Growing Onions from Seed

After getting my peas in the ground, I decided to go ahead and plant some onions.

Onions can be planted “as soon as soil is workable” according to Ed Hume Seeds. This makes them one of the first things to go in the garden. Onions can be planted directly in the garden or can be transplanted from a grow light. Many people use onion sets to grow onions, but I have had success by just using seeds.

Ed Hume Walla Walla Onion Instructions

One nice thing about onions, is that you can be pretty cost-effective by planting your own onions versus buying them from the store. One $2 packet of seeds can result in over 100 nice onions. I like to use seeds instead of sets since they are a bit cheaper. Sets are easier to plant and more dependable, although I haven’t had much trouble with seeds so far. Buying seeds can also allow you to get more variety. Onions come in many flavors and sizes, so seeds are a cheap way to experiment. I had very good success with Walla Walla last year. I’m replanting those as well as some other varieties this year.

Onion Seed Packets

Onion seeds were the first thing I planted in my grow light in early February, along with some lettuce and basil. You can plant seeds in the garden in February, but it was still cold and my garden wasn’t ready, so I didn’t plant in the garden until early March.

If you’re using a grow light, plant onions in a tray with 1″ to 3″ of dirt. I just make little rows with my finger and then drop a seed every half inch or so. The seeds only need to be 1/4″ deep. Seeds will sprout in 10 to 20 days. Onions won’t begin to produce bulbs until there is about 14 hours of sunlight, or 12 hours of sunlight for short-day varieties. The little seedlings will have a few delicate roots. Once they are about 6 weeks old, or about 5-7″ high, take the tray to your garden. Carefully take each onion seedling out of the tray and transfer it to your garden soil. You might need to separate the seedling roots from each other depending on how close you planted them. You can also cut an inch or two off the top of the onion seedling when you transfer it since the seedlings are a bit top heavy.

You can see my onions left of center under the grow light in the picture below. I tried experimenting with a peat tray last year, but this year I’m using metal and plastic flats which are easier to work with and easier to extract the onion seedlings out of.

Grow Light - Side View - Full of Plants

You can plant onions in “patches” rather than rows if you want to preserve space. Big onions typically need 5″ to 6″ of space, while smaller onions require less. To make a patch, just make a grid with the onions separated by ~6″ in each direction. Basically this is the same as making rows that are 6″ apart. You can pack quite a few onions in a small space. For example, in a 5′ by 5′ area, you could place 121 onions (11 x 11) if you separate them by 6″, and 169 (13 x 13) if you reduce that to 5″.

If you don’t want to use a grow light, or if you’re like me and you want to get onions at different times and diversify your planting method, then you can also plant seeds directly in your garden. To do this, I make a small indentation in the dirt to form a row. I put down the measuring tape and drop a seed about every 4″. This way if some don’t grow I won’t be wasting much space. Then I cover up the row. If they’re too close, I can either pick them a little early or thin them out. This year I marked my rows, which are 6″ apart, using sticks on either side. Soon I’ll add my grow light seedlings where my rows stop. I’ll have a decent size patch when everything’s planted.

Planting Onion Seeds in the Garden

Last year I only planted a few onions, but they worked very well and lasted a couple of months for our family.

Onions and Peas Growing in the Garden

As the onion bulbs expand, gently pull away the dirt from them so that the bulbs just sit on top of the ground. This will prevent rot.

You’ll know it’s time to harvest once the tops start falling over and turning brown. You can cure the onions to preserve them by placing them in a warm, dry area with plenty of air circulation but out of the sun. You can put them on some kind of wire mesh or newspaper — something that will keep the moisture from building up. It takes around three weeks for onions to cure. Once they’re done, cut the tops to about 2″ from the bulb and store them in a cool, dry area with air circulation. Some bulbs will store better than others. If you don’t cure the onions they will likely start growing again, even if they’re just sitting in the garage.


Growing Peas

I finally had the time and weather decent enough to get in the garden on Saturday. I spent a few hours mulching last year’s leaves, stems, etc., then I tilled and raked until I had a nice, smooth surface.

Harvested Peas

Since I had enough time, I decided to go ahead and plant peas. In Southwest Idaho, we are about eight weeks from the average last frost, which is a good time for peas to go in the ground. According to the instructions on my Burgess seed packet, peas should be sown “as early as possible in the spring.” This jives with other information I’ve read indicating that peas should be planted about 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Peas like full sun, but it’s important to plant them early enough that they get a start on the summer. Some pea varieties can be planted in partial shade. Peas don’t need fertilizer as they produce their own nitrogen.

Peas are fun because they are one of the first things to go in the ground. Certainly they beat all the post-frost plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc.

Peas need something to climb on. I use a couple fence posts connected by some chicken wire. I place some bamboo sticks at intervals in the chicken wire to keep it steady and to allow the peas to keep climbing. I’ll probably add additional bamboo and twine later on depending how tall they get.

Pea Trellis in Garden

On the left side of this picture from last year you can see the peas clinging to the trellis.

Onions and Peas Growing in the Garden

This year I’m planting sugar snap peas and Oregon Sugar peas. This way we can eat some whole and include some in stir fry. I’m the only one in my family that likes plain peas, so I decided not to go through the trouble of planting traditional peas this year (which I’d have to shell then eat myself).

Before putting up the trellis, I started soaking my peas in water. I left them in for about 20-30 minutes. This ensures that the peas know it’s time to grow. My understanding is that if any float to the top, it means they aren’t good for planting.

Peas Soaking Before Planting

Peas can be planted in double rows, meaning two rows about 3″ apart. I plant a row on each side of my trellis. If you want more than one double row, then you’ll need about 2 1/2′ between the double rows. Plant peas 1-2″ deep. I use a stick or my finger to punch a little hole in the soil. Then I stick the pea inside the hole and pack it in. This year my 5 year-old daughter helped me by putting the peas in the holes after I punched each hole.

Pea Trellis with Measuring Tape and Paisley

Separate the peas 1.5″ to 3″. I’ve seen some people say to separate them as much as 6″, but I’m not sure that’s necessary. It may depend on the type of peas you’re growing. I lay down a measuring tape to help me judge where to put each seed (you can see the tape in the picture above).

Now we just water and wait. Last year a flock of sparrows actually ate the leaves off my new pea sprouts (this made me furious). I suppose this is because peas are one of the first things to sprout in the spring, so the hungry birds probably couldn’t resist. The sprouts recovered, but it was certainly a setback. This year I plan on putting up a little netting until they are big enough to handle a few birds.

Here is a picture of some of the peas I harvested last year.

Harvested Peas from 2012