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How to grow organic Salad onions
by Frann Leach
Add a bit of bite to your salads
Salad onions (Green onions, Spring onions)
Family: Liliaceae (Group 6)
Organic salad onions are easy to grow. Although they are not popular with everyone, there's an amazing selection of types, from chives, garlic chives and spring onions, through Japanese bunching onions and Welsh onions to everlasting onions and tree onions. There is even a type called the potato onion (apparently so called because the bulb forms underground), but I have not been able to find either a supplier or very much information on this variety.
|Spring onions||Allium cepa|
|Garlic chives||Allium tuberosum|
|Japanese bunching onion||Allium fistulosum|
|Welsh onion or Ciboule|
|Egyptian or Tree onion||Allium cepa Proliferum group|
|Everlasting onion||Allium perutile|
All but Allium cepa, the Spring onion, are perennial or treated as such.
Onions grow best on a well-drained, open, sunny site which has been well manured the previous autumn. If the soil is acid, add lime when digging over in the spring. Mix in a handful of blood, fish and bone (wear gloves) per square metre/yard.
Spring onions are grown from seed sown successionally from February to June every 2-3 weeks. Hardy varieties can also be sown from August (July in the North) to early September to overwinter for use in Spring. The highest yields are obtained by sowing in rows 10cm (4") apart, aiming for 300 plants per square metre/30 plants per square foot.
|On a day when the soil is not too wet, dig it over with a fork and take out all the weeds, grass and any stones you come across. Break up the lumps of soil and try and get what gardeners call a good tilth, which is when it's broken up into crumbs of roughly even size. If the soil is poor, sprinkle on a handful of blood, fish and bone (wear gloves) per square yard/metre and mix it evenly into the soil. Rake the soil flat, then put the straight edge across the bed from one long side to the other near one end of the bed and draw out a seed drill about 12-15mm (½-¾") deep. Unless the soil is already wet, fill the drill with water and let it drain away before sowing. If you prefer, you can sow them in a biggish pot: make the drill a couple of inches from the edge of the pot, in a circle.
Sow the seed quite thinly. The thinner you sow the seed, the less competition between the onions as they grow. Spring onions are not usually thinned unless they are very overcrowded, so the number of seeds you sow should be fairly close to the number of onions that come up. Just sow the one row (unless you are a very big fan of spring onions). Cover it over and firm the soil. You could sow a row of radishes next to it, about 10cm (4") away, if you like them, as another addition to the salad bowl. Two or three weeks after the first sowing, sow another row of onions (and maybe another row of radishes), and do the same throughout the season up till about mid-June.
Keep the weeds down by checking over the area every few days and pulling up or nipping off any weeds you see at ground level. You can get better results by watering once a week with seaweed fertiliser. If you think the onions are competing too much, dig them up, divide them up and replant a couple of centimeters apart. Harvest as soon as they are big enough.
Chives and Garlic chives may be sown in seed trays indoors in Spring and planted out in groups of three or four seedlings about 23cm (9") apart. Once established, clumps can be divided every few years in Spring or Autumn. Cut back to ground level several times a year to encourage vigorous growth (you can snip them up and freeze them for use in cooking in the winter months). See separate entries for chives and garlic chives in herb section.
Japanese bunching onions are perennial, but are usually grown as annuals or biennials. Either sow indoors in January for transplanting, or direct outdoors in Spring and early Summer, thinning to 8cm x 30cm (3"x12"). Use thinnings as spring onions. Japanese onions can be used at any stage, from spring onion size to the thick stem stage, but are mainly grown for use in the Autumn and Winter months.
Welsh onions are sown in Spring or in August, thinning to 20cm x 23cm (8"x9"), and will reach a usable stage within 6 months. Established clumps should be lifted every 2-3 years in Spring or Autumn, divided up and replanted. To use, either cut single leaves or lift single plants or a whole clump. They are especially useful in winter for seasoning or salads. See separate entry for Welsh onions in herb section.
Egyptian onions are raised from single bulbs or clusters planted 27cm (10") apart in Spring or Autumn. Clusters of small aerial bulbs are produced, which can be picked whenever required, even in mid-Winter. Yields are very low.