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Mistreated Onion Plants Still Make Onions!

Onion patch

One season I planted a two-foot wide row with onion sets in my garden annex (used to be the kids’ sandbox but even my youngest has lost interest in it… she’s 17). The plants started with enthusiasm and produced ample leaves. However, the bulbs were somewhat small. I realized too late that soil in the annex was devoid of nutrition; I hadn’t added humus to the bed in several years. Despite how easy onions are to grow, you must provide them with good soil nutrition.

I love onions, and I especially love to harvest them from my garden just minutes before I incorporate them into a meal. “Best Practices” for growing onions are mildly complicated. The involved extensive tilling to get soil loose and mix in humus, adding fertilizer to a strip of soil, mounding soil on the fertilized strip, and then planting onion sets along both sides of the mound—but not actually on the mound.

I’m confident if you follow those procedures you’ll increase your likelihood of harvesting fat, healthy onion bulbs. But I know from experience you can get a decent harvest for a lot less work.

How I Plant Onions

Admittedly, I “till” soil before I plant onion sets. “Till” is in quotes there because I focus on weeds. I dig them out with a garden fork which may loosen the soil down to six inches. Then I add compost and rake to smooth the surface before I press onion sets into it. I leave three or four inches between sets and usually plant rows with four sets across—a row comes out about a foot wide. Sometimes I plant rows that are two feet wide, depending on which planting bed I use. Photos tell the rest of the story.

Weedy onion patch

Even a lazy gardener can grow onions! I photographed my onion patch this morning when it was masquerading as a weed patch. Then I pulled some weeds from around the onion stalk and was pleased with what I found. It’s in the next photo.

Next Spring’s Onion-Planting

This season I started making my garden resemble Ruth Stout’s garden. That is, I laid down six-inches of hay everywhere except on my vegetable plants—I mulched with hay. If I find enough more hay, I’ll maintain the six-inch depth through the winter. In spring, I’m going to plant onions the way Ruth Stout did: I’ll peel the deep mulch away and simply drop onion sets onto the soil. Then I’ll lay the mulch back, covering the sets.

Apparently, the onion sets will take root, their leaves will push up through six inches of hay, and I’ll be able to harvest full-grown onions in summer and fall. That’s how easy it is to grow onions. Want a bushel or so of your own? You can grow that.

Red onion nearing harvest

Yep! Despite all the weeds, my onion sets have grown into decent-sized onions. It’s not ideal to grow your onions in a weed patch, but it’s nice to know you can get away with it. Ruth Stout’s deep mulch gardening method should eliminate the weeds, so it’s possible I’ll get much larger onions next season—and without weeding.

You Can Grow That is a monthly celebration of gardening. Find a list of blog posts participating in this month’s celebration at You Can Grow That.

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