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Growing Onions in Your New England Garden is Easy

Until a few years ago, we believed like most people that a supermarket onion was no different from one you could grow in your garden. And because onions are so inexpensive, it always seemed like a waste to take up valuable garden space for something that was so inexpensive to buy year-round. WE WERE SOOOO WRONG!

A Fresh Onion is a Superior Onion
Once we started growing them a few years ago, they have become one of the must-haves in our gardens each year. The onions you buy in supermarkets are often months old, having spent their time since harvest in cold storage. The result is dry tasteless onions and unfortunately most people don't know any better. When you grow your own onions, they are maintenance-free garden plants that when sliced open, juice actually runs out like a fresh tomato. And as for taste, let's just say they are unbelievably better than anything we've ever purchased in a grocery store!

New England Gardens Need a Long-Day Onion
What the heck is a long-day onion? Well, in its most simplest terms, onions start making the onion bulb underneath the soil depending on the length of the daylight it receives each day. Here in New England, that means using a long-day onion that starts to make the onion when it reaches 12-14 hours of daylight each day. Therefore, make sure you get this kind of onion when you purchase the sets or small live plants. It will be the difference between success and failure with your onion harvest. There are a few varieties of onion that are called day-neutral, meaning that they are not affected by the hours of daylight and can also be used in your garden. We prefer the long-day varieties, because they just seem to work better overall.

growing onions in new england gardens

The Easiest Way to Plant Onions is with Onion Sets or Small Plants
An onion set is actually a very small onion itself, about the size of a marble. Onion plants are small live plants, grown from seed by a supplier and then sent to you, the home gardener. We've tried both methods and believe it or not, the live plants seem to root and grow faster than the sets. Either method will work, however. Simply use a pencil or a small stick to make 2-inch holes in your garden about 6-8 inches apart for the plants or bulbs, preferably no later than May 15 regardless of where you are in New England. Onions can tolerate low temps and even a little frost here and there. If you are using sets, its important to remember to place the root-side down in the hole (usually the more rounded end with a bunch of stubble on it) otherwise you'll have some very confused onions. Just fill them in and that's all there is to it.

Onions Like a Good Watering Like Most Vegetables
If you want really juicy and tasty onions, make sure you water deeply and thoroughly once a week with all the other vegetables in your garden. Onion roots are not that deep and can dry out quickly when the soil dries out around them. Keep this in mind and give them a little extra attention - you'll be rewarded come harvest time.

How Do I Know When To Harvest My Onions?
There's a goof-proof method of harvesting onions. When the green tops fall over and turn brown, pull the onion. Depending on the variety, this could happen anywhere between August and late September. Once pulled, lay them out in the sun to dry for up to a week. Then cut off the dried tops and the roots with a pair of sharp scissors. Wash thoroughly and allow to dry again before storing inside.

Storing Onions
Depending on the variety of onion you grow, onions keep anywhere from a month to about 6 months. We've kept onions for up to 5 months in the crisper drawer of the fridge with virtually no loss of taste or quality. Not bad for so little effort and the flavor can't be beat.


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