Onions are a staple of the Vonada household cuisine - they are used in salsas, relishes, chilis, and marinara sauce as well as being used on hot dogs, hamburgers, and salads. We use different varieties of onions interchangeably, although most recipes have preferred 'colors' of onions.
Color does make a difference - white and red onions tend to have more of a 'bite' than yellow onions, especially those yellows labeled as 'sweet'. Some sweet onions can be eaten raw alone, but red onions are usually too... almost spicy... for this. But for red onions, that's good for putting in salsas or on top of hot dogs. I wouldn't waste a red onion on chili, however. But it's all a judgment call, in my opinion.
We space onions "too close" to one another at 2" apart in the row. We then pull every other onion in the spring (by early June) for use as "green onions" or "spring onions." While these are not truly scallions (which never bulb), they serve the same purpose.
There are three ways to start onions:
- Seeds: Starting onions from seed is a long process - at least two months under grow lights, and potentially with several mini-transplants. My schedule when trying this started with seeding in flats during late January (the last week), then aiming to move them to 6-packs in late February. However, my schedule does not always permit the arduous process of moving each of several hundred tiny onion starts. Even the ones I did get transplant to larger pots never got large, so I've given up on this method.
- Sets: Sets are small onion bulbs that have been pulled out before maturing and allowed to dry. They are the simplest method, as you can simply push the bulbs a few inches into the ground (skinny side up) and sprouts will appear in a week or two. However, sets come in very few varieties, and they're usually just called 'red', 'white', and 'yellow' onions - where is the fun in that?
- Transplants: Transplants are my current go-to method. Like sets, transplants are grown on a farm somewhere (in our case, the Southern US) and brought up north to sell. They'r e usually 6-8" tall and bought in bunches of about 75-100. Transplanting them is as simple as cutting a little off each end (rots and tops), dropping them in a trench, and recovering. Relative to sets, they grow as quickly but have more variety available. Relative to seeds, they require much less start-up time and effort. However, they are more expensive than either. That being said, I believe I will be doing this from here on out.
Onions come in long-day, short-day, and intermediate. A good map for reference is at http://www.windcrestorganics.com/oniontransplants.html. My location in Maryland is barely long-day, and anywhere north of me would be the same.
Some suggestions I've seen for onion fertilization include:
+ 1C of Nitrogen per 20 ft of row every 2-3 weeks
+ 1.5 lb of 10-10-10 at planting (nothing after???)
+ Need potassium for non-swelling necks
+ 4-6-2 and 0-0-3 often
+ 3 lb. 10-10-10 per 100 ft^2 before planting, 2 lb. 10-10-10 every 4-6 weeks thereafter.
+ No fertilizing after mid-July
Onions can store for several months by placing them in a dark, low-humidity storage area. They'll last for several months that way. However, some homes (like ours) have no such low-humidity area. They store much worse here - perhaps 3 months - so we tend to also:
Can: we don't can onions alone - that requires a pressure cooker - but we do put onions in several canning recipes, such as salsas, pasta sauces, and relishes.
Freeze: chop onions and freeze them in ziploc bags for use in cooked dishes. Alternatively, freeze finished dishes like sauces, chili, etc.
Matt's Garden Notes:
Matt's 2013 Map
2011: In really clayey Maryland soil, onions did not grow. Onions apparently do not tolerate bad soil, which seems obvious. Seeds didn't even come up, and the sets didn't grow very well.
2012: Grew from seeds, probably 50 onions. Seeded the last week of January 2012, but never got very big. With a warm spring, transplanting went smoothly and the transplants grew well in my amended soil. However, they required a lot of weeding - it was hard to keep them weed-free because they were put in so early. I had a decent harvest, but did not have enough to make it through the winter.
2013: Seeded January 21-26, 2013. Started to harden them off March 10. However, I left them in flats, and on a day with hard rain they flooded. So I transplanted immediately on March 12. I tried to use black plastic as a mulch, but it was incredibly hard to maintain and poke all of those little holes in for planting. The transplants all died, and I replaced them with storebought ones.
I have upgraded to raised beds for onions: I have 4 raised beds of size 4x8 feet, two of which will contain onions - this fits 250-300 onions at my desired spacing, of which half will be taken for spring onions and drying. This year I am growing four varieties:
TOP BED: Candy (yellow, day-neutral, 55-75d), Red Zeppelin (red, long-day, 110d, storage)
BOTTOM BED: Copra (yellow, long-day), Red Candy Apple (red, day-neutral)
None of the red onions produced bulbs as large as those you buy in the store, but many produced reasonable bulbs. Red Zeppelin produced somewhat nicer bulbs than Red Candy Apple. Both of the yellow onion varieties produced bigger bulbs, Copra probably a little bigger than Candy. Suggest planting 3/4 yellow/white onions next year - they're more versatile than red.
Recipes using Onion:
Matt's Salsa Fresca
Refrigerator Bread & Butter Pickles
Chicago Style Giardiniera
Creamy Dijon-Dill Potato Salad
Alton Brown's Guacamole
Cajun Dirty Rice
Tomatillo Salsa II
Hamburger Pickles II
Red Chile Enchiladas
Hot pepper relish
Burned Red Tomato Salsa
Burned Tomatillo Salsa
Amish Potato Salad
Bobby Flay's Jalapeno Hot Sauce
Black Bean Chili
White Bean Chili
Pork Meatball sandwiches
Not-so Refried Beans
Sauteed Red Cabbage
Freezer Spaghetti Sauce
Cheesy Poblano Chicken
Fajita steak marinade
Chorizo and Manchego Stuffed Mushrooms