Most gardeners grow a few onions, whether they are multipliers to use in summer salads, sweet Spanish onions, the huge round slices of which grace many a burger in the summertime, or cooking onions grown from sets and stored for winter use. Fewer gardeners, however, seem to grow red onions, which I think is a shame because they are just as easy to grow as white onions and store equally well. In fact, my red onions often store better than the white ones their tops seem to dry off earlier in the season so that they store well.
Red onions can be grown from seed but most people buy sets which are readily available in the spring. They are planted in late April or very early May and grown like other onions in full sun in rich, well-dug, fertile soil. The sets should be planted so that the shoulders of the bulbs are just above ground. The only problem associated with growing onions is the onion root maggot and my philosophy on that has always been to plant one for me, one for the maggots, one for me, and so on! If the few onions that are attacked by the root maggots (the plants will look unhealthy and begin to turn yellow) are removed quickly, spread of the pests will be deterred and the rest of the onions will thrive. I avoid the chemicals recommended which are planted with the sets because I am apprehensive about their toxicity and about the residue left in the soil. I try to rotate my onion patch so onions are never planted in the same spot two years in a row.
Onions are harvested in early fall after the bulbs have sized up and stopped growing, at which time the tops topple over and begin to wither. After being pulled, onions must be dried thoroughly for storage. I often lay the onions on an old blanket and put them outdoors during hot, sunny days. The rest of the time they lay on their blanket in the sunroom and on very cool, humid days I run a small fan to keep the air moving to facilitate their drying. Because of the method I use, I remove the tops when I pull the onions, but some people like to hang their onions to dry so the tops are left on so that the twine can be tied to the tops.
To store onions for the winter, the roots are removed and the tops taken off if they haven t been previously removed. Onions then can be stored in mesh bags or in trays or shallow boxes. The location should be dry and warm because if the environment is too cool and damp, spoilage will occur. This will usually begin at the base where the roots emerge or at the top of the bulb right at the base of the stem.
Red onions have a sharper flavour than most white varieties, so if they are used in cooking the amount of onion called for can be reduced. They also may colour other ingredients so they are not always suitable for all recipes. Mainly, red onions are used as enhancements for salads since their vibrant colour adds visual interest. As you purchase red onions for use in your kitchen this fall and winter, make a mental note or an actual one in your garden journal! add red onions to your planting plans for next spring.
Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba