Growing Big Onions with Little Effort

Bill Devlin
Adams County Master Gardener

For many years I have tried to grow big onions with little success beyond a few dozen scallions. This year, I decided to try something new. Previous efforts usually ended with the onions 'going to seed', with pods of seeds blooming at the top of the onion stalks, and miniature onions. I felt that the pods were probably part of the problem. Weeds were another part. I hate weeding, so my onion patches were seldom pristine.

This year I used some weed barrier fabric, about a 6' x 6' square, placing it with weights after tilling the soil to a fine consistency and raking the weeds out. I bought two packages of onion sets, one red Bermuda and one white sweet onions. At 6" intervals, in both, directions I made 1" X's and poked one set into each hole, and watered regularly.

As I felt the presence of the seed pods was part of the reason for my previous less than stellar results, I very religiously clipped off the seed pods as they reared their ugly heads. I used 10-10-10 fertilizer generously every two weeks or so. I even pulled a few weeds now and then, not as many as I should, but some as they grew alongside the growing onions or in the few holes where the onion set failed. I kept after the seed pods, religiously.

I planted the last week of March as I was heading to my farm in South East Kansas on April 1. In June I would raid the onion patch now and then for scallions or to test their growth. I more or less forgot about them till August 6 when I noticed that most of the tops were dead, more so with the Bermuda's less so with the white sweet's.

I decided to pull away the curtain. Low and behold, success!!! The pictures show the result. You could not begin to pull the onions through the 1" X's, you had to peel back the entire weed barrier fabric. About 10% of the Red Bermuda's had begun to rot, only about 5% of the white sweet onions.

Lessons learned:

  1. 1Next year do it again, but cut the fabric in two or more parts so the earlier Bermuda's can be harvested separately from the white sweet onions, etc. Keep on the seed pod removal.
  2. Don't let them stay in the ground as long, when 25% or so of the stalks turn brown, pull the plug, i.e., get them harvested.
  3. If more varieties are grown, treat the several varieties independently as far as monitoring for harvest time.
  4. Weed barrier fabric is nearly the greatest thing since sliced bread, it heats the ground in early season and reduces weed competition, but doesn't eliminate it. Bi-weekly weeding is still advisable.

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