How To Grow Organic Onions For Beginners

Have you ever considered what our meals would taste like if we didn’t have onions? Onions are a critical component to almost any meal. They deliver a strong punch of flavor, while providing you with a good source of potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, and vitamin C. They are relatively easy to grow in any standard garden, requiring little maintenance. Having a wide variety of options, the hardest part of growing an onion at home is choosing which type(s) you want to plant.

Varieties of Onions

You want to choose which variety of onion to grow based on flavor and grow and harvest conditions. Many types of onions require a specific number of hours of direct sunlight each day in order to form a bulb. Some onions offer a sweet and earthy flavor while others are more powerfully pungent. There are also some varieties of onion that are better suited for long term storage, while others don’t keep as well.

onion varieties

There are a few variety of onions that add an element of “fun” to the garden. Take for example the “Egyptian Walking Onion”. This fun and loopy onion grows it’s bulbs on top of the stem rather than below the soil, and often loops around in fun and quirky ways. While not very large in size, these onions are packed with flavor and are also fun to watch grow. They do have a tendency to become top heavy, however. So if the stems begin to bend you will want to harvest the onions soon or they will begin to form roots and spread across the ground. This is why they get the name “walking onion”, because they appear to “walk” across the ground as old plants fall and new plants form roots.

Egyptian Walking Onion tree onion
EWO - patch

Things You Will Need

  • Onion seeds or starter onions
  • Standard soil mix
  • Seed starter tray
  • Spray bottle
  • Cup
  • Water
  • Compost
  • Bat guano
  • Garden shovel

​The Guide

To Start Your Onions From Seed

1) Be sure to choose an organic variety of seed that has not been treated with chemical pesticides or fertilizer.

2) Start your seeds inside in February or March.

3) Using your organic soil mix (1 part vermiculite, 1 part peat moss, 1 part compost), fill a seed starter tray to the top.

4) Plant your seeds about 1/2 inch deep in the soil.

5) Using your spray bottle, thoroughly mist the recently planted seed trays.

6) Place your seed trays in a warm place that receives direct sunlight for 5-6 hours a day.

  • Note

Cover your seed trays until the sprout begins to break through the soil surface.

onion sprouts

7) Continue to mist your seed trays, even after the seeds have sprouted and poked through the surface, until you are ready to transplant to the garden (usually about 6-8 weeks).

8) Once your onions are ready to be transplanted, choose a place in your garden that has well draining, loose soil that is free of any stones or rocks, and receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.

  • Note

Compact or stony soil will inhibit the growth of your onion bulb.

9) To prepare the garden bed for your onion seedlings, sprinkle compost and bat guano on the surface of the soil.

10) Using a garden shovel, turn the compost and bat guano deep into the garden bed.

transplanting onions

11) Dig holes for your seedlings that are about 5-6 inches deep (depending on the size of your seed tray), about 6-8 inches apart (follow directions on the back of your seed packet), in rows that are spaced at 12-18 inches apart.

12) Be sure not to plant your onions too close together, in order to avoid overcrowding the onion and stunting the size of your onion bulbs.

13) Your onions will reach maturity about 100-175 days after initially starting them.

  • Note

This is dependent on the variety of onion that you are growing (use the guide on the back of your seed packet)

To Start Your Onions From A Set Of Starter Onions

When certain onion varieties are harvested, that doesn’t mean that they stop growing. When the top of the onion is cut from the bulb, a new one will eventually grow back if conditions are preferable. Many times, multiple bulbs can be pulled from one plant. These onions are quite durable and are known as onion sets.

Growing onions from sets tends to be more successful than growing them from seed. It is easier, requiring less attention in the beginning, and being less picky about when the sets can be put in the ground. Follow the directions on the back of the package that your set came in for individualized planting and harvest instructions.

braiding onions

1) You can start your onion sets indoors in February or March, or you can plant them directly in the ground very early spring.

  • It is easiest to simply plant your onion sets directly in the ground very early spring.
  • For fall and winter onions, plant your sets directly in the ground early spring, or even late fall.
  • They will winterize and begin to grow as soon as the weather warms, and will be ready for harvest very early spring the following year.
Onion Planting sets

2) If you want to get your onions well established before planting them in your garden, you can start your sets inside.

  • Note

Fill seed trays with soil mixture and place the onion sets, root side down, about 1/2 an inch into the soil, with the top pocking out.

3) If you started your sets inside, transplant your onion sets to the garden in early spring.

Maintaining And Harvesting Your Onion Plants

1) As long as the soil in your garden is nutrient rich, and you don’t plant your onions in an area that has stones or rocks, then your onions will require little to no maintenance while they grow.

2) Use compost and bat guano to fertilize the soil before you plant your onions in the ground.

  • Note

Onions need nitrogen rich, well draining soil.

3) Your onions should get about 1 inch of water per week.

  • Note
  • For sweeter onions, water more.
  • If it rains a lot, then there is no need to water your onions.

4) Be sure not to plant other plants in your garden, too close to your onions.

5) Your onions are ready for harvest about 100 days after putting them in the ground.

onion seed pods
  • Note
  • Depending on when you plant them, winter onions can be ready for harvest at the end of fall, middle of winter, or very early spring.
  • Don’t harvest your onions too early or else the bulbs will not have enough time to multiply.
  • If you want to grow onions again the following year, allow one or two plants to go to seed.
  • You can also allow the smaller bulbs that you harvest, to become onion sets to be planted for the following year.

6) If you have planted a variety of onion where the bulbs grow on top of the stem, rather than in the ground, your onions are ready for harvest once they have turned “red” or the stem has begun to tip.

  • Note
  • To harvest these onions, simply grab the bunch of onions and gently tug them free from the stem.
  • They should come free from the stem relatively easy.
  • Cut back the stem and leave the base of the plant in the ground.
  • Depending on how early you can get your first harvest, these onions may grow back for another harvest over the summer, or will go dormant over the winter and grow back at the beginning of the next grow season.

7) In ground onions will be ready for harvest when the tops begin to turn yellow and fall over.

8) When these onions appear to be ready for harvest, bend the tops completely down, or even stomp on them in order to quicken the ripening process.

bent top onions

9) Loosen the soil a few days before you are going to pull them up.

10) When the tops have turned brown, firmly grab the stem right above the dirt and pull straight up.

  • Note
  • You can also turn up the soil with a shovel.
  • Be sure to dig deep below the surface so that you don’t bump or harm your onion.
  • The slightest bruising of an onion will trigger rot to set in.

11) Be sure to harvest your onions before cool weather sets in.

  • Note

Mature onions will spoil in cool weather.

Storing Your Onions

1) Allow your onions to dry for a few weeks before putting into storage. Lay them out on a screen, in a dry place off of the ground.

onions drying

2) Once they are cured, store your onions with the stems braided together or cut off.

braiding onions

3) Store them in a dark place at 40 to 50 degrees.

4) Do not store with apples or potatoes.

Conclusion

Onions are a key vegetable to include in your organic vegetable garden, and they are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, maintain, harvest, and store. If given adequate conditions, onions will grow with very little added care, providing you with a crop that adds a lot of nutrients and powerful flavor to any meal.

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