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.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The organizers of the annual 39 days of July festival hope to return to live shows in Charles Hoey Park this year, like in this photo taken in 2019, but audiences at the show may be limited to 50 people due to health protocols. (File photo)
39 Days of July hoping for outdoor events in Duncan this summer

Annual music festival will run from June 25 to Aug. 2 this year

Cowichan Valley WildSafeBC coordinator Amanda Crowston teaches a Grade 5/6 class at Ecole Cobble Hill last fall. (Submitted)
The bears are back in town and so is WildSafeBC

The bears are back in town so keep an eye out, reminds… Continue reading

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

North Cowichan has heated exchange over timelines of its official community plan review. (File photo)
North Cowichan’s OCP review divides council

Tight timelines leads to heated debate

Matt Ellison was a star with the Kerry Park Islanders before embarking on a pro career that included stops in the NHL and KHL. (Submitted)
Ex-NHLers to highlight Kerry Park-Peninsula alumni games

Matt Ellison and Kyle Greentree commit to suit up in August

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Drug users were shut out of Vancouver’s decriminalization proposal, critics say, demanding redo

The coalition is asking the city to raise the proposed drug thresholds from a 3-day supply

David and Julie Kaplan with their children Estelle and Justin. (Special to The News)
COVID-19 border closure stops B.C. family’s cross-country move

Maple Ridge couple, two kids, turned away at New Brunswick border

Kelowna RCMP precinct. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna RCMP reviewing rough arrest after video shared on social media

The video shows an officer punching a man while arresting him for allegedly driving a stolen car

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
B.C. to provide three days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

B.C. doctors could face consequences for spreading COVID misinformation: college

College says doctors have a higher level of responsibility to not spread incorrect information

The seasonal Search and Rescue program will run between May to September. ( File photo/Canadian Coast Guard)
North Vancouver Island Coast Guard Inshore Rescue Program ready to relaunch

Teams have protocols in place to ensure COVID-19 safety while providing marine safety net

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time: Henry

People who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other, she says

Most Read