Where to grow your onions

When growing onions the first thing to do is to decide where you are going to put them. I have grown onions in all sorts of different places, in pots and tubs, in a vegetable patch, mixed in with garden flowers, even in a soda bottle! (School experiment!)
The kind of onions you can grow will depend on where you choose to grow them. If you are lucky enough to have a vegetable plot, or room to make one, then that's ideal. Not everone is that lucky and even if you don't have that sort of space you can still grow you own onions. You will just have to choose your variety carefully (more on this later).

Vegetable Plot - preparation for growing onions

You've got to have a feel for it
When I moved to my new house the first thing I did was have a good look at my garden. I was looking for a patch that was fairly well drained, in the full sun for part of the day and with some shelter. Once I'd found the spot I cleared the weeds and had a good feel of the soil. I rubbed it between my fingers to see if it was clay or lovely crumbly loam. As my house is pretty old there's been a garden here for a long time. This means that although the area is mostly clay my soil is pretty good. If it wasn't though, I'd have got some garden compost or maybe manure, and forked that into the soil and left it for a few weeks.
I don't dig it!
Now some vegetable gardeners will tell you that you have to do masses of digging when you are preparing a new plot but I don't believe that. As I've just said, my soil is a nice, crumbly loam because it's been cultivated for so long, but if I dug down more than a few inches I'd soon hit heavy clay. It's wet, harsh, cold and hard for my onions to put roots into but that clay holds moisture and if there's a drought it could save my onions. I would rather build up the depth of my soil with garden compost, spent mushroom compost and other organic matter than try to break down the clay subsoil. If the onions get a bit dry they'll push their roots down into the clay and take care of themselves. My back is healthier for it too!

Choose your variety with care

Onions are affected more by day length than other vegetables. The varieties you can grow depend on where you live.
Southern States
Short day onions are best in the Southern States. Warmer temperatures all through the year mean that the onions can start into growth early with only 10 -12 hours of daylight. These short day onions tend to be fleshy and have a higher water content. They don't store well but this is balanced by a longer growing season. Look for Texas Super Sweet, Yellow Granex or White Granex. (I have grown Yellow Granex in the UK and found that they can be stored if treated carefully)
If your day length is 12-14 hours and you live in the middle of the US then you can choose from the intermediate day onion varieties. Sweet Red is a delightful salad onion that also makes very a fine hamburger onion. Not easy to store but could be lifted, sliced and frozen. (Nothing better than finding a pre-sliced bag of home grown onions when you want to make pizza!) The star variety for this region though is Cimarron, a gorgeous yellow fleshed onion which stores fairly well.
Northern States
The long days with 14- 16 hours of daylight mean that onions which store well can be grown here. Spanish onions, both white and yellow, grow well in this area. Walla Walla is a popular onion in  Washington State but it's not such a good keeper. The flavor is very fine though and many gardeners think it worth the effort. First Edition was developed to be grown in the North and is perhaps the easy option. The flavor is not so fine and it is mainly best for cooking. I think a gardener wants something a little more interesting than a supermarket onion so it wouldn't be my first choice for growing onions.

When to plant

Short Day - January to Mid February
Intermediate -Mid February to early April
Long Day - Early April to Early May

More information

The Growing Onions Blog