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Finally, A Decent Onion from My Garden

September 20th, 2011

I’ve declared my love for all things of the allium family before. I really do love onions and have always been disappointed that the ones I harvest from my garden are small. I’ve tried growing onions from seed, from sets and from plants. Each year I harvest mostly teeny tiny onions. I’m pretty sure it’s soil here, which is very, very lean. This year I planted my onions in the new garden that I prepared in the lot we purchased this spring. I started them from seed early in January and transplanted them as quickly as I could, which was not super early since I had to clear the lot and make a new garden area.

The new bed was amended with a generous amount of bone meal and I was religious about weeding the new onion bed, going through it once a week and the onions seemed to really appreciate my extra efforts in this area. I gave them a watering with Neptune’s Harvest once a month. The onions weren’t quite ready to harvest when we went on vacation and I was hoping it wouldn’t be too late when we got home. Luckily, it wasn’t.

I’m a big believer in planting different varieties of vegetable to find one that does well in your particular micro-climate and soil. Each year I try different kinds of vegetables to find the one best suited for my garden, every now and then I get lucky and find one the first year that does very well (like ‘Boston Pickling’ cucumbers). Of the several of onions I planted, two of them produced much larger nicer bulbs than the rest. Which ones?

Yellow Sweet Spanish Onion – These golden onions produce fruit up to 1 lb (16 oz.) and their great flavor lasts longer than most other varieties. Yellow Sweet Spanish onions are gardeners’ favorites because they grow quickly without much effort. You will be able to harvest your onions less than four months after planting. (Source: Sand Hill Preservation)

These onions did very well and I’ll definitely be growing them again, especially since they’re supposed to be a good storage onion. I need an onion that will store into April, hopefully these will.
Borettana Cipollini – Gourmet Italian. Small, flat yellow onions. Shaped much like a button. A long day type with average storage ability of around 4 months. Mild well developed flavor. These flattened little onions are sought after for their distinct sweet taste. They command a high price at specialty markets. Small size 1-3 inches in diameter by 1 inch depth. For pickling, grilling and in salads. A good onion for colder climates. Comes out firm, stores well. Fills the gap between winter-stored onions and the early new ones. (Source: Sand Hill Preservation)

I was also quite happy with these little lovelies, for cipollini onions they’re quite large. I really love the flavor of these, especially when used whole in roasts, so I’ll be growing them again as well.

Not all the onions grew to a substantial size, I still had some tiny ones from the other varieties I tried. I don’t really mind, as they’re quite nice peeled and used in dishes whole as pearl onions. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be trying other onions and other methods of growing onions in my garden. There are a few varieties that have been recommended to me that I want to try (like ‘Copra’). I’m also going to try to overwinter some onions to see if that will work here. I’ve read it only works down to a zone 6, but with a good layer of mulch it can work in a zone 5 as well. Overwintered onions are supposed to grow bigger and mature faster in summer.

Do you ever grow different varieties of vegetables trying to find which ones do best in your garden? Have you found any that work particularly well for you?

22 Comments to “Finally, A Decent Onion from My Garden”
  1. kristin @ going country on September 20, 2011 at 6:02 am

    AWESOME. We never have good onions either. This year was no exception, thanks to the terrible drought for all of July. And I was SO GOOD about the weeding and all. Boo. Some of them got to an okay size, at least not pearl onions, but most are just really small. We got our sets from the MiL’s cousin in exchange for seed potatoes. He starts the seeds for onions and leeks and grows huge, beautiful onions. I’ll have to ask him how his did this year.

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

    • Susy on September 20, 2011 at 6:28 am

      I hear that using a mycorrhizal fungi supplement for your soil is really good for onions, I may try that next year to see how much it helps. I think the fish emulsion really helped counteract the leanness of the soil here as more onions were decent sized rather than small, usually a nice sized one is the rarity! I also amended the bed nicely with bone meal in spring, which is supposed to help with root & bulb crops. That seemed to help my garlic tremendously this year too!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. Joan on September 20, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I grew great onions this year too, for the first time ever! I planted plants from Johnny’s (instead of my usual sets), and watered them religiously. I’m not sure what it was that made the difference, but they were huge! We grew Copra, Red Zeppelin, and Ailsa Craig (the biggest, and oh, so sweet!) Johnny’s onion plants are expensive, but someone in our area put together a group order and we got them for less than $5 a bunch (about 50 plants). We will enjoy using them all winter I am sure.

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  3. goatpod2 on September 20, 2011 at 7:45 am

    This is the first year we have planted onions and we had a good crop too.


    Reply to goatpod2's comment

  4. gabe on September 20, 2011 at 7:47 am

    Oh man, I’ll have to take a look at those varieties in the future. I think the biggest onion I’ve ever gotten is just over golfball size. I know my new beds were a little nutrient-deficient this year, so I’ll blame that…

    I did grow a snap pea this year that was absolutely great – it was producing into August, and I just planted another round a few weeks ago. I must’ve had about eight or ten pounds off of twenty plants.

    Reply to gabe's comment

  5. Melissa on September 20, 2011 at 8:04 am

    I grew onions from sets and multiplier onions this past spring. I’m trying seeds this coming year. I decided to overwinter a few- put those out last weekend. So we’ll see if that produces bigger onions. We have a farm up the road that grew a 2.5 pounder onion this year– it was huge!

    Reply to Melissa's comment

  6. Allison on September 20, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Good post! I have a terrible time getting decent onions too so I think I will try some you have listed for next season! The ones i get from the grocery store just don’t cut it!

    Reply to Allison's comment

  7. Andrea on September 20, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I had a good onion year too. I grow onion plants from Dixondale in TX. The candy variety. They are all hanging in mesh bags in the garage now. I just had one with my sausage and eggs for breakfast :)
    Very rewarding!!

    Reply to Andrea's comment

  8. Donna B. on September 20, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Oh, those are wonderful harvests! I’m happy you posted this – onions are one of those crops that I’d like to have on-hand for the next coming year. Had the same problem too with the soil being lean… Garlic didn’t produce as well as I’d like them to, oh well.
    I believe we need to see the garden beds of your new planting area! Are those the lot’s cleared tree’s? That’s an amazing idea!
    I hope your overwintering works! Finger’s crossed~

    Reply to Donna B.'s comment

  9. Stephan Hilson on September 20, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Congratulations on harvesting your onions from your garden. I didn’t know that onions could be produced from seeds since I thought it could be produced through bulbs or something. I didn’t have much luck on growing vegetables but I have tried planting fruits. Good luck on producing more vegetables and planting more onions in the near future.

    Reply to Stephan Hilson's comment

    • Susy on September 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      You can plant bulbs but they don’t store as long as onions grown from seed, and my goal is for my onions to last all winter, so I try from seed. You can also get a much wider variety from seed than from bulb (which are often just labeled generic “yellow” “white” “red”).

      Reply to Susy's comment

  10. MAYBELLINE on September 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I do it all the time.
    Congratulations on your onion success.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  11. Sincerely, Emily on September 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    It is nice to see someone getting nice sized onions. yours look great. Mine were better when I pulled them this spring, but there is room for improvement. We plant around Thanksgiving time, so I need to figure out what I am going to plant this year. Emily

    Reply to Sincerely, Emily's comment

  12. daisy on September 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Congrats on your beautiful onions! I’m a newbie gardener, so I haven’t had too much success yet.

    Reply to daisy's comment

  13. Brenda on September 20, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I love how you try different types to see which works best. My veggie plot is modest and not always overly successful as I live in an outer urban area, work have 3 kids etc… However you have inspired me to be more organised, I am going to give my patch the respect it deserves and record in a gardening book, the varieties of veg I plant along with when to see what works best for me. Thank you xxBrenda

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  14. Dave on September 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I need to do better with onions next year. I planted ours from sets and while we managed a few good ones most of them never made it. I should start a few from seed this winter and get a head start like you did. I try new stuff all the time, mostly because I like seeing different things grow in the garden!

    Reply to Dave's comment

    • Susy on September 21, 2011 at 8:13 am

      It does help keep up interest in the gardening when you’re experimenting with new types.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  15. indianacraig on September 21, 2011 at 2:44 am

    Hey!! Those look great!! I just wanted to make a quick comment for you. I have always heard that the sweet onions don’t store very well. Hopefully you found one that does,..if so, I’m growing those next year!! However, I would keep a close eye on them, just in case.
    Almost time to plant Garlic, too!! Yippee!! :)

    Reply to indianacraig's comment

    • Susy on September 21, 2011 at 8:11 am

      Sweet onions do not store very well, generally the rule is the sweeter they are the shorter the storage time. These Spanish onions are actually yellow onions, not necessarily sweet. The Cipollini are fairly sweet, though not by today’s standards of “sweet” – so they store very well for a sweet onion.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  16. Rick on September 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    We love onions and had a great crop this year almost 70 pounds. I recommend you try those Corpa onions. We have grown them for two years now and really like them. They grow very large bulbs and last a very long time if stored the right way. We always grow them from starts and they do great!! We are in zone 5 as well and if you get them in by mid March you should have a big crop ready by the end of August. Last year ours lasted until April and could have gone longer if we hadn’t eaten them all!!

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  17. helen tristram on September 22, 2011 at 3:15 am

    I’m not sure how living in Poitou Charentes in France equates to your time zones but most years I get an onion crop that lasts me through the winter. I usually plant a mix of 150 Sturon and Stuttgarter and 50 Red Baron. Some years I plant Ailsa Craig. I have found here it is more successful to grow from sets.
    Having lived at 1000ft in mid Wales as well the same onions did better there. Probably to do with a cooler damper climate than here.
    Keeping them weed free means that all the local moisture is also available for the onion not the local “guests”!
    Although it is very pleasing to grow big onions I find a mix of sizes is more useful.
    Anyway keep at it and good luck for next year.

    Reply to helen tristram's comment

    • Susy on September 22, 2011 at 8:37 am

      Thanks for the recommendations on varieties. I have a packet of seeds for Stuttgarter – hopefully they do well.

      I too like the variety of sizes and I don’t like giant onions as I feel the flavor it kind of watered down. I am however glad that some of my reached “normal” size this year instead of the usual marble sized.

      Reply to Susy's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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