Growing onions: part two...

16 August, 2014

Earlier in the year in June (was it really that long ago? Gosh time flies) I sowed the seeds for this years' onion crop.

Today I planted the seedlings out.

I have previously grown onion from seed with direct sowing (i.e. sowing the seed directly into the ground where you want to grow them). This worked to an extent, although my main problem was that I wasn't able (read: was too lazy) to thin the seedlings and I ended up with lots of small onions.

This year I have grown the seed in seed trays to plant out into their final locations. I find transplanting onion seedlings a fine line between big enough to handle and not too big to get too much transplant shock. The bigger the seedlings, the more roots, the more roots tangle and in separating them out the roots get damaged and the plants are set back trying to recover.

So this weekend the seedlings looked to be at about the right stage of growth for planting out.

Just two of eighteen seedling trays. Each one had around 30 seedlings. That makes lots of onions.

The main onion I'm growing is a white onion called 'Contessa' which grew well last year and also stored well.

I first separate out the seedlings by scrunching the tray until the soil mix loosens, then gently pulling out the seedings. I laid these out on my bed edges to keep them out of the way.

Then I use any implement handy (usually a stick of sorts, although I think I have a proper dibber somewhere) to make a small but deep hole in the soil, into which I pop the onion seedling.

Then I remove the stick and use it to drag a bit of soil around the seedling, tucking it in.

The onion seedlings are planted out around ten centimeters apart from each other. This is more work than direct sowing but is much easier than trying to sow thinly and then still have to intermittently thin anyway. I hate thinning as it always feels like I'm throwing away good plants.

The main area for the onions was in the raised bed veg patch.

Once the seedlings were in I covered the bed with plastic mesh, so that the birds can't dig them up.

In the rear bed you can seed the already established shallots, potato onions and garlic.

As I ran out of space (which I expected) I planted the remainder of the onion seedlings under the espalier apples in the orchard. Believe me, there are onion seedlings here, though difficult to see.

Please note weeds removed and dumped as mulch behind the espaliers.

I think they will be very happy there.

Now while I went to all this trouble to grow onions, nature has been working hard on my behalf. Some onions that came up on their own in the tomato bed last year went to seed. 

The seed heads had fallen over, and in yet another example of lazy gardening, I left them there.

Now I have onions in the bed. Lots of them. Yay for more onions.

However, despite my best efforts it looks like I will be thinning onion seedlings after all. Ah well.


  1. When you thin the seedlings, can't you use them as spring onions? I mean literally: spring onions. It's spring. They're onions. You get what I"m saying here. Or use them where you might otherwise use chives, eg. as a garnish, whisked into some scrambled eggs, etc.

    The other thing I'd do, if I were thinning something like that and didn't have an immediate use for it, would be to give them a quick rinse and chuck them in a bag in the freezer, for next time I make stock. Green and oniony is a great thing to toss into stock, and it's what I do with the tops of leeks and shallots anyway.

    1. I do get what you mean :) When I've thinned onions in the past, its usually around the same seedling size as I just planted out - maybe chives, but certainly not spring onion size. This just illustrates how I sow my seed WAAAYYY too thickly.
      I do harvest at spring onion size but usually that's not specifically for thinning, just because I need some onion-y flavour.
      I like the freezer stock idea. I've frozen leeks about to got to seed for risotto bases and soups before, but not the rest. Great idea!