These onions were planted as seedlings last October and should be ready to eat in May or June. (Mary Lowther photo)

These onions were planted as seedlings last October and should be ready to eat in May or June. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Planting, growing and storing onions

Long-day onions are more pungent and are bred for storage

By Mary Lowther

Was it Adelle Davis who suggested frying up some onions if one hasn’t had time to prepare dinner because the aroma tells everyone that at least dinner is on the way? Most meals I cook contain onions, so you’d think I’d know how to grow great ones, but they’re trickier to grow than one would think. In our neck of the woods we should be able to grow short-day or long-day bulbing onions and three kinds of scallions if we pray to the correct garden goddess.

Short-day onions are mild and are sown in August or early September, ready to harvest the following May or June. They don’t store long. If sowing outside, sow them a half inch deep and three seeds, one inch apart, in rows 18 inches wide. The following spring when they start to re-grow, side dress with organic fertilizer down both sides of each row and scratch that in a bit. Water the roots as necessary and harvest them before they send up a seed stalk. I’m still learning how to save seed.

Long-day onions are more pungent and are bred for storage, and can be started now, inside in flats or outside in the same manner as short-day onions. I have sown onion sets, those tiny onion bulbs, but they never grew very big, if at all, and were disappointing so I stick with seeds, which are cheaper anyway. These onions will be ready to harvest in August or September. Once a third of the crop has withered and fallen over, knock the rest over and pull them all out after a few days.

They can be dried outside for a few more days or brought under cover to dry. I usually braid mine and hang them up in the pantry where, admittedly, it gets pretty darn cold in the winter and not the ideal storage temperature of between 5 C and 13 C, but it’s what I’ve got. I’ve never grown enough to last all winter because our voracious appetites use up whatever amount is in storage before Christmas rolls around.

Lisbon, Welsh and Fistulosum are scallions, or green onions. The Lisbon and Welsh type can be sown anytime between now and midsummer and go to seed the following spring. Fistulosum are hardier Japanese bunching onions and that’s all I know about them. The Home Gardening Annual bunching scallions I planted five years ago keep popping up every spring, sending up so many seedlings that I’ve had to divide the clumps and move them around or give them away. Perhaps they keep on going because I never pull up the whole bulb, just cut off what I want as I need them, and when they send up their lovely violet flowers, I cut these and put them in a vase, awaiting the next batch of greens to grow. I get about three cuttings a year and then they go dormant over the winter, ready to sprout up again in spring. Right now they’re about eight inches tall.

Once my onions are up in the garden I never water overhead because wet leaves are susceptible to disease, I’ve read. Since I always use soaker hoses I haven’t seen any diseases, although I do spray them with compost tea every two weeks. I’ve also heard that slugs don’t like onions, but I’ve learned not to believe everything I’m told.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.