February 20, 2012

Grow a Grocery Store Red Onion

Today, I found a red onion I bought weeks as part of a bag of several onions that was cheaper than buying a few in bulk.  I've allowed this onion to languish unused and it has been busily growing shoots, making it perfect for planting.

To grow an onion, it's important to know that they're biannual.  In the first year the bulb grows into a plant that produces seeds.  In the second year, the  seeds grow into delicious onion bulb.

People who plant onion bulbs expecting to dig up new onions at the end of one season will pull up a rotten looking mess of plant matter. The growing onion plant feeds on the bulb from the inside out.

The onions we get in the grocery store are the product of year 2, but planting them starts the cycle over again.  So, don't worry if people have said that you can't plant onions because they rot.  They don't and you can.

Here's how:

Step 1:  Let your onion from the grocery store sit in a dark cupboard for of a couple of weeks until it starts producing little stringy roots or green shoots out the top.  You can do this purposely or accidentally, like I did.

Step 2:  Plant the onion so that the bulb is covered by soil, but still near the surface.  Water lightly and infrequently.  Onions like full sun, cool temps and good drainage.  A 3-season porch that doesn't freeze or garage window are great, but if you just want to tuck it in a window that's fine too.

Step 3:  Grow the onion in a sunny area for the remainder of the season and watch as the tops continue to grow.   The greens are yummy, but if you cut them all, you won't get seeds, and growing regular green onions is so easy it's not worth it to sacrifice your big onion plant.

Step 4:  In a few months, seedpods will appear at the top of the stalks and will soon grow so heavy that the green shoots will fall over.  When they do, cut the seedpods off, and dry them either by setting them out on a dry warm shelf or just tossing them in a paper bag.

Step 5:  Open the pods and take out the seeds.  Plant them in the early spring (right around last frost) about an inch deep and a foot apart or in their own pots.  In late summer or early fall (depending on how late you planted them), the green stalks will start to bend down--that's your cue to gently dig up and enjoy your fresh onions.

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