I’ve grown a lot of onions in the last few years.  But I wouldn’t really call myself an expert.  So, tonight I went to a class on Spring Gardening to hear a self-professed and locally renowned expert on onions explain how to grow them.  He only spent a few minutes on the subject since the class covered lots of other materials, but I learned a lot.

First off, he said to plant onion plants, not seed sets. The common seed sets sold are for small onion varieties that won’t store well.  I usually grow from seed, but last year I used sets hoping to make it easier.  I definitely ran into the small problem, but had assumed it was related to our drought.

He also explained that top growth only occurs in our area until around the beginning of May, then bulb development starts.  So, the earlier you can get your onions in the ground, the longer the tops have to grow.  And this matters because each of the leaves grown on top makes one ring of the onion.  The perfect onion will have 13 rings.  Robert, the speaker, says he has only gotten to 12 leaves.  But he’s still trying.

For my area, Lowgap, NC, Robert recommends planting onion plants in the last week of February.  I normally start my seeds in mid-February and am ready to transplant by mid-March.  So, I’ll need to start my seeds earlier next year.

Some of the other information I already knew well.  Plant in well-prepared, fertile soil.  Keep soil moist. Onion beds need to be kept weed free. Harvest when tops yellow and start to fold.

Robert also recommended applying bone meal when planting at the end of February and again around April 15th.  I don’t normally use amendments, other than compost.  I’ll need to think more on this one. Or I need to figure out how to make bone meal on the homestead so I don’t have to purchase it.

We also learned about the difference of day length varieties, we’re in the intermediate day onion category.  We get about 12-14 hours of daylight maximum.  If we go with short day onion varieties, we run the risk of our plants bolting too soon.  And long day varieities simply won’t grow well.

Robert buys his plants from Dixondale Farms which has nice map with onion day length recommendations if you live in the US.  His favorite variety is a hybrid called Candy.  Since I plan to save my own seeds once I figure out the best heirlooms to grow here, I’ll have to try other varieties.

I am looking forward to using what I learned in the garden and paying more attention to all the nuances of growing onions so that one day I can be an onion expert too.

My thanks to Robert for the great information and inspiration.