Does anyone grow onions in their garden?

tree_oracle(z6b MA)February 3, 2010

If so, what varieties have you had the most success with? Do you grow them from seed or from sets?

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi, Tree Oracle, No, I haven't grown onions very often. I have tried them from sets a couple of times and they haven't done well for me and I haven't really taken the time to figure out why. I would like to try them again, so I will be curious to see if there is much discussion about this. I wonder if a thread on what everyone is growing in their vegetable gardens this year might be a good next post? If you don't get much response, have you seen the website at Cornell that collects Favorite Vegetable Varieties? People review the varieties they have tried and how they worked out. I have found a couple of good varieties looking over there. There isn't a lot of data from our area, but there is some.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cornell Best Vegetable Varieties

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 5:11AM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Yes, but the onions I grow are bunching onions: Egyptian walking onions, with a small bulb, and one eats the shoots like spring onions, and even the flowers are great in salads. They seed themselves. They grow very well and stand partial shade. I also grow chives and garlic. Garlic is interesting and different and easy to grow: one plants it in the fall and harvests it in early summer.

Do a search on GardenWeb forums under "onions" or browse through the allium and vegetable forums.

Carol

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 9:41AM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

I posted this subject in this particular forum because I want to know the experiences of people in New England with growing onions. If I browse through the allium or vegetable forums then I get the experiences of people all over the country and that info may not be applicable to New England gardening.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 10:59AM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Oops, sorry, tree oracle. I also tried telling you about another website with short articles about each kind of plant or vegetable but GardenWeb censored it! I'll try writing you directly.

Carol

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:21AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I forgot that I grow the bunching onions too. I found them ridiculously easy and carefree and I have limited space and have only 6 hours of sun in some places and they grow well there. You can also harvest from them quicker. Over at the Cornell site, you can browse a particular vegetable and sort the responses by state, if that helps at all. They list very long lists of varieties and how many votes each variety received from gardeners and written reviews of people's experiences with them. I've looked up a few vegetables for Massachusetts and sometimes it only comes back with 5 or 6 but I guess that's better than none.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:51AM
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asarum(z6 Boston)

I grow onions because they are fun to grow, not because of gourmet instincts to get varieties not available in stores. Therefore, I can't offer recommendations based on taste, as I am sure some can. I grow from seed, and if I couldn't grow from seed, I would order onion plants rather than sets. My main crop is red storage onions. I prefer the taste of red over the yellow storage onions and I need onions that won't rot before I can use them. Over the years I have ordered the standard types of northern onions (long day). Redwing is the name that comes to mind, but I think I have used Mars and some of the others. I am not a detailed record keeper or a close observer of differences between onions, so I can't say that one variety produces larger onions than another.

My best luck in producing good sized onions is in getting them into the ground earlier. In my early years, I didn't get the seeds started indoors as early as I should have. The problem with starting onions early is that I have sometimes neglected them because I was not yet geared up for monitoring conditions the way I am once I take up my major seed starting effort. So in some years I have bought onion seedlings in six packs at the local nursery. These tend to arrive too late for ideal large onion production, but do produce nice onions to fill in the basket at harvest time. Some years I have not gotten very good onion seed germination.

Poor germination may be due in part to my casual approach. I can't tell if the short viability period of onion seed is a factor. I order new seed each year, and perhaps even then there are a fair number of non-viable seeds? I need to read up on that and see if I can improve germination this year. But I better get my seed ordered now.

I also have tried a variety of other onions and this year I am going to try Candy.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 1:15PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

I've tried onions from seed, and had good germination, but not such great results with growing on. Most likely due to neglect on my part.

I tried Copra and Ruby Ring. That was two years ago. I might try again this year.

Dee

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 3:01PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

Thanks for the info. I've grown many different types of vegetables over the years but onions haven't been one of them. I curious as to how different the taste of a garden onion is from a store bought onion. I've read that that home grown onions are sweeter than those in the store. I'm hedging my bets by trying to grow Copra from both seed and from sets. I'll report the results in the fall. If I can successfully grow this variety, I will probably try some different varieties next year.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 12:31PM
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vobutts(z6MA)

Tree oracle - I am also trying onions this year for the first time by seed. I will let you know how it is going.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 1:50PM
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ashleyzone6b

I've had great success with Ailsa Craig from seed. Sounds like it would be difficult, but it isn't. Start indoors in a week or two, snip off tops of greens to keep them manageable, plant out April. They're pretty hardy.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 4:37PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Ashley, isn't that a popular older variety? I am wondering where you found it available? I might want to try some this year too. It can be the year of the onion...lol.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 5:07PM
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ashleyzone6b

Ailsa Craig is an English variety. It's sweet, so it doesn't store as long as storage onions. I think I've kept them until January from a July harvest. I get the seeds from Pinetree. I've also had success with the little cippolini onions. They're hard to peel, and since they're small, it's a bit of a pain.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 6:05PM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

I've grown onions for years, sometimes from seed, but more recently from plants. I haven't grown from sets. In my experience they are one of the easier crops to grow. I've grown Copra, Ailsa Craig, Walla Walla, Mars, Candy, and probably some other kinds that I don't remember. My favorite are Copra and I've probably grown those every year for 15-20 years. They are great keepers, lasting until March or April, and have good flavor. Mars is a red variety, and I was seriously underwhelmed by their flavor . . . haven't grown them again after the one year I tried them. Ailsa Craig, Walla Walla, and Candy don't keep well, but are large mild onions that are good sized and nicely flavored, best as salad onions in my opinion. I don't have a particular preference between them.

The only pests I have are cutworms, and those are bad some years and not so much so in other years. When I had raised beds in a previous house, they weren't a problem at all, but my current garden is surrounded by field and they migrate in from the grass.

I get my onion plants from Johnny's, and prior to that got my seeds there. I store the onions in a root cellar. I'm not sure if the flavor is an improvement, but I really like knowing where as much of my food comes from as is possible. For instance, I know that my onions weren't sprayed to prevent sprouting or to kill back tops for easy harvest. To my mind, there isn't the kind of flavor difference between store bought and home grown that there is with tomatoes or melons.

We've had success with both the seed grown plants and with buying plants. We plant them out with a gizmo that my DH designed that has pegs about every 4 inches. I use it to space out the rows as well as to make the holes to drop the plants into. Then I just water them well and the soil sifts around the plants - no need to pat soil in around the plants. They need regular water, either from the sky or the hose, in order to get large. I also mulch them to keep down weeds and to keep moisture levels even.

I also grow other onion family members - leeks are spring planted, like onions, and garlic is fall planted. The leeks need to be hilled up to blanch. I grew shallots one year, but they were hard to use and I didn't like them better than onions, so didn't repeat that experiment.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 8:37PM
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nhgardener_nh

I grow onions from plants in central NH. I've grown Walla Walla and had good luck. The onions are very large and very sweet. I agree that they are not good keepers, but I want a sweet onion. I haven't had any problems with bugs at all. I do try to get them in early-the end of April to beginning of May for me.

I had good luck by laying a pad of newspaper on the tilled soil in the garden and topping that with mulch hay then planting through a hole in the newspaper. It keeps the weeds down and holds in moisture in my sandy soil. Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 1:47PM
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gardenman101(Z6 Spingfield, Ma)

I am trying onions from sets this year. I have tried from plants once with mediocer results and figured I would have better luck with sets. I am growing yellow, sweet white and reds. I will give an update as they progress. I have heard that when growing from sets that the dont get as big as seed or plant grown, but we will see. I do not have a root cellar but usually chop and freeze what i do get.

Happy Gardening
Mark

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 12:42PM
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amysrq(5)

I am trying onions for the first time and chose plants. I wanted the advantage of not having to grow from seed and I read that sets (being second year plants) tend to bolt sooner.

NHBabs, your planting tool sounds neat! Can you tell me how deep the hole is you drop the plants into?

Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 4:04PM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

The spikes on the tool are 3 inches long, but some soi*l always sifts back into the hole as I lift it out. The thin fibrous roots always hold the plant a bit above the bottom of the hole as well, so I'd guess that they end up maybe an inch & a half into the soi*l. Johnny's suggests 1" deep.

Here is a link that might be useful: Johnny's Selected Seeds - directions for planting onion plants

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 10:38PM
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grrloutloud(6A)

I grow Ailsas too - I got them from Seed Savers (.org) I absolutely love their products and Ailsa is the tastiest onion ever.

I have a bunch in peat pots right now that will likely go out this weekend or next!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 11:45AM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

Well, I tried growing both Walla Walla, Copra, and Mars this year from plants that I bought at Johnny's Seeds and Burpee. The results so far are better than I expected. I planted most of the Walla Walla the third week in April and the tops are starting to fall over so I picked I few yesterday. I have a pic of a few of them below. The white one at the far right is my first Copra. Not too shabby for my first attempt at growing onions. Next year, I'm going to plant them a little earlier and keep them watered and fertilized more than I did this year to see if I can grow them even larger.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 8:38PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Wow, nice! Certainly better than my first attempt. Mine looked like I was growing pearl onions, they were so little, lol.

Hope they taste as good as they look. Enjoy!
:)
Dee

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 9:42PM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

Look good! Thanks for reporting back on your success. I have a feeling that my crop won't be great as the cutworms were bad this year, and now I'm out of town for work and relying on DH to remember to set the sprinkler going during dry stretches. I do love those early mild onions!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2010 at 12:34AM
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defrost49

Tree Oracle, your onions look great. Thanks for bringing this topic back up.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2010 at 8:35AM
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Jiminsc

I have planted some onions for the first time in my little garden. The question is that here in SC the temps are already in the 80s and the onions are beginning to bloom. Is this an issue? Will they still form bulbs?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 11:09PM
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mmqchdygg(Z5NH)

Sets. Seeds didn't do so hot for me here in NH.
I get mine from Dixondale Farms (thanks for the reminder; I need to place my order since shipping time for me is this week!)

They do very well for me (I make borderless raised beds in my veggie patch every year), and they start really taking off about mid July.

I usually do sweet ones.

I've really enjoyed doing onions in the last few years.
I'm off to Dixondale!

Here is a link that might be useful: Dixondale Farms Onions

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 10:31AM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

I'm trying onions again this year only this time I'm growing all of them from seed instead of buying plants. I started them back in late Jan., early Feb. (a nice winter project) and I grew them under T5 fluorescents in the basement until late March-early April when I set them out. Everything looks great so far. I'm growing Ailsa Craig, Copra, and Redwing. I'm going to be more diligent this year about watering them unless Mother Nature does it for me (not a problem lately). I'll post pics later in the season when they are harvested. I learned a lot from growing onions last year. I'm expecting a very good harvest this year.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 6:12PM
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amysrq(5)

Tree oracle, how far apart did you space you onions last year? Mine have just arrived and I have a feeling I planted them too closely last year.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 9:31PM
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mmqchdygg(Z5NH)

I placed my order over at Dixondale, and found this comment which really piqued my interest posted by a guy named "Mike":

I've been growing these for about 15 yrs. I used to start my own by seed on my south facing porch ,but with Maine's erratic weather it was hit or miss in the spring for sunshine. Since using these I have impressed myself and passers by when I clean my poor clay soil off the softball sized onions before storage and drying in front of my neighborhood house in the late days of fall. When they ask how I grow them I'm vague, but I always tell them where i bought the plants.

Ok, so does anyone know what might be "Mike's" secret? Do any of you use a special kind of fertilizer for onions? I regularly top my garden off with compost in the fall and this year I'll use a compost tea to supplement...hoping for notable results.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 3:02PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

Last year, I did 4-inch spacing. I figured two inches to either side was plenty of room. However, that was too close. While my onions never touched each other, they would have if I had watered and fertilized them diligently. This year, I'm doing 6-inch spacing. The Ailsa Craigs are known to be a large onion and I wanted to make sure that I had enough space.

As far as fertilizer, you don't want a high nitrogen fertilizer for any rooting crop. Compost would probably suffice by itself. I think a good fertilizer from the store would be anything balanced between nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and relatively low in number. Something like 10-10-10 or lower.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 3:14PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I'm trying two onion varieties from seed this year for the first time. Red Marble and Copra. I have little seedlings now, and I guess I should be getting them in the ground. Each little grass like stem is an onion right? And I should space those 6 inches apart?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 5:58PM
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staceyneil

Tree Oracle, I'm in southern Maine (5b) and I have grown onions both from Johnny's plants and from sets I bought at the local nursery. The Johnny's plants have done FABULOUSLY the last 2 years; the locally-purchased sets not so well (a lot of scapes, and not as large bulbs.) These were planted in the same bed, same culture. This year I'm only doing Johnny's plants. I planted the organic mixture the first year (Copra, Walla Walla and something red) and now I concentrate on Copra. They've lasted us until February, store really well (the Walla Walla and reds only keep a couple months.)

I really love, in January and February, going down to the basement for staples I grew myself: onions, shallots, garlic, potatoes...

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 3:34PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

Stacey,

From what I've read, sets are not the way to go and your experience seems to be consistent with that info. I just finished off the last of the Copra that I grew last year. They last forever. The Walla Walla onions that I grew last year lasted longer than I expected. Most sources give them a lifetime of 30 days while the bulk of mine easily lasted 4 months. I really enjoyed growing them from seed this year because it was a nice way to do some gardening during the winter months. I'm probably going to do it like that from now on.

Prairie,

6-inch spacing may be overkill. 5-inch spacing would probably suffice. It also depends on the size onion that you want to harvest.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 5:54PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks Tree Oracle.

I would be interested to hear how anyone is storing their vegetables for the winter? My basement seems too warm for storing any. Is that the necessary conditions, cool basement?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 4:19AM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

I store the onions an potatoes in my basement in an open cardboard box. The temperature in my basement stays in the 50s year round. I store some other veggies such as carrots in a refrigerator that I have in the basement.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 6:42AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I'll have to take a thermometer to the basement and track the temperatures again. I haven't done that in awhile. A second refrigerator is a great idea too. Thanks tree oracle.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 4:02AM
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