Onion Sets 101
As notorious as they are for producing tears in the kitchen, it’s hard for us to image our dinner table without the help of the humble onion. You don’t have to be a professional chef to know just how useful these aromatic vegetables are when you’re cooking. They tend to sneak into almost all of our favorite savory dishes – from gourmet caramelized toppings to decadent and deep-fried delights. Just the smell of onions frying is enough to get our mouths watering and our stomachs hungry in anticipation.
The trick that most people stumble on with onions is that they simply don’t grow or behave like most of our other vegetables. Onions are actually bi-annual plants, so a single onion takes two years of their sweet time to grow to maturity. Some people are ambitious enough that they want to tackle a multi-year project just to get some onions, but don’t worry – there’s an easier way to grow your own at home without a multiple year commitment.
An onion set / transplant is your ticket to getting homegrown onions without all the worry and time. They are basically immature onions that are ready to be planted into your garden for their last bit of growing and maturing before they hit the dinner table. Onion sets/ transplants are a godsend that let us plant and harvest in the same year. They also are a safer bet to plant in your garden, as you don’t have to gamble on if they’ll “bolt” (go to seed) early, ruining your bulbs. Set and transplants are halfway to the onion you want, so you have a lower likelihood of them producing flower stalks instead of tasty vegetables.
While we may think all onions are created equal (since they’re equally capable of inducing tears), they’re not quite. Just like the many varieties of apples you can find on supermarket shelves, there are many varieties of onions, too. Here are our top picks:
1015 Texas Super Sweet is Texas’ most famous onion! It also boasts the title of being one of the sweetest, too. Their sweetness makes them perfect for enjoying fresh in salads or on sandwiches!
Texas Legend may not be as legendary as the Super Sweet, but its mild and sweet flavor makes it a great choice who likes a nip of onion, but not the fill bite. The flavor may be as punchy, but the health properties certainly are. This onion boasts 25 active compounds to boost your immune system! (POW! Take that, disease!)
Southern Belle Red are radiant, ruby red and superbly sweet, making them an amazing accessory – I mean, garnish for every meal. They’re also more disease and bolt resistant to make your life easier!
Yellow Granex is homegrown right from here in Texas! Sweet, delicious, and round, you won’t be able to resist the curves of this bulb as you impatiently wait to take part in their fantastic flavor (but it’s definitely worth the wait).
For people like us that like the convenience of sets and transplants – we have nothing but good things to say about skipping the long and arduous growing process from scratch – it’s easy to plant them. Simply choose the variety that you want to be eating later, and get ready to get them in the ground.
Enrich your soil with high quality compost like Nature’s Way Leaf Mold Compost and add fertilizer before you start, so your onions have lots of fuel to grow. To get fat and delicious, they’ll crave lots of nutrients, like nitrogen. We recommend MicroLife 6-2-4.
Choose a spot for your onions that gets plenty of sun exposure, and work the soil as you add compost or fertilizer to loosen it up. Remember: compact soil will also compact the size of your onions.
For those with an ambition for the perfect homegrown onion, aim to have a slightly acidic soil with a pH below 6.5. But this isn’t crucial to getting tasty onions, so you don’t need to fuss over it.
If planting sets, bury the onions so that their pointy tip peeks out of the soil, instead of burying all the way. To save your onions from curious and hungry birds, you might want to cover them with netting or horticultural fleece to protect them for the first few weeks. After they’ve been planted, simply water and check on them every few days and manage weeds as they grow.
If planting transplants, poke the root end of the transplant about an inch into the soil and pinch soil around the transplant.
Green onions, also known as spring onions, are actually the sprouted leaves of the onion bulb. These are quick growers and only need 30-40 days before you can harvest (and then eat) them. If all you want to do is grow green onions from your sets, you can actually just plant them in egg cartons or a raised planter!
If you’re planting onions at home to get big and juicy bulbs, you’ll have to wait longer for them to develop from their modest sets. Your onion is ready when the foliage starts to turn yellow and lose its strength and form. Pull out the bulb and keep them in the light for a few weeks to ripen them before you start storing or slicing them.
If you see a flower spike from a bolting onion, cut the spike off immediately to try to save your onion. Flowering changes the onion’s flavor, so it’ll be edible, but not for too long after it bolts. Eat it up quickly while you can to save your garden’s hard work and all your patience.
Onion sets give your garden the easy head start you need to get the best onion flavor your kitchen has ever seen, right outside your door. You can be growing delicious and mouth-watering onions in only a few short months – any time of the year! Homegrown not only gives you the confidence to know what goes into your food and how it’s grown, but the taste just can’t be argued with. You might even say that the benefits have many layers.