If you were following my blog, you probably remember that I have already written about harvesting and storing onions. In this text, I have also said that you can leave onions in the ground for the winter, and have fresh batch early in the spring.
Showing you how to plant onions in fall is a bit different approach to this matter. Rather than leaving bulbs in the ground, I have sown them in autumn, and here are the results.
“My preparation is about precision. It is a science.”, Connor McGregor once said. The world-class athlete said almost everything you need to know about the manner of preparation for the upcoming winter. Once the soil freezes there is no room for correcting mistakes.
The first thing which must be considered is the temperature during winter. You know your region, and you see how low the bar will fall. Planning and knowing how long the bulbs need to form, I can say that at least 5 to 6 weeks before freezing temperatures is the optimal time for sowing.
In case that you need to prepare the soil, add a few more weeks to the count. This way, I have decided to begin with all preparations in last week of August.
Preparing The Soil
No matter the time when the onions are sown, proper preparation of the land is vital. In case that you don’t know the quality of the soil in the garden, you can always take one of those field test kits and see if something is needed.
Onions require good feeding opportunities, and therefore proper onion fertilizer is needed. Nitrogen is necessary for the healthy start of the bulb, and because of that, I tend to plant my winter onions on the place where peas or beans once were. Their roots tend to bind this element to the ground and make the soil overall richer with useful bacteria. Plus, when I’m pulling out the remains of the plants, the earth also gets aerated.
Speaking of aeration, if you have an ordinary piece of soil where was nothing before, there is some tilling which needs to be done. My custom is to cover the ground with a few inches of manure and cultivate it thoroughly for a few weeks, turning it once in every few days. If you have a lawn, grass cuts are fantastic for this purpose.
By influencing the soil in this way, I have provided enough organic matter for plants to feed, and I have also improved drainage. Keep in mind that extra water in the soil is already bad news for onions, since they love drainage, and the things are even worse if you know that the ground freezes during winter. Of course, in case that drainage is your garden is not so good, try throwing a few shovels of sand, and work it in. It will help significantly to release extra water.
Choosing The Seed, Or The Pod?
As you know, onions can be sown in two forms, and each is suitable for the specific situation. Usually, it is not essential which option you choose, but this time, one has the advantage over other.
Seeds are bought in bags and are tiny and black. They can be taken into consideration for indoor growing, or for sowing in spring; it is my advice to recommend you not to choose this form because the process of germination pushes the deadline further.
By the time bulbs are starting to form, the frost will already be in full swing.
Pods, on the other hand, are small onion bulbs. They are a far better option for fall sowing because they have already passed their germination process, and once winter comes, they will already build enough strength to endure it without damage.
As for the variety, there are those suitable for winter growing, so if you can, see to buy Bandit Leeks, Red Baron or Evergreen Hardy White. In general, almost every variety which has Hardy in its name is specially designed to endure winter, thus the name.
Sowing The Pods Properly
For sowing procedure, you will need a bit of good will and beautiful weather. August and September are amazing months for sowing since the abundance of warm days which will help the plants a lot. Just to be sure, I was keeping a close look at the weather forecast, just not to let summer downpours to surprise me. A few dry and warm days was all that was needed.
After such proper preparation, the soil was beautiful to work with. I have made lanes as much as space allowed me in length. The depth was about two inches deep so that I can put back some of the soil and sow pods there.
All that remained was to put pods (sharper ends upwards) and cover with more soil and water lightly. As always, I recommend tapping the ground gently on top, to help water remain close to the bulb. As for spacing, range from 4 to 6 inches is ideal; these bulbs will grow more prominent than usual and need sufficient space.
Isolating For The Winter
After sowing, I looked into preparing my beautiful lines for the upcoming snows. Now, this is also something which depends on the weather in your region. Where the winters are extremely harsh, I can recommend mulching and a lot of it (at least an inch, with adding more later) paired with plastic row covers. These are almost essential since they can raise the temperature for staggering 20 degrees. Although it seems insignificant, it will make a difference once the temperature falls in December.
Of course, I had set row covers when it was too cold for mulching. Before that, I have spread some fertilizer (just to keep the onions going) and added more mulch. As for this, I have noticed that straw is the best material for winter mulching by far. It offers a fantastic isolation, so if you can find it, feel free to use it to its fullest.
As for watering, I have done it for a few weeks after sowing; generally, in October there is already no need for water because the plants are slowly going dormant.
Once The Snow Falls
“The winter has come,” Jon Snow would say. Once the first snow falls, and the frosts start tightening the grip on the land there are just a few things which need to be done.
I have walked between the rows with covers and just checked that everything is in order. Some people are making a mistake by cleaning the snow from covers. Do not do this. Winds of winter are sharp and are reducing the temperature very fast, so the snow comes as a natural isolator. Something like an igloo of the Inuits. In fact, I have taken the things a bit further; adding more snow is excellent advice, and also enjoyable hobby since there was not anything else to do.
Of course, if there are a few weeds here and there, pluck them; some kinds are highly resistant to frost, and also because of that they will suck out more of the nutrients. Also, weeds are a great opportunity for different kinds of pests to lay eggs. Cutting those out will significantly reduce the number of such in spring.
The Spring Is Here!
Once the snow begins to melt, the time for harvesting draws near. Of course, there is still need for row covers, so don’t remove them at first sight of Sun. Wait for the temperature to rise during nights. February and March are known for sudden “surprise frosts”; unannounced, those can obliterate the whole harvest, and leave you empty-handed.
Once the temperature settles, I recommend for another round of fertilizing, just for the bulbs to develop a bit more. 10:10:10 fertilizer will do just fine for this cause. Also, as with all other types of garlic and onions, there is no strict date which can be set for harvesting to begin. You would rather keep a close look at leaves. Once they turn brown and start wither and become crunchy, the collection is just around the corner.
Harvesting Fall Onions
The procedure is the same for these onions as for those sown in spring. First, remove withered leaves from the bulb, and leave them in the ground for a few days more. Next, by using a trowel, remove the bulbs carefully and leave them there for a few days to dry out.
However, I couldn’t restrain myself and wanted to try them as soon as possible. So, right after removing the bulbs from the ground, I have peeled a few of them and made a salad with fresh radishes. The difference in taste was apparent. Fall (or winter, if you’d like) onions are sweeter and have a fuller flavor. These are far better for salads or those meals which don’t need that strong “kick” which can be sensed in summer onions.
In any case, those who remained after my salad spree were thoroughly dried out, packed in wooden crates and taken into the cellar. Since the weather was getting warmer and warmer, I had to opt for the basement; the temperature there was significantly lower, which reduced the chances for onions to spoil.
In The End (Not A Song From “Linkin Park”)
So, this is my guide. I’m hoping that you have learned something new and exciting. How to plant onions in fall is an excellent activity, and I can freely say an adventure for me. I have enjoyed every bit of it from the preparation of the soil to the harvest. It also showed me that some plants need time to be the best they can.
As always, feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or an idea in the comment section below; any feedback is more than welcome.