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The Trouble with Tribbles, er, Onions — The Grow Network Community
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The Trouble with Tribbles, er, Onions

VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 373 ✭✭✭
edited October 2020 in Vegetables

My husband and I eat a lot of onions. They are practically a staple, being eaten fresh on sandwiches, subs, and burgers, and fried with meats and vegetables. So we use a lot of onions over the course of the year.

But despite repeated attempts to grow large onions, I have not had any success.

This is what this year's traditional bulbing onions look like, grown from transplants. They are usable, but much smaller than we would prefer.

This happens year after year, so it's not a one-year problem.

I see several possible causes of the small size.

1) Our back yard does not get full sun because it is shaded part of the day by trees.

2) Because I grow intensively in small beds, the onions have to be grown with 6 inches or less (usually less) of spacing.

3) Perhaps a key nutrient in the soil is in short supply.

Since tomatoes, squash, and garlic all do very well in the garden, I don't think the sunlight is the issue with the onions. I haven't tested the soil for trace elements.

My guess is the spacing is the big issue, but they only way to change that would be to plant them in my heavy clay soil outside of the fenced-in raised bed area. I have my doubts that onions will be able to handle heavy clay well, so it would probably need a lot of soil amendments to loosen it.

I would like to hear from anyone who has suggestions on growing larger bulbing onions.


  • maimovermaimover Posts: 307 ✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy last year the “set” onions had these things on top; boyfriend said rip them out they won’t do anything. I said let’s see what happens. They were seeds; scads of seeds that we started early in greenhouse this year. The one thing that I’ve heard about onions is they don’t like weeds. If you’ve kept them weeded than I don’t know; maybe a nutrient? Also we group/block planted this year and not in rows. Bf wasn’t too happy about the planting idea but now feels it was a good idea lol.

  • maimovermaimover Posts: 307 ✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy also many of the second planting are small like yours. None of them seeded again which is noteworthy and hopefully last year seed will grow again next spring.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 373 ✭✭✭

    This is what the commercial bulbing onions looked like growing in the bed:

    "Okay", but nothing spectacular. Their tops were definitely more prone to the somewhat brown, dried out look. The multiplier onions did not have that problem at all.

    My multiplier onions (potato onions and shallots) did very well except for their small size. The green tops were more lush and larger than the tops on the bulbing onions, though the actual bulbs were still pretty small. I will save most of these to plant next year, and give a few away to local gardening friends.

    Next year I will probably switch to growing only green onions, potato onions, and shallots, abandoning the commercial bulbing onions. If my onions are going to be small anyway, I should go with the ones that are more productive, easier to grow, and self-propagating.

    I just ordered some Syboe bunching onion starts and I'itoi onion starts. These are an experiment to see what happens. :-)

    Potato onions and shallots certainly multiply well here!

  • KarinKarin New ZealandPosts: 272 ✭✭✭

    I don't know anything about onions in particular, but I do wonder if they are too close together to really grow big. Maybe onions don't like to be too close to each other. Have you tried growing less and spacing more?

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 373 ✭✭✭

    There's no point to growing less. If we can't grow large quantities of something as fundamental to our diet as an onion, I'd rather not bother. We'll have to buy them anyway. Better to use the space for something else.

    But I wouldn't be surprised if that tight spacing is the root of the problem. And if it's true, then small-space gardeners should give up on growing commercial bulbing onions.

    Next year I will have large numbers of potato onions, shallots, and Syboe green onions. (The I'itoi may or may not do well, and even if they do, it will take a few years to multiply the few I have into a decent crop.) That will give me a good supply, and if commercial ones are available at the store or a local farmstand, to supplement, things will be great.

    No more commercial bulbing onions for me (unless I get a much bigger garden someday!)

    Sometimes we just have to accept that not everyone should grow everything, everywhere. Grow the stuff that is very productive in your situation, and that you like to eat.

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