Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gardening Article: Growing Onions In The Garden

Onions are one of the first vegetables to be planted in the spring. Onion sprigs start showing up at feed stores and garden centers as soon as the soil is warm enough to work. Growing onions isn’t rocket science, but there are a few things you need to consider in order to grow the best onions possible.

Onions fall into three main groups depending on the amount of daylight they receive each day. Long day onions grow best in the North, where the summer day is long and they get 14-16 hours of sun. Short day onions grow best in the South, where shorter days mean only 11-12 hours of sunlight. Medium day onions grow best in the middle of the country, with 12-13 hours of sunlight a day. If you plant the wrong type of onion for your area, you won’t get a very good crop. Fortunately, most places that sell onion sprigs sell the correct ones for the area.

Since onions are the roots of the plant, it is important to have good, loose soil for them to grow in. Ideally, you would till the soil to a depth of six inches and work in three inches of compost. The compost both adds nutrients to the soil and breaks it up, allowing air and more room for the root hairs to grow. The more root hairs, the more nutrients can make their way into the plant.

Not everyone can prepare their vegetable bed this way, however. Dig up or till the soil as deeply as you can. Spread two to three pounds of a balanced fertilizer per 100 feet of row over the soil, then rake it in.
To plant your onion sprigs, dig a trench right down the middle of the row. It needs to be about two inches deep and very narrow. Lay the onion sprigs in the trench with the root side down. Space them about an inch apart. Carefully fill in the trench, firming the soil just enough to make the sprigs stand upright. Don’t compact the soil too much, or all your tilling will be wasted.

Onions should be watered slowly and deeply to promote the growth of the roots. An inch of water delivered all at once weekly or twice a week does this. Drip irrigation is ideal, but a soaker hose will work. Onions that do not get enough water not only fail to grow well, but taste very strong and are not very good to eat.
Onions should be fertilized with a half cup of fertilizer side dressed along each ten feet of row. This should be done when the onions have five or six leaves. Be sure to water the fertilizer in so the onions can use it.
As the onions grow, they will need to be thinned. Start by picking every other one when they begin to crowd each other. The small onions you pick are very good on salads. Each time the onions in your row get big enough to start crowding one another, pick every other one to thin. The entire onion crop should be harvested when they are 3 inches or so across. Any bigger and they get too strong tasting.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D. is a master gardener, member of the Garden Writer’s Association, photographer, and woodworker. She writes on almost any nonfiction topic and has had some unusual experiences that contribute to that ability. Getting pooped on by a rattlesnake probably ranks tops there.

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