Straightforward-to-grow onions are a gateway to veggie gardening

Easy-to-grow onions are a gateway to veggie gardening

Question: My New Year’s resolution is to grow my own vegetables this year, but I don’t know where to start. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: One of the great things about the vegetable garden is that you can start small and expand. Little outdoor space? Start with a small patch of soil or just a container or two. Don’t you have much knowledge or experience? Learn by starting with something that’s easy and fun as it comes to life. money tight? Grow something you regularly buy at the grocery store – you might come out on top!

One small vegetable that can be very rewarding is the onion. Onions require little maintenance, can be grown in small or large areas, and provide a lively flash of green in the garden bed or pot. They are also packed with nutrients and are very versatile, playing a huge role in cuisines around the world and packed with nutrients. Onions and related Allium species (garlic, spring onions, leeks, shallots and chives) have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years.

Spring onions, also called spring onions or scallions, mature in as little as 30 days when planted as seedlings. The tall yellow, red, and white strains, on the other hand, can take 100 days or more to grow tall when grown from seed. An advantage of all types of leeks is that they can be harvested at any stage of growth. Their leaves can be just as delicious cooked as the onions.

This month is the perfect time to plant onions in Sonoma County as cool weather during the early growing stages produces the highest quality onions.

You can grow onions from seeds or seedlings (“starters”) purchased from a nursery. Kits are also available, which are dried young onions, often sold in mesh bags. However, many gardeners find that bulbs grown from sets are likely to shoot or go to seed before they reach full size.

You may hear about long-day and short-day onion varieties, a distinction that relates to their growing habits at latitudes with longer or shorter daylight periods. Like so many things about Sonoma County that are “just right,” the mid-day types here do best in our mild weather.

Most bulbs need plenty of sun and well-drained soil enriched with compost. They don’t like areas with rocks or dense loam.

Many onions have very specific requirements. As always, consult the seed pack for variations such as optimal planting time and days to harvest.

Onions like moist (not wet) soil. As soon as you see them emerging from the ground, carefully weed so you don’t disturb the baby plants, and mulch to retain moisture using straw or other organic materials like dried leaves or wood shavings. A good high-nitrogen organic fertilizer will give you the biggest bulbs, but don’t overdo it – too much and you risk double or split bulbs.

Generally, when planting spring onion seeds, you can plant them fairly close together and then use scissors (use the greens like chives) to thin them out to about 2 inches apart. Start taller varieties indoors or purchase starts from a nursery, then bring them into the garden and plant them 6 inches apart when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees.

Pests are not usually a big problem for onions in Sonoma County. A great resource for all garden pest issues is the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program website. There’s a whole page about onions and garlic at

Stop watering a week before onion harvest. Onions are ready to harvest when the stalks fall over and start to look dry and yellow and the bulbs start digging their way out of the soil.

Dig up your bulbs carefully and let them dry outside for a few days, away from direct sun and with good air circulation. Then brush off the soil, trim the stalk to 1 or 2 inches, and store in a cool, dry place. You can store them on flat trays or in mesh bags, but keep them away from other fruits and vegetables that might emit ethylene gas as they ripen.

Contributors to this week’s column were Charles Desmarais, Sue Lovelace, Ellie Samuel, Diane Judd and Joy Lanzendorfer. Sonoma County’s UC Master Gardener Program,, provides home gardeners in Sonoma County with environmentally responsible, science-based horticultural information. Send your gardening questions to You can get answers to your questions either in this newspaper or at our information desk. You can contact the information desk directly at 707-565-2608 or