Like garlic, onions are a vegetable that most of us use as a herb for flavoring food. Like many herbs, onions have many health benefits and can greatly aid the body in healing. Because of this, I recomend growing onions in your medicinal herb garden despite being a vegetable. Learning how to grow onions is easy and a great way to provide your family with high-quality onions to help fight off the cold and flu through the winter or as an addition to your favorite salsa garden.
How to grow onions
Onions are cold hardy plant best-grown in areas that see cooler temperatures. This year with the cold weather we have had onions are thriving and I fully expect to see a bumper crop if you did not start your own onions this year you should see a nice price drop this fall. Plant onions in the early spring just after the ground has thawed enough to work with. This is the perfect time to plant garlic if you did not have time to get it planted in the fall.
Due to the value benefits of onions in your diet and the ease of growing them onions are a high return vegetable to grow. The best way to plant onions is with onion sets (the centers of onions that sprout) rather than by seed so the bulb will be big enough to use for food right away. in the spring our local fruit market has onion sets in large bins by the thousands. In most areas, you can find these sets in nurseries and farmers markets in the early spring.
Once the ground had thawed and the night temperatures stay over 20 degrees you can begin to plant your onion sets. Onions do well in raised rows or raised beds with well-draining soil fee of rocks and roots that can stop them from restricting their growth potential. If planting directly in the ground be sure to till well preventing the soil from stopping the onions from growing in size. Do not bury more than an inch under the soil treating onions as a leaf crop rather than a root crop.
Onions need plenty of nourishment so be sure to mix fertilizer or compost into the soil when you plant them and continue to feed often through the growing season so you can enjoy large juicy bulbs. Be particularly sure to add extra nitrogen. A good quality homemade compost is the best option for your onions.
Stop fertilizing when the bulb breaks the soil. Do not recover the bub it needs to break the soil as part of its finishing process. This will lead up to harvesting your onions and is a good sign that they grew well.
How to harvest onions
When an onion sends up a flower stalk it is done growing. These will not store well so be sure to use them up in a few days time to ensure they do not go to waste. These smaller onions are still packed with plenty of flavor giving your favorite dishes a boost.
As onions mature and prepare to ripen the stalks will turn yellow and begin to wilt. At this point, you can speed to process of ripening by smashing the leaves and stalks of the onions down. This will stop the onion from putting energy into the stalks and turn to the process of ripening the bulb.
After the stalks die loosen the soil around any onions that have not popped up yet on their own. This allows air to flow so they can begin to ripen and dry out.
Once exposed parts of the onions turn brown they are ready to pull from the ground. The timing of this is very important. You want them to ripen but you must pull the onions regardless before the first frost hits. When you harvest onions from the ground they will need to be cured before storage.
Harvest your onions from the soil and leave in the rows if the weather is nice and dry. If rain or frost is expected to hit you must move your onions to a protected place indoors to cure. Line a floor in a dry out of the way place like a barn or garage with newspaper or butcher paper. Lay the onions on top of the paper and leave out for a few days to cure. Be sure to provide plenty of space between so air can flow. Warm, dry, and breezy are the ideal conditions for curing your onions.
If you are harvesting onions with a mild flavor be sure to use them up in the first couple months. The stronger the flavor the longer the onion can be stored much longer before they begin to go bad. The same chemical that causes your eyes to water when you cut onions is what helps to preserve them after harvest.