Easy to maintain and widely used in the kitchen, onions are increasingly popular even among novice gardeners. These bulbous plants are resilient and simple to grow, and can save home gardeners quite a bit of money compared to purchasing them in grocery stores. The trick to successful onion gardening is picking the right variety for your purposes, and knowing how to get started.
Methods of Planting Onions
According to The Gardeners' Network, "Home gardeners have three choices for starting onions: Onion seeds, seedlings and sets (or bulbs)". Few gardeners regularly grow onion from seeds, though the process is not overly difficult. The main drawback is that they must be sown early in the spring, and thus be kept indoors for a time until they are ready for planting. By contrast, onion sets are fledgling bulbs that have been dried out and stored at temperatures that keep them dormant. Most often, these must be purchased at gardening stores. Unfortunately, bulbs left over from a season of onion gardening cannot simply be used the following year for planting. There is, however, a way for gardeners to regenerate their own supply of onions.
The Onion Life Cycle
Knowing the life cycle of the onion is the key to naturally regenerating your own supply of onion sets to plant. Onion sets planted in spring will grow both green shoots and the familiar underground bulb. At this point, most gardeners harvest either the bulb, the shoots, or both for use in the kitchen. The Gardeners' Network notes that onions are biennials, meaning they flower in the second year. If you wish to establish your own sets, avoid harvesting a portion of your onions the first year. Then, in the second year after they have flowered and set seed, you can collect the seeds for propagation.
Propagating Your Seeds
Propagation of onion seeds is simple, according to Seeds From Italy. Once you've collected your seeds, you'll need to sow them the following year, "about three to four months before your expected hard frost". Depending on where you live, this is typically July or August. This will give the seeds ample time to germinate and grow the small scale bulbs used in sets. You'll dig them up after the first frost, at which point Seeds From Italy recommends that you, "Store them in a cool dry place for a few weeks until they dry well. Don't wash off any dirt. Once well dried, pack them in mesh bags". Storing them someplace cool and dry will keep them dormant during the winter; in the spring, when you are ready to plant, you'll be able to use these tiny bulbs for your onion sets.
A Little Planning For a Sustainable Onion Patch
Unfortunately, mature onion bulbs cannot simply be replanted in the spring as with some bulbous plants. But, by harvesting the seeds your onions naturally produce you can eliminate the need to purchase onion sets from a store. With a little bit of patience and planning you can have an easy, sustainable onion garden that provides a consistently delicious harvest right in your backyard.