Growing and Harvesting Onions (& a Little Bit About Composting)

I planted onions a while ago and have been wondering when it would be time to harvest. We missed the timing for our garlic plants, so I don’t want to miss these ones too! We bought the onion bulbs from Lowe’s since they came in a pack with three different varieties. I figured we like all kinds of onions so having white, yellow, and purple ones was perfect.

Onions prefer having a location with plenty of sunshine and to not be blocked by the shade of other plants. The soil should not be packed tightly as this can affect the development of the bulb. So, the soil should be loosely packed and well-drained but high in nitrogen. They require a lot of nutrients and you should continue to fertilize throughout its growth for big bulbs. I haven’t been doing that, but the soil that was put into the gardens was high in nutrients. But, I was able to use our compost to add nutrients to the soil.

I bought a compost sifter from Amazon that came in this past week. I even got to use it for the first time a couple of weekends ago! The compost in the barrel seems to be doing well, but I have yet to use it to fertilize the plants. I have been adding all of the unused produce (ends of vegetables, used coffee grounds, any little bits of fresh produce) that we accumulate throughout the week into a little bin on the kitchen counter. This gets added to the barrel every couple of weeks or more often depending on when it gets filled. You can see in the photograph below the barrel filled with already composted material and additional items such as ends of veggies and egg shells. Depending on what stage the composting is in, the inside can smell pretty bad. When I took this picture, most of the composting had been completed so it wasn’t too bad.

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I used the compost sifter to sift through the compost in the barrel and used this to fertilize all of the gardens. The sifter worked well, but it did take a lot of work to sift through the large pieces of compost. The grate on the sifter is a on the small side, but for what I needed, it worked OK. I placed the sifter on top of the dump cart, then shoveled some compost into the sifter. I found that working with one shovel-full worked better than trying to do a lot at once. The photographs below show the different steps when using the compost sifter.

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Onions should be planted in late March to early April 4-5 inches apart. Since I already had the bulbs, I just planted them an inch or so below the surface about 6 inches apart across the front of the tomato plants.

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Before the bulbs start to produce they should be continuously fertilized. The bulbs will push above the surface and you are not supposed to put the soil back on top. An inch or so of water is required per week. Onions can look healthy even if stressed, so be sure to water as needed during drought conditions. Once the plants start to send up flower stalks, also known as bolting, the onions are done and need to be cut or pulled out.

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As onions begin to mature the tops will turn yellow and fall over. When this happens it is recommended to bend the tops down to hasten the ripening process. The soil can then be loosened and after a few days onions should be turned and allowed to cure on the ground. When the tops are brown, the onions can then be pulled. Harvesting can be done in late summer and then allowed to dry for several weeks before storage. They should then be stored at 40-50F such as in a fridge. Or, you can do what I did and after pulling go ahead and chop them up to eat (more on a new recipe in my next blog post). The onions were really good and seemed to grow pretty well, even if they were on the small side. I am hoping that with what I learned through writing this blog post that our next round of onions will be even bigger!

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