22) Sowing onions in a small furrow

In this tip:

  • Introduction
  • General information
  • A)# Sow on moist toilet paper, plant in flower pots filled with compost, plant in the garden soil
  • B)# Sow on moist toilet paper, plant in the garden soil
  • C)# Sow (many) dry seeds in the garden soil
  • D)# Sow in flower pots filled with compost, plant in the garden soil

Introduction:

You can grow onions in 2 ways;

  • Planting onion sets. Onion sets (small onions) grow into large ones in the garden soil. In tip 5 more about planting onion sets.
  • Sowing onions. You strew onion seeds in (garden) soil. After germination, small onion plants grow into big onions.

At the left side there is a net bag filled with onion sets and above it 3 onions grown from onion sets. At the right side you see a onion seed package and above it 3 onions grown from seeds. Onions sets and onion seeds result in onions of about the same size.

Onion sets of this species grow into flat shaped onions. The onions that grew from seed are more spherical. Store the harvested onions in a cool cellar or outdoors between 3 and 20 C (37 and 68 F). In early spring, many stored onions can start sprouting (the onions form a stem and there is less onion material left). Perhaps onions grown from onion sets sprout easier than at onions grown from seeds.

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General information

Onion seeds

I use this species of onion seeds. One sachet contains 4 gramms (hundreds of seeds) and costs about €1.40. Onion seeds look like leek seeds. Not surprising; leeks are a member of the onion family.

You better buy or order new onion seeds each spring and check if the seeds are “fresh”. For information on the seed sachet, see      tip  40)   . Onion seeds of “last year” germinate much worse than fresh (new bought) onion seeds.

When you have sachets with “old” onion seeds (or when you doubt if onion seeds will germinate well) you can put some seeds on moist toilet paper. The photo above shows 4 groups of onion seeds on moist paper. The seeds of group 2 and 3 germinated well forming many mini onion plants. At group 1 and 4, only few seeds germinated; these seeds are unusable.

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Sowing time:

On the seed sachet there is information about the best sowing time. You better sow as early as indicated on the sachet; it takes a long time before onion seeds have turned into big onions. Sowing earlier means bigger onions harvested.

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Soil

You can sow or plant in the garden soil. Onions grow well in soil that has been manured “last year”. They grow well from the nutrients that are left in the soil after the crop of last year. When the soil has not been manured “last year”, you can mix the garden soil with compost before sowing or planting.

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Furrow

It is good to sow or plant onions in a shallow furrow in the garden soil. This is above all good when you have a sandy soil. Reasons:

    • The soil in the furrow is lower so it does not dry out so fast. Less watering needed.
    • When watering in the furrow, the soil next to it stays dry. So less weed growth next to the row.
    • The furrow indicates the place where onions have been sown or planted. No sticks or other marks necessary.

You can use a “furrow board” to make the furrow in the garden soil. More info about these boards in   tip 2   (number 2).

You can also use a garden trowel or a plastic box or a piece of wooden board to make the furrow.

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Mulching (covering garden soil)

When onion plants are about 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 inch) high, you can put a layer of dry hay on the soil between the plants. Because of this, the onion plants grow better (the soil does not dry out so fast). And with hay on the soil, there is less attack by onion flies and miner flies. See photo below.

More info in   tip 4    and   tip 5  .

On the photo above there are 2 rows of sown onions next to each other. At the left side of the yellow line, dry grass has been put on the garden soil between the plants. Many sown onions grow there.

At the right side of the yellow line, no dry grass has been put on the soil. Many sown onion plants have died at the right side. After removal of the dead onion plants, new onion sets have been planted there.

So mulching dry hay or dry grass between onion plants works well. It’s a good idea.

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Difficult (my experience):

Growing onions from onion seeds is very difficult:

  • Sow onion seeds on moist garden soil and cover them with a thin layer of soil.
  • Less than 50 % of the seeds will germinate and turn into small onion plants.
  • Many small onion plants are eated (by slugs or snales or other animals).
  • You end up with “few” big onions, so a little onion harvest.

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What procedure will be better (short description of 4 procedures):

A)# Sow on moist toilet paper, put the mini plants in flower pots filled with compost, put them indoors before a window. Put the flower pots outdoors (in a tunnel greenhouse) by day and indoors by night. Plant the onion plants in the garden soil. Protect the small onion plants against snail-eating during the nights. Let the onions grow bigger in the garden soil.

B)# Sow on moist toilet paper, put the mini plants in the garden soil. Protect the small onion plants against snail-eating during the nights. Let them grow bigger in the garden soil.

C)# Sow many onion seeds in the garden soil. Thin out when needed. Protect the small onion plants against snail-eating during the nights. Let them grow bigger in the garden soil.

D)# Sow in flower pots filled with compost. Put pots indoors before a window when first little onion plants are visible. Later on, put the flower pots outdoors (in a tunnel greenhouse) by day and indoors by night. Thin out. Put the onion plants in the garden soil. Protect the small onion plants against snail-eating during the nights. Let them grow bigger in the garden soil.

Below, each procedure is described. You can choose what procedure is best for you.

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A)# Sow on moist toilet paper, plant in flower pots with compost, plant in the garden soil

A1) Growing mini onion plants

  • Fold a sheet of toilet paper in half and lay it on the bottom of a small margarine box. You can put a little grey plastic plate in the folded paper. This makes the germinating process better visible.
  • Pour or spray cold tap water on the toilet paper in the box. Drain the water out of the box until dripping.

  • Lay onion seeds on the moist toilet paper.

  • Put the original lid, or another well fitting lid on the box.
  • Put the whole at a warm spot in your house (20 – 25 C, 68 – 77 F), for example on a central heating unit or above a radiator.
  • Regularly lift the lid and check if there are onion seeds with a tiny white root. Put on the lid again.
  • Regularly lift the lid and check if the toilet paper is moist. Hold the box slanting. When you see a little water in the corner of the box, the wetness of the paper is okay. If not, spray some water on the paper. Put on the lid again.

  • Remove the lid when more than half of the seeds have a tiny root. (these onion seeds are not the same as on the photos above).

  • Put a transparent plastic box over the margarine box with germinating onion seeds.
  • Put the whole indoors at a light place at about 20 C (68 F). For example on a broad window-sill.
  • Push the transparent plastic box “completely down” so its edge touches the window-sill. So the toilet paper does not dry so fast.
  • Keep the toilet paper moist; when needed, lift the transparent box, pour or spray water on and put the transparent box over again.
  • Let the onion plants grow bigger on moist toilet paper.

Attention; When the toilet paper around the plastic plate looks light grey, the paper has dried too much. Then spray or pour water on the paper to “rescue” the onion plants. Thanks to the moist lower piece of toilet paper (folded under the grey plate), onion plants do not die immediately. The onion plants will grow on again, most of the time.

  • When plants are higher than the margarine box you can remove the transparent box, pick up the biggest mini onions and plant them.
  • After taking out, put the transparent box over the margarine box again. Let the mini onions grow bigger indoors.

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Remarks:

When you lay less onion seeds on moist toilet paper, for example 20 seeds in a 250 grams margarine box, almost all onion plants grow bigger simultaniously. You can get (for example) 15 big mini onion plants and 5 plants that need a few days to grow big. When you want to have many mini onion plants, fill many margarine boxes.

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A2) Picking mini onions and replant in flower pots

  • Big mini onion plants in a margarinx box. The seeds have been laid on moist toilet paper using 1.5 centimeters (0.5 inch) distance. This results in big mini onion plants.
  • Spray water on the toilet paper right before replanting. This eases picking up the mini onions. You can pick each mini onion plant between thumb and index finger.

  • A mini onion plant; a seed ball, a stem, a curved part and a root.

  • (Put an insert and strip in a flower pot).
  • Fill the flower pot with planting soil, level about 2/3 of the height. Planting soil is sieved compost/agricultural lime, ratio 10 to 1.
  • Hold the mini onion plant on top of the planting soil. (You can turn or shorten the root for a bettr fitting in the flower pot).
  • Put planting soil on the root and around the stem of the onion plant until the flower pot is full. You can use a tea spoon to do this.

  • Spray cold water on the soil and on the mini onion plant.
  • Put the flower pots with mini onions indoors before a window at a warm, light (sunny) spot.
  • Regularly water the plants and the soil. Don’t let the soil dry out.
  • Let the onion plants grow bigger indoors at a warm light place.

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A3) Onion plants in flower pots grow bigger

You can have the onion plants grow bigger (in flower pots) indoors before a window. Or outdoors under a transparent cover and/or a tunnel greenhouse. 

Indoors

  • These onion plants have grown indoors before a window. At the end of April (early spring) the plants are big enough to replant in the garden soil.

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Outdoors (in the sun)

  • Put the flower pots with mini onions (for outside) in a low tray.

  • At warm, sunny weather, put a transparent cover over the tray with pots. The air openings are open. Put the whole outdoors in the sunshine on the garden soil.

  • Or put the tray (with or without transparent cover) under a tunnel greenhouse by day.
  • During each night, have the tray with pots indoors at a cool place, against snail-eating.
  • Regularly water the plants and soil in the pots.
  • At cold weather, put the (tray with) flower pots indoors before a window.
  • Let the onion plants grow bigger. Under the transparent cover or (when too big) under a tunnel greenhouse.

  • Photo of early May (mid spring); these onion plants have grown outdoors under a transparent cover or tunnel greenhouse. The plants are big enough to replant in the garden soil.

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A4) Planting out in the garden soil

  • Loosen the garden soil.
  • Put a (nylon) string over the soil. It is useful to use a string with knots every 10 centimeters (4 inch).

  • Make a furrow in the garden soil. You can use a “furrow board” or a garden trowel or a plastic box or a piece of wooden board.

  • Every 10 centimeters (4 inch) put a flower pot with onion plant in the furrow in the garden soil.
  • Push on the garden soil around each flower pot.
  • Take each flower pot with onion plant out of the garden soil.
  • Now there are round planting holes in the garden soil.

Remark: you can also use an empty flower pot to make the planting holes.

  • Take the insert with onion plant out of the flower pot.
  • Pull the strip to release the root ball from the insert.
  • Take the onion plant from the insert (when needed, pull the strip out of the root ball).

  • Put each onion plant with root ball in a planting hole.
  • Press on the garden soil around the plant.
  • Continue until all onions have been planted or until the furrow is “full”.

  • Put dry hay on the soil in the furrow around and between onion plants. Hay reduces drying out of the soil and protects the onion plants from insect attack (onion flies and other other insects).
  • Spray water on the hay after putting the hay on the soil. Against blowing away by the wind. And to water the onion plants right after replanting.

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A5) Growth and harvest

I used this procedure at 2 rows of onions in my backyard garden.

During growth, many onion plants have disappeared. Most disappeared plants have been eaten by slugs or snails, I think. By day, many snails and slugs sleep in the hedge next to my garden. And by night these animals appear and start eating.

  • About 70 sown onion plants have been put in the soil (2 rows of 35 each). Early August (mid summer), onion plants are big enough to harvest.

  • The right side box contains the harvested sown onions of my backyard garden; 31 big onions (from 70 planted onion plants).
  • The left side box contains onions from sets, grown in my backyard garden.

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Conclusion: this procedure (sow on toilet paper, put mini plants in flower pots, grow bigger, plant out in garden soil, grow bigger) is rather good. The mini onion plants have grown into big onions, even a little bigger than onions from onion sets in the same garden soil. But many sown onion plants have died or eaten in the backyard garden. Perhaps a tunnel of fine mesh over the plants protects from snail-eating.

The onion plants that grew big indoors resulted in a better harves than the “outdoors grown onions”. Indoors onions 5 planted, 4 onions harvested. Outdoor onions 65 planted, 27 harvested.

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B)# Sow on moist toilet paper, plant in the garden soil

B1) Growing mini onion plants

Sow onion seeds on moist toilet paper, germinate and let the plants grow bigger. The same procedure as described at A1) Growing mini onion plants.

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B2) Picking mini onions

  • Spray water on the toilet paper right before replanting. This eases picking up the mini onions. You can pick each mini onion plant between thumb and index finger.

  • A mini onion plant; a seed ball, stem, curved part and root.

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B3) Planting out in a furrow in the garden soil

  • Loosen the garden soil.
  • Put a (nylon) string over the soil. It is useful to use a string with knots every 10 centimeters (4 inch).

  • Make a furrow in the garden soil. You can use a “furrow board” or a garden trowel or a plastic box or a piece of wooden board.

  • Every 10 centimeters (4 inch) or at each knot in the string, make a small groove across in the bottom of the furrow. You can use a tea spoon to do that.

  • Pick one mini onion (between thumb and index) from the moist toilet paper.
  • Put the mini onion in the small groove. Hereby you can bend or dislocate the root a little.
  • But you can also shorten the root and put the mini onion with shortened root in the small groove.

  • Use a tea spoon to shove garden earth on the root and against the stem of the mini onion.

  • Use the same procedure to plant more mini onions in the furrow, with 10 centimeters (4 inch) spacing.
  • Continue until the furrow is ” full”.
  • Or continue until there are no more big mini onions. Let the remaining mini onions grow bigger on the moist toilet paper under the transparent plastic box. The can be replanted later.

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Remark: You can plant 2 mini onions next to each other in the small groove. When 1 plant dies or is eaten up, you still have 1 onion plant left. When both plants stay alive, you can remove or cut the smallest plant. Or let them both grow bigger. Below some photos;

  • Put 2 mini onion plants next to each other in the same small groove. Distance between these 2 plants in a groove is about 1 to 3 centimeters (0.5 to 1.2 inch).

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Continue Planting out:

  • Spray water in the furrow after planting out;
    • Use a watering can with a “fine sprinkler head”.
    • Hold the sprinkler head a few inches above the soil during watering.
    • Wag the can during watering so the mini plants in the furrow stay upright during watering.

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B4) Growth and harvest

I used this method in my allotment garden. On the photos below, the onion plants are in the front row, next to the garden path. Each 10 centimeters (4 inch), 1 or 2 mini onions have been planted; about 65 mini onion plants in total. When plants were 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 inch) high, dry hay has been put on the soil around and between the onion plants.

This box contains the harvested onions in my allotment garden; 10 big, 19 small and 13 tiny onions (42 total) grown from 65 planted mini onion plants.

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Conclusion:  this procedure (sow on toilet paper, put mini plants in the garden soil, grow bigger) is moderate. There are few big onions and many small onions harvested.

About 23 planted onions have died or eaten in the allotment garden. Perhaps a tunnel of fine mesh over the plants during the nights protects from snail-eating.

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C)# Sow many seeds on the garden soil

You can sow dry onion seeds in the garden soil. That is the usual procedure. Most of the time not all seeds germinate, so not all onions crop up. Or tiny onion plants die. Most of the time you have to resow more onion seeds.

You better sow many dry seeds per sowing spot and thin out later (pull plants out or use scissors to cut the plants right above the soil).

  • Loosen the garden soil.
  • Put a (nylon) string over the soil. It is useful to use a string with knots every 10 centimeters (4 inch).

  • Make a furrow in the garden soil. You can use a “furrow board” or a garden trowel or a plastic box or a piece of wooden board.

  • Spray water on the bottom of the furrow. Hold the sprinkler head a few inches above the soil during spraying.

  • Sow every 10 centimeters (4 inch) a group (5 to 10) of onion seeds.

  • Sprinkle (strew) moist garden soil over the seeds.

  • Lay small plates (or wooden shelfs or fabric) over the furrow. The soil does not dry out or the seeds are not washed away during heavy showers.
  • Remove the cover when first onion plants are visble.

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  • You can put mini greenhouse tunnels over the little onion plants in the furrow. At the right side of the photo above you see such a mini tunnel.

To make this mini tunnel:

  • Saw a strip of 22 centimeters (9 inch) wide from a transparent corrugated plate.
  • Bend the strip untill there is about 13 centimeters (4 inch) opening below. Fix nylon cord around to keep the tunnel in its shape. Shove aside a nylon cord when there is a onion plant right under it.
  • Lay stones on the mini tunnel against blowing away.
  • Under the tunnel, onion plants grow faster due to higher temperature, soil does not dry out so fast and at heavy showers the soil and plants are not washed away.

After a few days or weeks, remove the mini greenhouse tunnel. Regularly loosen the soil between the onion plants and remove weeds. Let the plants grow bigger.

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  • When onion plants are about 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 inch) high, thin out until 2 plants per sowing spot; pull out plants and/or cut with scissors right above the soil. Spray water right after thinning out.
  • Lay dry hay around and between the plants.
  • Later on, you can thin out until 1 onion per sowing spot.

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Growth and harvest

On this photo there are sown onion plants in my allotment garden (at the left side of the yellow line). At the right side of the yellow line there are planted onion sets.

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D)# Sow in flower pots with compost, replant in garden soil

Hereby you sow 5 dry onion seeds in a flower pot filled with compost. Let germinate indoors and let the plant grow bigger. Thin out. More photos later.

       

  • Useful to use flower pots, inserts and strips.

  • Put insert and strip in a fflower pot.
  • Fill with sowing soil (sieved compost/agricultural lime, ratio 10 : 1).
  • Press on the soil in the pot (with the bottom of a pot) .

  • Spray cold water on the soil.

  • Put onion seeds in a cap.
  • Put 5 seeds on the soil, near the middle of the pot. You can use the moist point of a wooden cocktail stick to do that.

  • Strew sieved dry sand on the seeds.

  • Sow onion seeds in many flower pots filled with sowing soil.
  • Put the flower pots in a deep tray.
  • Put on a well fitting lid. Mind that there are air openings between lid and tray.
  • Put the whole indoors at about 20 to 25 C (68 to 77 F).
  • Check germinating regularly.

  • Remove the lid when first onion plants are visible.

 

  • Let the plants grow bigger indoors. Or put the plants outdoors by day and indoors by night (against snail-eating).

  • Thin out until there is 1 onion plant per flower pot.
  • Let the plants grow bigger.

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Next step is planting out as described at A4) Planting out in the garden soil

Take the plants with root ball out of the pots and replant them in a furrow in the garden soil.

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