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onions matureOnions are round and bulbous with a papery skin made up of fleshy juicy layers and one of those vegetables that need little introduction. They have been used through the centuries for many things, including using the dried skins as a yellow vegetable dye. Very few people don’t know what they are as they are used in so many savoury dishes, no matter what your cultural background. There are many varieties of onion and they can be used in almost any way imaginable so are always in demand in the kitchen and therefore are a good vegetable to grow. With careful planning there should be ample supply of onions year round to suit your culinary needs.

Whilst the majority of our onions will be cooked to eat there are less strong varieties which are great eaten raw in salads or pickled ready for Christmas. Main crop onions have been left to mature and are best for storage over winter. Other types, the ones we use raw, will have been lifted earlier in the life cycle and benefit from eating within a few days. The ones we are most familiar with include;

  • Salad or spring onions – these are younger less developed bulbs with white stems at the end of green leaves. Great eaten raw or in stir fries
  • Pickling onions – immature bulbs about the size of a conker, will have a slightly stronger flavour than spring onions and be more fiddly to peel than their mature siblings.
  • Red Onions – grown as main crop but as the name suggests the skins are red. These tend to be milder flavoured so make great additions to a salad.
  • Main crop or yellow onions – These are the bulbous ones we use the most ranging in size from a small orange up to as big as a grapefruit these are the ones that’ll make your eyes water when you peel them and give you onion breath if you eat them raw. Having said that they are a must for me in a cheese and onion sandwich!

Timings for the best crop

There are two starting points for onions either grown from seed or grown from onion sets, small onions that have been grown from seed for you.

If growing from seed there are 4 main groups to choose from as follows;

  • Japanese varieties – the seeds are sewn in August in their permanent bed and lifted in the following June
  • August sewn varieties  - the seeds are sewn in a nursery bed in august and transplanted to their permanent bed in the spring then lifted in August
  • January sewn varieties - the seeds are sewn January under glass, transplanted in the spring to their permanent beds and lifted in September
  • Spring sewn varieties - the seeds are sewn the spring in their permanent beds for harvesting in September If growing from onion sets you will be able to buy them from February. Plant them in April in their permanent beds and they will be ready for lifting in September. Buying onion sets in spring saves you the bother of planting seeds. If you want a steady supply of spring onions throughout the spring, summer and autumn, succession plant throughout the season every 3 to 4 weeks. If you are short of space salad onions grow well in pots

A quick note about Shallots

Shallots are very similar to onions. The main difference being that once planted each shallot splits to form a cluster of new bulbs. They are similar in size to a pickling onion, for which they are often used, and have a less stringent flavour than their onion cousins. Whilst smaller than onions they are good for cooking and ready to harvest earlier so if space is tight give them a go. Grown from a parent bulb plant your shallots in February to March and they should be ready in July

Time to love onions!

onions crop

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