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Planting Onions

Last year we grew onions from transplants. They grew remarkably well considering that I waited too long to plant them, planted late in the season, did not fertilize or weed them, and pretty much neglected them completely! We still harvested about 150 onions of different sizes. They did not get nearly as large as I knew they could have been, but they were still delicious and stored well.

This year, I am committed to doing onions "the right way." We ordered our onion transplants from Dixondale Farms a couple of weeks before our average last frost date. Upon arrival I took them out of the bundles and spread them out in boxes and put them in a cool, dark, dry closet until the planting date. They will look dried up, but they are not dead! They are just in a dormant state.

One of the reasons that onions are so resilient is because of their unique growth habit. Like other plants, onions have roots, a stem, leaves, and flowers, however the stem of the onion is so shortened that it is not really noticeable and the bulb is actually made up of fleshy leaves that store water and nutrients, which is why you can leave them up to 3 weeks before planting without risking the health of the plant. Common cultivated onions, or storage onions, are grown as annuals but are actually a biennial plant, which is a plant with a 2 year growth cycle. If you don’t harvest them in the first year they will overwinter and produce tall scapes that are topped with flowers in their second year and you can harvest seeds from those. There are also perennial onions that are left in the garden and come back for many years, these include Egyptian walking onions, leeks, chives, shallots, welsh onions, and potato onions. Perennial onions do not produce the really big bulbs that can be stored, but they will produce smaller bulbs and bulblets as well as edible greens that in many locations can be enjoyed year round. We grow both storage onions and perennial onions.

We like to plant by the moon cycle and with attention to astrological events, so we chose a planting date during the 4th quarter of the moon cycle in the sign of Pisces. If you're interested in planting this way, the simplest way to start is just to plant your vegetables that produce above ground crops during the 1st or 2nd quarter of the moon and your vegetables that produce below ground (root vegetables, onions, etc) during the 3rd or 4th quarter moon. Once you have that basic rhythm down you can also look at other events like the sign that the sun and moon are in at the time of planting or harvesting or even the planetary rulership of the plant that you are planting and the day of the week that it is being planted or harvested on. Culpeper's Complete Herbal is a great source of information on the uses and planetary rulerships of many medicinal plants. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs is another book that lists planetary correspondences for many plants. For plants not included, you will have to start paying attention to the attributes of the plants and planets and figure it out yourself - which is quite fun!

I prepped a 27' raised bed by lightly cultivating and loosening the soil. Our favorite hand-cultivator is the Wolf-Garten Cultivating Tool with the interchangeable long handle. You can get all kinds of awesome attachments for other gardening needs! Once the soil was prepped I created two 4" deep trenches that were 36" apart. These trenches will hold the fertilizer. Last year I could not get ahold of the appropriate fertilizer for onions. Typical vegetable garden fertilizers do not have the right N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) ratio for onions. Onions need a 10-20-10 fertilizer. This year I purchased the Dixondale Farms onion fertilizer when I ordered our transplants. I am hoping this will be the key to getting nice, large bulbs this season.

Following the onion planting instructions, we used 1/2 cup of fertilizer per 10 linear feet of onions. For us that was about 1 and 1/2 cups per trench.

Once the fertilizer was in we planted our onion transplants 6" from either side of our fertilizer trench. On

ions should be planted 4" apart for large, storage onions and 2" apart for green onions and only 1" deep. This is important! Too deep and you will not get large bulbs!

There are three categories of onions depending on the number of daylight hours you get in your region. Long day onions are planted in the northernmost states, intermediate day onions in the middle of the country, and short day onions in the southern states. Here in North Carolina (zone 8b) we are right in-between intermediate and short day, so we planted both. We have three varieties of short day onions and three intermediate varieties and we are going to see which does better in our garden.

Once the transplants were in, we covered the fertilizer trenches with 2" of soil and watered everyone in thoroughly.

Onions should be watered when you can stick your finger in the soil 2" deep and do not feel moisture. For us, with raised beds, this is every day that there isn't rain in the forecast. Once the plants get sturdier we will mulch with hay and that should hold the moisture in the soil better. Once the onions start bulbing, when the ground starts to crack around the bulb you stop watering them.

During the growing process you can harvest green onions if desired. Bulbs will be ready to pull up, cure, and store when the tops of the plants turn yellow and fall over.

Once we pull our bulbs we cure them outside under our pole barn on tables for several days until the neck or tunic and leaves of the onions are completely dry. Then they get stored in crates in a cool, dry, dark place.

I hope you enjoyed reading about how we planted our 2022 storage onions! There will be a follow-up post later in the season about harvesting, curing, and storing.

Until next time!


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