Planting and growing Onions
Although onions out of all vegetables are the most pest resistant, they take between four and seven months to grow and mature. This means that much of your garden space, resources and time are invested in growing one crop. Do you want to go so far as to grow your own onions?
So you have made the decision that you want to grow onions.
Where to start:
Onion cultivars and where they will grow:
Australian Brown Skin onion
There are three types of cultivars to choose from.
Soils that have a heavy clay content should be avoided as onions like a soil that drains well. If you have a clay soil then you should make the ground more friable by adding compost to the soil and mixing it in. Because onions take a long time to mature it will also be necessary to mix in an organic fertiliser such as 3:1:5 before planting your onion plants.
If you are going to be planting seed you need to buy fresh seed as once a seed packet is opened the seeds start deteriorating. Older seed from previous seasons can be utilised to grow spring onions as the chances are good that not all the older seed would germinate and would spoil your chances of a good onion crop.
Sowing of your seeds
When sowing seeds two methods can be used. The first is to sow the seed directly into the bed you have prepared for your onions and the second alternative is sow your seed into seed trays. As onion seed is very fine it should be sown thinly over the bed and then covered by a 2cm layer of seedling mix which should be firmed down over the seeds.
At about seven weeks or when you feel the seedlings are big enough to handle it is time to either thin out the plants that have been planted directly into the onion beds or transplant the onions growing in the seed trays.
Thin out the onion plants leaving the strongest plant in the soil with a gap of about 10cm between it and the next plant and a gap of 15cm between each row of plants. If you are not sure that a plant is strong enough to survive leave one or two plants in the gap you are creating and go back a few days later and remove the smaller plants which you can either transplant to another bed or use as spring onions in a salad.
Lift each set of plants in the gaps in the seed tray and single them up using the strongest plant to transplant into the ground. Plant them in rows using the same gaps as listed in the bed planting method above. Don't throw away the weaker plants as they can be planted out as well, just keep them seperate from the stronger plants while transplanting as the chances are that some of them could die and leave gaps in the beds you are planting.
Utilise any plants left over as spring onions in a salad or plant them in another bed.
Onions are to be watered regularly and are to be fed monthly in the warm autumn months. A second chore is to weed your onion beds regularly to take away any competition your onions might have for food or sunlight.
Over the past seven months you have sweated blood and tears to get your onions to this point. You want to harvest your onions at their best but you have no idea when the best time is.
Here's what you should do:
Your onion plant will tell you when its bulb is starting to reach maturity as its leaves will start turning yellow and start falling over. It is now time to start watering less. Once the majority of your onions have fallen over dig them up and allow the leaves to dry out before storing them. If you dig the onions up before they have reached this stage you might find that the bulbs have not formed properly and you will have a poor and small onion crop.
What are the best times to harvest in South Africa
To ensure that your onions last you should take some precautions to preserve them. Onions appear to be tough but in fact they are not as they bruise easily especially when they are fresh out of the ground. Once you have dug them up they should be left in the sun for two days to dry out. In very hot areas it may be necessary to protect them by covering them with straw.
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