Welcome to my first ever onion post. I hummed and ahed a bit about growing onions on my allotment. They are fairly cheap to buy, even organically, in supermarkets and home grown doesn’t taste better than what you can buy so was there much point in growing your own? I think that depends for many people on how much land you have an how much you like onions. In the end it was the allotment show which has a largest onion category which decided it for me so I took the plunge. Now is the time to start sowing onions for large or early onions and my first are already sown for next year.
Although covid cancelled the show, my onion of choice was the Bedfordshire champion….after all with a name like that how could I fail. The Bedfordshire champion has been around since 1869, when it was first sold by Sutton’s . It has a golden brown skin with a white centre and is reliable in the UK and has remained popular which is why it is still grown 200 years later.
In the kitchen
Bedfordshire champion has a fairly mild flavour although I would still choose to cook it rather than eat raw. However you could try a light fridge pickle where you slice thinly and cover with a brine made from 1 tsp salt, 1 tbs sugar and 100ml (or half a cup/6 tbs) of cider vinegar. Refrigerate for a couple of hours and they are ready to serve.
If you prefer your onions cooked, you could try roasting or on the BBQ with Halloumi or Paneer or in snacks like Bhajias . As with all onions you can use in Curry, baked beans, stews or if you want to make a bit more of a feature of them how about Nachos or Quesadillas with refried beans or my personal favourite Mujaddara a rice and lentil dish topped with crispy fried onions.
Yield and plant health
It turns out that if I wanted to grow giant onions, Bedfordshireo Champion was the wrong one to choose. Instead I got a mix of small to large onions. Unfortunately it is not immune to white rot so if that is a problem on your plot then you may have to grow in raised beds or pots. Bedfordshire champion stores well and can last well in to the spring if stored in a cool dark place.
Widely available but you can also buy from the below
Your first choose when growing onions is to choose between sets and seeds. Sets are baby onions. The advantage is that they are quicker to form onions than seeds but they are more prone to bolting, more expensive and can carry the dreaded white rot on to your land. Seeds are cheaper, will not carry the spores of onion rot and are less likely to bolt, but will take longer to mature.
Onions like a free draining soil. For sets you can get away with only a compost mulch for fertiliser, seeds require a much finer soil and a general purpose fertiliser such as blood fish and bone.
If sowing seeds they can be sown in January under cover or late February to March outside. If sowing outside rake soil to a very fine tilth, sow very thinly, 1 cm deep in rows 25 cm apart. Water gently to prevent shifting of the very small seeds and then water lightly until germination if weather is dry. Thin to one every 3cm when seedlings first appear and then to 10cm apart. Indoor sown onions should be planted out 10cm apart after hardening off in April. Make sure that roots face downwards when you plant to avoid stressing the plant and causing bolting.
Sets should be planted out in mid March to early April, 10cm apart in rows 25 cm apart. The tip of the set should just be showing. Water well.
After plants are established they require hand weeding to prevent root damage and to stop weeds overwhelming the fine foliage. A good mulch will help keep weeds down. Birds may be tempted to pull up your sets, in which case push them back in and they should be OK. You can net but for the average gardener this is just a nucience.
Onions can suffer from white rot where a fluffy fungus invades the base of the onion. If you see onions turning yellow prematurely it is worth pulling them up to investigate. If you find rot burn the plants and do not grow onions there for at least 8 years. The spores can be spread on boots and equipment so good hygiene is needed if dealing with an affected bed.
Other than that you may find onion fly that tunnels in to the base of the bulb, again lift and burn. Growing from sets may reduce the risk if you have it on your plot.
If you see the neck of your onion thickening then it may be about to bolt or develop bull neck. These will not store well. Gently bending the necks over once bulbs are swelling may help stop this. Harvest when the foliage naturally starts to wilt in about August to September and a few dry days are forecast. I dried mine by cutting the ends off and having upside down on the allotment bench for a few days. I then brought them inside to plait and kept in the garage or a cold shed.