Growing onions from onion sets is probably the easiest way to produce a good crop of quality onions and generally you will achieve better success this way when compared to growing onions from seed.
To begin with you need a sunny site with good drainage but the key is to grow them in a permanent bed in order to build up the soil fertility. There is a down side to this however as you can also encourage the build up of diseases so it is advisable to rotate your onion bed with the rest of the vegetable garden. Avoid soils that have been planted with onions within the past three years, and because onions are shallow rooted and poor competitors with other plants, try and avoid sites with a history of perennial weeds.
If there are any onions that you suspect are harbouring any kind of disease then remove not only the plant but also a small amount of soil from where the onion was growing. Hopefully this will eliminate any unwanted bacteria in the soil. It is also worth watering the bed with a dilution of Jeyes Fluid once the crop has been harvested - this again will help to kill any unwanted bacteria or fungi. There are onion beds that were started over 140 years ago that are still in production today using this method!.
You can plant onion sets as soon as your soil will allow you to which can be any time from late February, but you can steal a march here by picking a dry day a few weeks before planting and raking the soil to a fine tilth. Onions like a firm bed so tread over the area you have just raked. Try adding a general fertiliser like growmore for extra fertility, and for an even earlier crop you can plant onion sets under protective cloches at the end of January. (There is an advantage that can be gained by setting up cloches before planting. If cloches are placed over the ground prior to planting, the ground has some time to warm up, reducing the chances of a check in growth). The soil may require some watering to achieve a uniform moisture before planting onion sets, but try and avoid planting them into a dry bed.
Micro-nutrients are also important in onion production - in particular boron and zinc - so look at giving your onions a periodic liquid feed of seaweed based fertiliser. However if your onions are clearly growing well then this will probably be unnecessary...
You will need to keep a a particular eye on the newly sprouting onion shoots as these will often attract the attention of inquisitive birds – particularly pigeons and black birds - who will lift your juvenile crops straight out of the seed beds for nothing more than a little mischievous fun. If you don't have some kind of protection inplace you can end up loosing almost an entire crop!
To have a year-round supply, you can make a second planting during the late summer which should be ready to harvest from June, although a second planting isn't recommended in heavy, poorly drained soils.
In general, onions should be given as long a growing season as possible to reach their maximum size.Your main crop onions should be ready for harvesting any time between August to September depending on both the weather and individual varieties. The onion bulb will be mature when the foliage turns yellow and begins to tip over, but you will need to leave them for another couple of weeks for the bulbs to start drying off before lifting.
Choose a dry day and if the onions are fully ripe they will lift easily from the ground by hand, otherwise carefully ease them out of the soil with a gardening fork. They will now need to be properly dried off and depending on the weather or the size of your onions it will take approximately 2-4 weeks for them to cure. They are now ready for the kitchen. If any of your onions have developed thick 'necks' over the growing season, use these ones straight away as they will not store well and are prone to neck rot.
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