The onion sets we planted in March have grown a lot! If you remember, we dug trenches for the sets so they were below ground level. The reason we did this is to give the sets a lot of space to grow larger onions than we have in the past.
The rain moved some of the side dirt into the trench, but in the picture you can see how the white portion of the onion top is starting to show. This is the time to start building up the dirt on top of the onions. You should never see the onion top.
We mixed some soil with compost and piled it up about an inch or so above the the top of the onion itself. The compost will help the onion bulb grow significantly larger. You need to leave the majority of the leaves above the surface for photosynthesis.
In the end our onions met our size satisfaction. Much better than in previous years. Since we found out the hard way last year that the onion sets I was purchasing were considered Fresh, not Storing onions, we will just pull up onions as we need them, or as a customer orders one. We will leave them in the ground and pull as needed until the weather projection calls for more than 3 days in a row in the teens. Onions can handle freezing weather as long as there are some intermittent warm ups. It’s when the ground freezes solid that you have a problem. That usually doesn’t happen unless you are in the teens for at least 3 days. We also put row covers over our plants during inclement weather which keeps the ground from freezing.
I think we finally learned how to grow onions the best way for our climate!
A new item we grew this year was red onions. We tried to grow onions 3 times with little success for selling quality. On the post earlier this year we shared the new way we were going to try and grow the onions for a bigger, juicier bulb. We dug trenches to lay the onion sets in and as the onion grew we added soil to keep the bulb covered at all times. The bulb grew bigger with the added soil. In the end this strategy worked! It was exciting to finally pull up onion bulbs the size you would see in the grocery store.
Unfortunately, we learned another new lesson! We did a lot of research on how to store onions and went through the process of pulling them up, laying them in the sun to dry the outer skin, and then hung them up. What we found out too late is that the variety of onion sets I chose were not STORING onions. They are considered FRESH onions. What that means is they do not store well and are sensitive to heat and bruising. End result is I overheated 30% of the onions, bruised another 20% and was left with 50% of the onions that would only last a couple weeks out of the ground.
This is what should have happened. After the onions reached the correct size we should have been pulling them to order like we do with other root vegetables. That is how we will do it next year. And we will because the onions we had over the month they stayed fresh tasted fantastic and we did sell out!
One of our downfalls that’s plagued us is our inability so far to grow and store large onions. First year we had scallions. Second year we planted onions but they only grew to the size of scallions because we had them planted too close to the Black Walnut tree. Black Walnuts release a chemical that stunts other plants. It’s a survival technique we found out 2 year after we bought the farm. Last year the onions got only a little larger than golf ball size and when we tried to cure them they dried up!
We’ve read all the recommendations on how to grow onions and tried variations of them without full success. We decided to try the most extreme strategy which is labor intensive, but supposed to result in the largest possible onion so we hope it works this time.
It appears the deeper you plant onions the SMALLER the bulb will be. That seems counter intuitive so I didn’t believe it until we tried various ways without good results. To get the bulb larger, you plant more shallow, then as the bulb starts to surface you keep covering it with a rich blend of compost and soil. Mounding on top of the onions over and over again can be difficult in an environment like ours due to high winds and torrential downpours which just pull the soil back down.
Digging trenches into the bed will allow us to plant the onion sets shallowly and then taking the soil from either side of the row, slowly covering the bulb as it surfaces. The trenches will also capture and funnel water directly to the plants which is extremely important for onion growth as well.
This is really a test. If we get large onions this year then we know how to grow them for customers. Until then, we will keep trying!
Take a look at the onion bed on the farm’s YouTube Channel: