I always start my first seeds in February. It may seem a little early, but some vegetables seem to take forever to get going. I like my onions to be a decent size when I set them out, and that means starting them several months in advance.
I plant a lot of onions, partly because I love them and partly because I use them to deter 4-legged pests. I have four raised beds and I rim them with various onions and lavender plants, in an effort to fool any critters who make it inside the gates. It doesn’t always work, but I’m going to grow the onions anyway, so nothing is lost.
I use onions for more than just background flavor, so I like some variety. These red cipollini, above, are very easy to grow, since they don’t have to plump up much or dig down deeply. They are pungent, but it’s offset by a sweetness that makes them ideal for roasting or caramelizing.
When I want something truly mild, I turn to these bottle-shaped onions, called ‛Long Red Florence’. They also go by several Italian names, like ‛Rossa Lunga di Firenza’, but you can’t go too far wrong if you choose them by their shape. These are sweet enough to eat raw and are great in salads and on sandwiches.
My favorite onion growing tip is to trim the tops down to 2-3 inches, once they start flopping. This helps their necks thicken up, so they can handle the vagaries of being transplanted.
I think leeks take even longer to get into growing gear than onions do. I’d grow leeks even if I didn’t want to eat them. They look so beautiful waving their blue flags. These are ‘Giant Musselburgh’, a Scottish heirloom also known as ‘Scotch Flag’.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with leaning boards along side of them, to blanch their bases, rather than hilling up soil. It seems to work just as well, with less mess to clean. However you have to be on the alert for slugs and other pests that think the shady seclusion is meant for them. On the other hand, they make a great slug trap.
For those who consider themselves onion growing challenged, I’d like to suggest growing multiplier onions. There a cousin of shallots, although less refined. You plant individual bulbs and they multiply in clumps that push up out of the ground. They are fairly pungent and great for cooking whole or chopped. Their one caveat is they are difficult to peel. Peeling is easier if you cook them first. But you’ll get so many of them, you’ll have plenty to plant again next year. You can plant them in the fall, for early summer harvesting, or in the spring, for a late harvest.