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A great onion harvest proves taking chances can pay off

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These are the onions I grew this year. 

onions

I harvested them this weekend and they may be the single best argument for trying new things in the garden.I can’t give you poundage because I just pulled them and they are curing but I can assure you I’ve never grown more onions before. And here’s where it gets mind-blowing for me: I grew all those onions in less than half of an 8-by-4-foot bed. 

In the past I’ve always grown onions from purchased plants and spaced them maybe 4 inches apart. (I’ve never tried growing from sets, which is probably the most common way to start onions.) This year I did nothing of the sort.

First off, I started them from seed, having been persuaded by a variety of sources, including Savvy Gardening, which made a compelling argument for having a much better selection of varieties when you grow from seed. Starting onions from seed is one hell of a commitment. I planted these inside on January 31. 

Onion seedlings under an LED grow light.
Fortunately, by the end of January I was itching to plant something, and since onions are one of the earlier things that get planted in the garden, their high-maintenance period (once they got big enough to need frequent watering but were still inside) wasn’t too long. I sowed all of them in a single flat so they took up very little space under the grow lights.

I used Charles Dowding’s multisowing method to plant these and that took a bit of a leap of faith for me. Honestly I’d not heard of it before I saw Charles’s video on it and I’d become accustomed to planting onions with a healthy amount of space between each plant. And I may have made a big garden, but I’m all about maximizing the use of the space I have. When I planted these, I planted the seedlings in little clumps with up to seven seedlings in each. (Spoiler alert: Seven is too many.)

Onions multisown in the garden. The larger plants on the far end are garlic.

And that was it. The drip irrigation took it from there and other than the part where a rabbit decided to raise her family in the middle of my onions, all was well. 

baby bunnies
I came home from vacation in July to a family of bunnies living in my onions. As you might imagine, high jinx ensued. I have a story saved on Instagram about it if you love that kind of thing.

In fact all was more than well, because one of the great benefits of multisowing, is that you can pinch a few here and there to use as green onions. (Sidenote: Are green onions and scallions different names for the same thing? If they are different I can’t figure out what that difference might be.) And we pinched more than a few.

When you multisow you sacrifice size for quantity, which is a tradeoff I’m happy to make. I don’t need a two-pound onion because for an average meal we’d need a quarter of that at most. But I do need a lot of medium-sized onions. ‘Alisa Craig’ is known as a very large onion, so multisowing produced big, but not huge good-storing onions. 

'Alisa Craig' onion
‘Alisa Craig’, closest, is a large growing onion that becomes a perfect sized onion when multisowed.

Four onions in a clump (after green onion eating) seemed to produce the right size of onions. And as you can see, we’ve got plenty to sustain us.

I’ll be sharing these, of course, even though I know we could eat them all. I get great satisfaction out of sharing my garden’s abundance. And some of the onions, such as ‘Gold Coin’ a cipollina variety, won’t store well, so we’ll eat those over the next month or two. ‘Red Long of Tropea’, which is sweet, not sharp, won’t store well either, so we’ll get to work on those really flavorful onions soon as well. 

onions
‘Gold Coin’ won’t store well, so we’ll eat these first. They are delicious roasted or grilled whole.

I also grew ‘Patterson’, which is a fairly non-descript yellow onion that stores very well.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical of every part of growing onions this year, from starting from seed to multisowing. Thank goodness I gave it shot. 

Here’s to taking chances in the garden. 

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for the great post! I was wondering what your spacing was between onion clumps when you planted them in your garden bed?

  2. I follow your blog and tried this growing method last year and it was wonderfully effective! My question is how well did your onions store? I want to try this method again this year but I’d like to be able to store some. Another gardener I spoke to said that you can’t store the smaller onions, and I wondered if that was universal regardless of type. If you have any advice I would be very appreciative. I garden in zone 6 in Overland Park, Kansas.

    Cheers,
    Diana

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