Change is never an easy thing. There are so many unknowns, and sometimes changing can feel like giving up. It is important when growing things to experiment and learn. Whether it be moving a crop to a new location, or changing soil additions we are always experimenting on the homestead. Sometimes we try a new crop or eliminate an old one that we just can’t waste garden space on anymore. We learn how much to plant through trial and error. There is only so much you can learn from a screen and there is no substitute for good old fashioned failure.
As long as we have had a garden, we have grown onions. Because we live in the northeast, we grow long day onions. We always used onion sets, and would purchase them from our local garden center. Every year we would put these sets in the ground almost as soon as the soil could be worked. It is important to get onions in early because once the days begin to shorten they are almost done growing.
Last year a good friend of ours stopped by with a gift. He had a handful of onion plants for us to try. I had tried to grow onions from seed before but never from plants. So we took these tiny plants and started them in the garden. To our surprise and joy, they started to grow like mad, even surpassing the sets we had planted weeks earlier. By the end of the year they were twice the size of our onions that were started as sets. So this year, we decided to take the leap and ditch the sets and order plants. We ordered them from http://www.dixondalefarms.com They had a great website and even send emails to keep you informed of what to expect at each stage of onion growth. The onions get cheaper the more you order so during our online shopping we may have filled the cart too much. In the end, we had ordered more than 500 plants. They arrived with instructions and looked great.
We prepared the garden and tilled in dirt from our chicken run.
500 onions do not take up as much space as you would think. We saved 100 to plant around our cabbage and greens since they help keep the worms away. (We did a blog on this a while back so check it out in the archives) Once the soil was tilled, we planted the onions at the recommended spacing. They were easy to plant you just pushed them in the ground with your finger as a guide. Then we waited. Soon the little green plants shot up. The days warmed, and they grew even more.
Onions do not like competition, so we kept them weeded. It was important to only make your row as wide as your arm or weeding is impossible. Onions are planted fairly close so there is no room to step between them. This is something we definitely learned through trial and error. As summer took hold and the days became shorter our onions began to flop over, this is a sign that its time to harvest. We pulled the onions from the soil and let them sit in the sun for a day or two.
Onions must be cured correctly to be stored, so our next job was to hang them. Another trick we have learned is to braid the onions before hanging. They take up less space and are quite appealing to look at.
After the skins dry you can leave them hanging in a cool place or store in an onion bag, air circulation is important. Any onions that have gone to seed should be used immediately because they will not keep.
This year we grew the biggest onions in all of our years of homesteading.
Fist sized bulbs were not uncommon. We declared this experiment a success and will be ditching our onion sets forever. Experimenting in your garden gives you a little something extra to look forward to when you survey your garden each evening. If you are an organized person you can even document your experiments for later use. Our gardens are not only a place to grow food, but also a place to grow our knowledge. It may just look like a bunch of plants to some people but to us it’s a classroom, a gym, a grocery store, a spa, and sometimes a therapist.