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Planting Onions

March 4, 2012

Credit: Celeste Longacre
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                Now is the time to plant onions indoors. If you want onions that are going to keep through the winter, you need to plant a good “keeper” variety. Catalogues will generally have this information available.  I always plant them either in late February or March. This year, there are four different days which are particularly ideal in the month of March. The 11th, 12th, 20th and 21st are all spectacular. The Moon is in a water sign (the best for germination) and—because the onions grow beneath the ground—a superior time to plant them is in between the Full Moon and the New Moon. For any of you who live in a warmer climate than New England, these would also be ideal dates to plant any kind of root crop.

                I start with a rectangular plastic flat.

Placing about two to three inches of potting soil on the bottom, I add some kelp meal or greensand.

Mix it in and rake it smooth. Then I take my handy little seed tool (shown) and fill the cavity with onion seeds.

I find this tool to be quite helpful as the seeds don’t get stuck to sweaty hands and you can somewhat control the amount of seeds being sown at a time. I put quite a few on top of the soil—onions don’t seem to mind being a bit crowded at this stage in their development.

I then cover them with about ¼ inch of potting soil, water them and set them in a relatively warm spot to germinate. You have to be careful with the amount of water that you use. My flats don’t have drainage holes so I am particularly careful not to overwater them.

                It takes them a few days to germinate. The top part of the soil shouldn’t dry out completely during this stage. Once they have germinated, I put them in a sunny window. Then watch them grow!

They should be trimmed to three or four inches high as this will encourage them to build a strong root system.

               Many onions are what are called “day length sensitive.” This is what we mostly grow in the north. These onions will put all of their energy into their greens while the days are getting longer. As soon as the plants sense that the days are getting shorter, they begin to put their energy into their root (the actual onion). For this reason, never put grow lights on onions when they are inside as the extra “daytime” can confuse them.

                Once the soil warms up, onions can be planted outdoors. They don’t mind a bit of frost so they can be planted much sooner than most other crops. When it’s time, I get the bed ready and use my dibble to create a hole for the onion plant. You want to place them about four inches apart. I try to visualize a nice, big onion and give them all enough space to accomplish this feat. Each onion is its own plant so this transplanting can be a bit tedious but it is well worth the effort. In the late summer, once the onions have been sufficiently sunned, I put them in mesh bags in the pantry. I generally have onions throughout the winter and even into April or May. Happy planting!

And, just because....

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Celeste Longacre has been growing vitually all of her family's vegetables for the entire year for over 30 years. She cans, she freezes, she dries, she ferments & she root cellars. She also has chickens.

Celeste has also enjoyed a longtime relationship with The Old Farmer's Almanac as their astrologer.

Her new book about living lightly on the Earth is coming soon!

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Comments

Looking for onions I can grow

By Mark S

Looking for onions I can grow completely indoors under lights... Wanting to set things up so I have the basics for fresh salsa even when there is 4' of snow outside.. Store bought I use white and yellow onions..

Any advice on variety (prefer heirloom), soil depth, and lighting cycles to achieve my goal?

Hi Mark S I don't know of any

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Mark S
I don't know of any onions that can be grown completely indoors. That doesn't mean that they don't exist. A number of varieties of onions are "day length" sensitive, though so be careful. These onions will give all their energy to the greens while the days are getting longer and put the energy into the bulb once the days get shorter.

What varieties of onion are

By Del Ketcham

What varieties of onion are you starting this year?

Hi Del, I love Copras. They

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Del,
I love Copras. They are great keepers. It's nice to have onions all year long from the garden.

Gee I wish we were neighbors.

By Bob Conley

Gee I wish we were neighbors. I have always wanted to grow all my family's veggies. Does your Love Sign have step by step instructions for this and the preserving?

Dear Bob, No, so sorry, my

By Celeste Longacre

Dear Bob,
No, so sorry, my Love Signs book is--alas--about love, not gardening. You can, however, get my gardening advice here. Would love to be you neighbor, too!

In this article you state

By mbrasseau

In this article you state then you start seeds in March. Other articles I've read state they should be started in the fall... I'm confused.

Could you please clarify the timeline for planting onions from seed to bulb harvest?

Thanks :)

I know that here, in the

By Celeste Longacre

I know that here, in the north, we need to start our onions indoors in either late February or early March. Perhaps in the southern states you can plant them in the fall as onions can handle temperatures down to 20 degrees F.

this is our first year doing

By anon

this is our first year doing a garden...we're not toally sure how we're doing at it...but our sweet yellow spanish onions are really bushy grass so far, and the ends of the (blades?) are starting to yellow/brown. if anything, i think we wouldve overwatered them, but i though onions needed lots of water at this stage. what do you think? i

Hi Anon, Onions do love water

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Anon,
Onions do love water in the early stages, but yellow leaves is a sign of over-watering. Check to see if your soil drains properly as well. If the water puddles, you need to add more organic matter to the bed.

It's so nice to see some info

By KatrinaMT

It's so nice to see some info on starting onions! Everyone I've talked to used bulbs or plants but I wanted to try to start mine indoors. I've got the seed starting tray and the seeds but haven't planted yet. I'd love to see a future article about preparing onions(and other produce) for storage!

Hi Katrina, Thanks for your

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Katrina,
Thanks for your comments. We intend to keep everyone updated on preparing onions & other produce for storage. Stay tuned!

What is the name of that

By Tricia Sanders

What is the name of that green seed dispencer in picture #3 and where would I be able to purchase one. It would be great for my husband when he's planting tiny tiny seeds, with his big hands :-) Thank You

Hi Tricia, The tool is called

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Tricia,
The tool is called Hand Seed Sower & it's available from Johnny' Seeds $3.95.
www.JohnnySeeds.com

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