Tips for growing onions


Shallots, a member of the Allium (onion) family, have an interesting, delicate flavor that has long be prized by gourmands and chefs from Here, to Oxnard, and back.  In our temperate coastal zone, shallots, along with other members of their family, are planted in the cooler months, typically late-September through Mid- March.  Shallots can adapt and grow in a range of soil conditions, yet they will produce most abundantly if grown in a well-fertilized, well-drained and moist soil. A waterlogged soil will make the bulbs rot or contribute to poor growth.  Infertile soil will lead to small bulb production.   Plant the individual bulblets with the root side down and the tops about 1” below the surface of the soil.  Plant 6-10” apart.  The more garden space that is given to each plant, the larger each resulting shallot cluster will be.  Planting too deep grows elongated bulbs that do not store well.  To grow really big bulbs, side dress the growing plants with an animal manure, a rich compost or other organic fertilizer, such as our landscape mix.

When the plants have reached their mature height of 16-20” tall, they will begin to redirect their energy into bulb formation.  At this time, peel back the soil so that the tops of the forming bulbs are exposed and stop watering your shallots, as they will mature best in a dry soil that hardens them off and contributes to the formation of tough, protective skins.  The time to harvest is when most of the tops have browned off and fallen over.  Loosen the surrounding soil with a digging fork, or very carefully with a shovel, and then gently lift the new bulbs from the soil. The skins will have not have completely developed, so it is important to be careful and avoid bruising them.   The bulbs, with their tops still attached, should be dried out in an open, well-ventilated space, for 2-3 weeks, or until the tops have completely dried.  Then you can cut the tops off with a pair of sharp shears one inch above the bulb and store for kitchen use.

If you are planning on saving any of your homegrown shallots for planting next fall, they should be spread out of a wire rack in a cool place until you are ready to plant them in the fall.  After growing and saving your own shallots for several years, you will have developed a unique strain that has adapted to your specific garden and growing style and will be developing large and more prolific shallot plants with each passing year.

Dutch Yellow- Round bulbs, with durable copper-red skins and creamy yellow flesh.  Uniform in size, this shallot is an excellent keeper. It is tender and spicy, with a pungent raw flavor that mellows and sweetens, but still retains its character when cooked.  High yielding.

Holland Red- Like the proverbial Dutchman, they’re round and fat, short and flat.  A coppery red outer skin peels easily to reveal a reddish-purple flesh.  Excellent flavor, great in sauces.  This variety can produce tenfold.


Onion sets offer the home gardener the easiest and quickest way to grow onions on their own. When planting onions from sets you can expect to grow large scallions, up to one inch in diameter, that can be harvested as soon as 60 days after planting.  These scallions will have a solid, fleshy shank, 6-8” long, and an additional 12-15” of usable greens.  This makes for an excellent salad onion, as well as one that holds up great when cooked on the grill.

Sets should be planted in a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter and/or compost.  Typically, I plant the bulblets 1” deep into the soil, and then lightly cover with 1-2” of mulch to keep the soil evenly moist while the onions are growing. After planting, keep the soil around your onions well weeded, and watered.  Onions do not like competition from weeds and will greatly benefit from a well-cultivated bed.  By continuously planting new sets throughout the season, you can lock in an extended harvest period. When planting onion sets, you should choose a sunny location in which to grow them.

Red Wethersfield- Grows a slightly bulbed shank with very thin, reddish-purple colored skin.  The white flesh is very firm and tinged with pink to purple highlights.  A fine strong flavor, from a vigorous grower.

White Ebenezer- This is a medium sized onion that has thin, translucent white skins that are hardly noticeable, so there is less waste when preparing the scallions in the kitchen.  The fine-grained flesh  makes this a variety popular for gourmet cooking.  An excellent keeper.

Yellow Rock- These are mild, sweet-flavored onions with a bronze-yellow skin, and white flesh.  A fast growing, hardy variety.

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