Growing onions: part one...

19 June, 2014

Today I have sown seeds for what I hope will be a year's worth of onions. I have attempted this before and while last year I grew lots of onions, my technique could have been better.

The previous year in 2012/13 I devoted one bed to onions and grew lots of nice large specimens, as well as some pretty tiny ones, which lasted me from the January harvest until about April.

Last year I grew in a couple of beds but I sowed the seed much too thickly and didn't get around to thinning the seedlings, which meant the onions had too much competition and most were really small, with only a few medium sized onions in the lot. That said, quantity can still be a good thing even if quality is lacking, as I'm still eating homegrown onions now in June. I expect however that my supply will only last a few more weeks at best.

So it is with that in mind that I am embarking on a serious mission to grow a plentiful supply of well sized onions this year. For this I will need both space (i.e. lots of beds devoted to onions) as well as lots of onion plants. Which means I need lots of onion seed.

Luckily I have both requirements covered. To address the first requirement of space, I plan to grow the onions in one bed in the front yard, one bed in the proper raised bed veg patch, and another couple of beds in the orchard under the apple trees.

The second requirement of seed is well covered.

The treated seed (colourfully coated bright blue) is an unknown variety, but the variety 'Contessa' is a hybrid white type which grew well last year. I'm also trying a shallot from seed (unlike my other shallots which are grown from a single shallot which forms more shallots from its base) called 'Roderique' which is meant to store well.

Unlike previous years I'm going to the extra effort of sowing my seed in punnets before I plant them out. I'm hoping this will alleviate the issues of sowing too thickly and will eliminate the need to thin seedlings. More steps now, but less steps later.

With the untreated seed, sowing can be tricky, as seeing the seed amongst the seed raising mix is a challenge.

The bright blue of the treated seed is much easier to spot, and thus ensure a good spread of seed.

It doesn't look like much, but I reckon there would easily be 300 seeds planted in these few punnets.

Now I just need them to germinate and I'll be planting them out into their awaiting beds. I expect I'll be doing this in about 3-4 weeks, so stay tuned for part two.


  1. Good luck with those onions. I usually harvest in August and sometime in March I run out. I don't even try to grow more than that as they don't really store any longer for me. I do dream of year round onions, but I think I'd need to resort to the perennial ones for that. And I've never seen blue seed before. I've seen silver seed. Oh it is so much easier to sow as you can see where you put things. I wonder what is in the silver though. It was organic seed so I figure it can't be all that bad, but still.

    1. Cheers. 8 months of onions is still pretty good.
      I believe the coloured seed coats contain fungicide and in some cases insecticides to allow for better germination and less seed loss, though sometimes they are just coloured for ease of sowing, which I expect is the case in the organic certified seed.

  2. i am impressed by your dedication. that is a serious undertaking indeed, bek. i hope the seeds pop up suv=ccessfully and you are on your way.

  3. I need to get some onions in...glad I read this it might motivate me to actually do it. Not sure about a years supply though, storing here is a hassle, they either rot or the rats get them...Should maybe work on that too. Good luck with it. Where do you buy your seed from?


    1. I know, many times I've been prompted by other blogs and their activities to get onto things in my own garden.
      Mostly I buy seed from Eden seeds and Cornucopia seeds, also occasionally Diggers if I happen to go to their garden shop as I find the online orders woefully slow. But these I got from my mum who is a agricultural scientist and works in a seed laboratory, and when horticultural seeds come in to be tested and the seed companies don't want them back she often takes them home and I regularly plunder her seed stock. These onion seeds are one such example.

  4. Wow Bek- thats a lot of onions! I tried to sow some red onion seed with my leeks a few months back but I had zero germination for the onions while the leeks are going great guns. I am guessing based on your post I planted them at the wrong time of year? I am curious to see how they go in seed trays. Somewhere along the lines I seem to recall advice saying 'plant all root crops direct'. I don't know where I heard it but seem to have adopted it as a mantra- maybe you can prove it wrong. I have to be honest my motivation to grown onions is pretty low anyway! Last week I bought brown onions at the market for 80c a kilo- how that can happen is totally beyond me....

    1. I hope it is a lot of onions! Or becomes a lot of onions.
      I can't claim allium expert status, but it may be that onions don't germinate well in higher temperatures, although if the leeks did ok I would have though the onions would too. Apparently onions germinate well around 20degrees C, but can germinate in temps as low as 2degrees C. Onion seed can be problematic when it is old, so that also may be a potential reason.
      I too have read the 'always plant direct' but I don't listen too much. I've transplanted beetroot and carrot seedlings and they have been some of my best performing plants. With onions I've never had an issue with transplanting.
      I don't know how they can be that cheap either. I don't feel bad buying them when I need to, but I still prefer growing them even when they are so cheap to buy. And otherwise there's not much else to grow in the garden at this time of year! :)

    2. mmmmm bah.... dud seed pack perhaps
      - that's what you get for the big green barn I suspect!