Onions are the soldiers of the kitchen. No matter what need, call on these flavourful and versatile bulbs to elevate anything you’re cooking up. Show an onion (Allium cepa) a pocketful of sunshine and well draining soil and it’ll show you a happy harvest!
Onions can be fiddly to grow, but they are one of the most useful veggies. Besides their antibacterial properties, they are also rich in sulphur compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Thought to have originated in Asia, the onion has been cultivated for millennia, which probably explains why we’ve found so many uses for it in the kitchen. From fiery curries to delicate sauces, just about any dish can benefit from the flavour of a well-browned onion. There are a bunch of varieties to choose from at nurseries and seed retailers, and
you have the option of growing either from seeds, seedlings or sets (immature plants with bulbs that have been dried to suspend their growth). However, as they have such a long growing season (sometimes as long as eight months), it’s recommended that you start your garden with seedlings or sets instead of seeds. Onion plants will only begin to produce bulbs if the days are long enough to expose them to plenty of sunlight. Therefore, timing is important when sowing your seeds. If the weather is too cold, they may abruptly go to seed. Do some research at your local nursery and get gardening!
SOWING TIME: Autumn or spring
LOCATION: Full sun
BEST FRIENDS: Lettuce, strawberries, beetroots
BAD COMPANIONS: Beans, peas
✢ pH 5.5–6.6
✢ Well-drained, fertile loam
✢ Seedlings or sets should be planted just below the surface of the soil and 10–15 cm apart.
NUTRITION AND CARE
✢ Add bonemeal before sowing.
✢ Weed often.
✢ Water more frequently when the weather is dry.
PESTS AND DISEASES
✢ Onion root fly
✢ The plant is ready for harvest after 4–6 months.
✢ When an onion has matured, the top of the neck will start to bend.
✢ Pull the onion out carefully by the neck.
✢ For storage, place onions in a cool, dry area and leave to cure (dry out) for about 2 weeks. The necks (stems and leaves) should be completely dry and the outer skins crisp.
✢ Once completely dry, store in a dark, cool, ventilated area. They can be tied into plaits or hung in nets.
✢ Shelf life is 2–3 months.
ALSO SEE HOW TO GROW BEETROOT