Onions masterclass: best expert content

Onion sets ‘Troy’ (Autumn planting) from Thompson & Morgan
Homegrown onions ready for storage
Image: Onion sets ‘Troy’ (Autumn planting) from Thompson & Morgan

For the best independent advice on growing onions, we’ve found a selection of expert articles, videos and Instagram posts to help you raise a bumper crop. Whether you prefer to plant onion sets in autumn or spring, or you want to grow huge, exhibition-sized bulbs that you’ve carefully nurtured from onion seeds, here are some top tips…

Mandy Watson – MandyCanUDigIt

Rumba onion sets in module trays
‘Rumba’ onion sets growing on in module trays
Image: MandyCanUDigIt

What’s the best way to grow onions – seeds or sets? For the biggest onions, traditional wisdom says you should sow them from seed on Boxing Day, says Mandy Watson over at MandyCanUDigIt. “Especially if you want onions for the exhibition bench in September – they need all that time to grow so big.” But for beginners, Mandy recommends using onion sets that don’t need to go in the ground until the beginning of April.

Hema – Grow With Hema

Onion 'Setton' (Spring Planting)
Hema enjoys growing spring-planting varieties, like ‘Setton’
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Hema likes to grow her onions using spring-planting sets, and she says “mid-March is a great time to sow [them] in the UK.” In her growing onions for beginners article over at Grow With Hema, she explains that sets are just miniature onions. She plants them about 15cm apart in raised beds and sows quick-growing radish seeds between each row for an extra treat.

Emma – The Unconventional Gardener

Autumn-planting 'Electric' ready to be planted into the ground
Autumn-planting ‘Electric’ onion sets ready to go in the ground
Image: The Unconventional Gardener

Onions have always been one of my most reliable crops – easy to grow, and easy to store and use, so they do all get eaten,” says The Unconventional Gardener, Emma Doughty. She’s a fan of autumn-planting ‘Electric’ onion sets, a mild red variety chosen for their excellent flavour. Explaining the extreme wartime shortages of this everyday vegetable, her Onion Club article is a fascinating read about a time when onions were worth their weight in gold and “given as birthday presents, or donated as raffle prizes!”

Lisa – @lisaskitchengarden

Freshly harvested container-grown onions on grass
Container-grown onions 
Image: @lisaskitchengarden

According to Lisa @lisaskitchengarden, “companion planting is such a great way to maximise your growing space.” She grew her onions in containers alongside other crops like aubergine, chilli, basil and parsley. With her entire 18 square metre veggie patch crammed with plants, she acknowledged that the resulting onions were not as big as they might have been, “but they did grow!

Nigel Jewkes – MuddyBootz

Nigel from MuddyBootz holding up onions growing in container
Nigel always grows his onions from seed
Image: MuddyBootz

Nigel Jewkes prefers to grow onions from seed using a heated propagator – mainly because he finds that they don’t bolt as easily. Watch his excellent video over at MuddyBootz for a step-by-step guide. But the real trick to successfully growing from seed is the soil – it needs to be enriched with plenty of manure the autumn before spring planting. According to Nigel, “if you prepare the soil you shouldn’t need to feed – in fact too much feed can give your onions thick necks.”

Simon Eade – Garden of Eaden

Onion seeds ‘Ailsa Craig’ from T&M
Sow ‘Ailsa Craig’ seeds for giant, show vegetables
Image: Onion seeds ‘Ailsa Craig’ from Thompson & Morgan

Another fan of growing from seeds, Simon from Garden of Eaden says you can “direct sow onions outdoors anytime from mid-February to the end of March, provided the soil surface is dry and friable.” Then, when large enough to handle, simply “thin onion seedlings to 10cm (4″) apart for medium sized bulbs.” Although he recommends watering freely during dry spells, Simon says you should stop once the bulbs start to ripen.

Dan – Allotment Diary

Dan from Allotment Diary holding up prize-winning onions
Prize onions are usually raised from seed
Image: Allotment Diary

If you want to know what it takes to grow a prize-winning onion from seed, Dan over at Allotment Diary is the man to follow. Grown with slightly more care and attention to detail than onions destined for the kitchen, these carefully tended show onions are enough to make your eyes water!

Adam Leone – Carrot Tops Allotment

Onion (Autumn) Troy from T&M
Autumn planting onion sets like ‘Troy’ are a favourite of allotmenteers
Image: Onion (Autumn) Troy from Thompson & Morgan

Onions don’t like too much competition from other plants, so keeping the patches relatively weed free should help the bulbs access water, space and nutrients a lot easier,” says Adam Leone at Carrot Tops Allotment. But Adam freely admits that weeding is like marmite: “it’s a job that you either love or hate.” He hasn’t made up his mind about whether it’s something he enjoys, but at least, “you really do get a great sense of gratification when it’s been done.” And a good crop of healthy onions!

John Harrison – Allotment & Gardens

Allium leaf miner growing on allium stalk
Attacks from allium leaf miner can be devastating
Image: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock

For a great summary of the most common onion pests, diseases and problems, head over to Allotment & Gardens to read John’s thorough troubleshooting article. Netting is essential when growing onions, but there are far worse problems than pesky pigeons. “White rot is a serious fungal disease,” explains John. “The spores can survive in the soil for fifteen years so normal crop rotations are not effective even as a deterrent.” Read his top tips on how to avoid spreading it round your plot.

Naam Kaur – @naams_garden

Onion Mixed Red, White & Brown (Spring/Autumn Planting) from T&M
A mixed colour collections is a great way for gardeners to grow onions to suit any culinary preferences
Image: Onion Mixed Red, White & Brown (Spring/Autumn Planting) from Thompson & Morgan

Having grown onions for the very first time, Naam Kaur shares her successful red and white bulbs over @naams_garden. They suffered a little from leaf miner, so she’s definitely going to grow them under mesh next time.

The Foley family – @the_allotment_life

Giant spring onions growing in ground
The Foley family successfully grew these giant spring onions on their allotment
Image: @the_allotment_life

Never had much success with spring onions? Check out these beauties grown by the Foley family over  @the_allotment_life. Not only are they “gigantic for spring onions…they taste great too!” Setting a store for the winter, this hardworking family has also grown a good looking haul of red and white onions to keep them going through the coldest months. These guys are well worth a follow if you grow your own with kids.

Carol Bartlett – The Sunday Gardener

Harvested onions drying in the sun before storage
Harvested onions drying in the sun before storage
Image: The Sunday Gardener

If you’re not sure about the best onion varieties to grow, visit Carol Bartlett over at The Sunday Gardener for advice. She explains how the RHS decide which varieties should get the Award of Garden Merit. “Trialled and assessed for bolting, size, yield and…storage quality,”  Carol says you won’t go far wrong if you try “Sturon, Centurion, Hercules, Autumn Gold Improved, Griffon, Setton, Vulcan, and Turo.

Charley – @charleyspatch

Charley from @charleyspatch showing off onion haul
Charley shows off her onion haul
Image: @charleyspatch

Over @charleyspatch, Charley uses the stem flopping system to figure out when her onions are ready for harvest. Those that haven’t ‘flopped’ get to stay in the ground for a bit longer. Not discouraged by the smaller bulbs, Charley simply views these as an opportunity to get pickling. Grown in raised beds from autumn-planting sets, she leaves hers to ‘cure’ in the sun for a few hours before moving them to a portable mini greenhouse to finish the job.

Lucy Hutchings – @shegrowsveg

Homemade onion drying rack from @shegrowsveg
After drying her onions, Lucy plaits the foliage
Image: @shegrowsveg

Drying onions and shallots properly is vital if you want to store them for future use. Over @shegrowsveg, Lucy shows off her DIY onion drying rack that was cleverly upcycled from an old plastic grow tent. Lucy explains, “once the foliage is semi-dried I will start making plaits, my go-to space saving storage method.” Watch her quick onion plaiting video if you’re not sure how it’s done. 

Onions are relatively easy to grow and taste so much better than shop-bought varieties. In fact, if you grow your own, simply roast the bulbs and enjoy them as a vegetable in their own right. For more advice on growing alliums, visit our onions, shallots and garlic hub page

Published at Tue, 02 Nov 2021 06:58:57 -0400

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