Onion Plants and Sets

With garden planting season here, I thought I’d pen a few thoughts on the difference between onion plants and sets.

Onion plants are grown in the southern states during the winter months and shipped fresh around the United States. Starting with plants will give you more choice of sweet onion selection, produce larger onions and mature earlier than onion sets.

Onion Plant Planting Information: If you want early green onions for table use, plant 1″ deep. For larger storage onions, planting very shallow will allow the bulbs to grow faster and bigger with the bulb on top of the soil. Harvest the same as onion sets (see below).

Onion sets are very small onion bulbs that are grown from seed the previous year and stored over the winter. Simply push the bulbs into well worked soil and they will start growing again.

Most garden supply outlets have white, yellow and red onion sets in bulk or pre-packaged ready for purchase. If you would like to grow your own sets, here’s how. Starting with onion seeds that you have purchased or saved, sow the seeds in mid-June or four months before frost. Scatter the seeds evenly in fertile, fine soil and rake 1/4″ to 1/2″ of soil over the seeds. When the plants are 1/2 inch tall, drag an ordinary garden rake across the bed to thin the plants. Around frost time, pull the onion sets up and spread them out to dry for a week. When dry, place them in small mesh bags and store in a cool, dry place.

Onion Set Planting Information: After securing your sets, separate the sets into two (large and small) size groups. Use the larger sets for green table onions and the smaller sets for dry cooking onions.

  • Green Table Onions: These sets are the larger, size of a nickel and larger, mentioned above. Plant 1/2 ” apart, 2 to 3 ” deep with the roots down. Planting this deep produces more white, edible stems. You should be able to harvest these delicious green table onions in 4 to 5 weeks. Keep planting weekly through the summer for a continuous supply. Harvesting: Pull the onions when the tops are about 12 inches high. Use the green tops in soups, salads, etc. If you allow the plants to become too large, they will become more pungent and can be used in cooking.
  • Dry Cooking Onions: These sets are the smaller of the two sizes you sorted the bulbs into. Barely cover the top of the sets with soil. Plant the sets 2 to 3 inches apart with the rows about 12 inches apart. Harvesting: When the tops of the plants begin to fall over (around July to August), the onions are ready to be harvested. Once the tops have dried and fallen, pull the onions and lay out to dry for up to 3 weeks before storing. Storage: Only the dry cooking onions can be stored. Once they are completely dried, tie off or braid the tops and hang in a cool, dry place. If you choose to cut off the tops, allow up to 1-1/2″ of stems to remain attached to the bulb. Place the bulbs in mesh bags and hang the bags in a cool, dry place.

Keep your fork

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