Onions!

In the Garden

I have become fascinated with onions!  It all started when I was organizing my seed collection and I noticed that I had picked up a packet of onion seed.  I must have been given this because I have never purchased onion seed before.  I have never even grown onion from seed!  Usually, I buy the little bulbs.  When I was doing my garden planning, I noticed that a lot of the garden planning calendars I was looking out stated that you could start onions indoors the end of January.  So, I took that packet of seeds and tried to plant them.  I had also read that onion seeds do not keep well from year to year.  My packet of seeds was a few years old but I did get a little bit of germination, I know it is hard to see…
Then, I listened to a podcast all about growing onions:

Encyclopedia Botanica Podcast, Episode 74: Starting Onions from Seed with Colin McCrate

This got me excited to learn more about planting onions from seed.  I pulled out my Home Grown Pantry book.
I REALLY like this book.  It tells you how much you can plant to have enough food for a family of four.  The book also lists specific varieties to look for based on your day length.  If you did not know, onions are day-length sensitive.
Since I live in Idaho, I need to plant long day varieties.  The key to growing big onions is to provide a long growing season.  The size of the bulb is directly related to the number of green leaves the onion plant is able to produce.  Changes in day length trigger the bulb-forming process.  
Short-day onions begin forming bulbs when days become 10-12 hours long.  Intermediate-day onions start bulbing when the days last 12-14 hours long and long-day onions require 14-16 hour days to begin bulb formation.  It was at this point in my reading that I learned about overwintering onions.  I was always curious if there were onions I could plant in the winter and let grow, similar to garlic, over the winter.  
Overwintering onions are a short-day onion with a high tolerance for cold weather.  They are planted in late summer under a row cover up to Zone 5.  I live in Zone 6 and it seems that should be fine as long as they are heavily mulched.  I bought a variety called Keepsake.  There are several overwintering varieties available at Territorial Seeds.  From what I have read, the overwintering onions do not keep so you would pull them as you need to use them for cooking.
The book has a nice breakdown of onions and alternative onions.  I have to admit.  I was a little confused about “alternative” onions.  I bought some Egyptian onion “seeds” and I thought these were like a potato onion but they are not.  So here goes, I have linked some article is you want more information:
Egyptian onions are an inter-species hybrid between bulbing onions and bunching onions.  They are a perennial and may be propagated by planting the bulbils that form on top of the flower stalk, or by digging and dividing the mother clump.  I planted my bulbits last fall with my garlic and I am still waiting to see if they will grow…
Bunching onions form clumps of scallions so you will not get a big bulb with these type of onions.  They can be multiplied by division.  They are also referred to as green onions.
Leeks have long white shanks and are good for drying.  Leeks look like overgrown green onions, but have a milder, more delicate flavor than onions. 
Potato onions are planted in the fall and produce a little “nest” of onions the next summer.  Potato onions are easier to grow and store than bulb onions.  They are reproduced primarily by division of bulbs, rather than by seed. This makes it more similar in form to garlic than to standard onions.  I want to get some of these potato onion (now that I realize that they are different from the Egyptian onion).
Shallots are a perennial onions and have a long storage time.  Shallots are best planted in the spring.  The shallot is a true biennial. Its natural cycle, like that of most alliums, is to develop a bulb one year and then bloom the next. However, shallots, unlike onions, have been developed from clones for such a long time that they have lost the ability to produce flowers.
One article I read suggests that the Potato and Egyptian onions are types of shallots.  There are so many options that it should be easy to find a type of onion that is good for your garden…I am excited to try growing different onions!
~Denise

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *