the same. Follow the steps below:
- Rake the soil prior to planting and clear any weeds and rocks in the soil.
- Harden the soil with your foot.
- Align the piece of string in a straight line.
- Dig holes 10 cm apart and make sure each hole is no deeper than 1 inch. Also, if you are making rows of onions, make sure every row is 25 cm apart.
- Cover the holes and water.
Cultivation and Pests
You will begin to see the onions developing green shoots after a few days. This is known as germination. The stems will continue to grow throughout the weeks, as will the onion. If you live in a dry climate, water well, but do not overwater. If you would like, spray with fertiliser every three to four weeks; for exact specification, consult the label at the back of the fertiliser.
Using a hoe, clear any weeds that may arise. Like most vegetables and flowers, there will always be pests to destroy your onions. There are fungi out there that cause disease. Here they are:
- Downy mildew—The stems may appear to turn grey as a fluffy fungus grows on the stems. This fungus is known as Peronospora destructor and causes the stems to die back. To prevent any further damage, remove the affected leaves and stems.
- Onion neck rot—This disease is caused by the fungus Botrytis allii. You will see a grey-coloured fluffy fungus growing on the head of the onion that will then turn into a black fungus. To avoid this, do not plant onions in the same area every year consecutively. Plant other vegetables such as peas, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, or beans instead.
Onions in Progress
Harvesting Your Onions
In late August/October, it is time to harvest your onions. When your onions are ready to be harvested, the stems will turn brown, and the onion will be very big. Bend the onion stem slightly to ensure the onion begins to dry out. After a few days, you can harvest your onion. Gently loosen the soil around it, and gently pull the onion out of the soil. Clean off any dirt and store in a shed for a few days. You must do this so the onion can develop its flavour.