Planting Onions

Until last year I’d never had much success growing onions.  I’d always planted our onions from sets, in the spring.  Onions are one of those spring crops that are supposed to planted “as soon as the soil permits.”  Around here that means it’s usually March and sometimes April before it’s possible to get them planted.  By the time of harvest the bulbs were usually much smaller than I would have liked.

At a conference we attended last winter someone told me to plant from transplants rather than sets.  In my ignorance I hadn’t even known onions could be transplanted.  He insisted that transplants did much better than sets so I gave it a try.

He was right.  Whereas my spring-planted sets typically produced small to medium sized onions, the transplants produced medium to large onions.  Transplants are definitely superior to spring-planted sets.

But as an experiment I also put out some sets when we planted our garlic last fall.  I’d never overwintered onions before but figured if it worked for garlic it might work for onions too.  I had nothing to lose.  If they didn’t come up I could still plant them in the spring.

To my delight the fall-planted sets consistently produced large beautiful onions, better than any we’d ever grown before.  Even though the spring transplants had done well, the fall-planted sets were even better.  I resolved to plant all my onions that way from now on.

So yesterday I put out 17 pounds of onion sets.  They’re planted the same way garlic is planted, but without the necessity of breaking open bulbs to get cloves (as must be done with garlic) the planting goes much faster.  Once you have a bed for planting, just poke the sets into the ground about four inches apart, then cover them all with straw and aim to harvest them around July 4.

I planted white and yellow.  If we plant any red next year, I'll use transplants.

Onion sets.  I planted white and yellow. If we plant any red next year, I’ll use transplants.

Part of next year's onion crop.

Part of next year’s onion crop.

Covered with straw and ready for winter.

Covered with straw and ready for winter.

I’m looking forward to a great harvest next year.

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15 comments on “Planting Onions

  1. Buffy says:

    I saw onions planted in the fall at the CSA I volunteered at last Spring. We plan to plant some too! They were big and beautiful!

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  2. bobraxton says:

    seventeen – prime

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  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Wow, the logic of this is actually PAINFUL! Why not do onions the same as garlic? After all, when you leave the tiny bulblets behind after harvest, they always come up in the spring (only to get tilled under):
    So, tell me… D’you ever get a fragment of an idea that dances, just out of reach, at the edge of conscious thought; but, as soon as you poke at it, it goes back into the darkest recesses? ‘Cause I’m sitting here with a handprint on my forehead (where I just clapped myself upside the head; ). LOL, thanks for this!

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    • Bill says:

      The truth is that by spring I’d forgotten that I did the fall planting. I thought the onions were garlic until they started going to seed and I pulled one up. Then I remembered planting them and I was stunned at how superior they were to those planted in the spring. It does make perfect sense that they’d perform like garlic, but it hadn’t occurred to me.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        It’s probably more of that (now missing) knowledge that everyone “just knew” at one point in time…

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  4. DM says:

    Bill, I want to try it too! 🙂 Where do you you get your transplants? I have just spent the past 30 minutes on line trying to find some and everyone is sold out..let me know. Thanks! DM

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    • Bill says:

      I got them at the local feed/farm supply store–Southern States. A friend told me that he had trouble finding them too. Probably most places don’t carry them in the fall.

      I’m assuming that you meant sets not transplants. I bought the transplants from Johnny’s.

      Hoping you find some and that it works out for you.

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      • DM says:

        duuu…I readyour post too quickly the first time, was thinking you were planting transplants, but in rereading it now, I see you were planting sets in the fall. I did finally find some sets on line @ Amazon, probably paid too much, but it’s an investment right? 🙂 Johnny’s and every other name brand website were all sold out for the fall except Amazon..I’m talking probably a dozen or more websitess, and some I’d never even heard of. I am excited. Think this may be what I have been looking for, (a way to grow bigger onions) than I have been. DM

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  5. avwalters says:

    I’ve always planted garlic in the fall. I don’t know, though, whether the cold Michigan weather (and likelihood of a complete freeze) changes that. I have much to learn in my new transplanted home.

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    • Bill says:

      My guess is that even there fall planting is best, but I don’t know that for sure. We had an unusually cold winter here last year that wiped most of our cold hearty crops but the onions and garlic soldiered on without problems.

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  6. Farmgirl says:

    If I can find onion sets this time of year, I am going to try this! Thanks for the tip!

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  7. […] this  morning I planted 100 onion bulbs as per something I read recently on Bills’s blog.   Normally, onion sets are planted in the spring, but as Bill mused, garlic bulbs are planted late […]

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