You’ve probably never heard of Moses Coleman. In 1933, he accidentally planted sweet onions on his farm in Toombs County, Gerogia. Much to his relief, his customers preferred the mild, sweet flavor of this unexpected crop more than his usual hot, spicy onions. He was able to sell them for $3.50 per 50-pound bag, an unheard of price during the Great Depression. Nearby farmers took notice and began selling their versions of these distinctively sweet onions. Word of mouth soon spread about the onions from Vidalia. What started out as a roadside novelty became an icon in American cuisine. Only the yellow granex onion grown in one of the 20 designated counties in southeastern Georgia can be called a Vidalia. Onions are a seasonal crop, and Vidalias are only available from mid-April through late June.
Onions are prized for the flavors they impart to other foods. They’re a staple of every major cuisine. You could probably find an onion in any pantry in the world.
Onions can be grown from seeds, but it’s probably too late to do so now. Choose transplants or half-grown onions known as sets. Growing onions from sets is the easiest way to go, but the variety is limited. You may only be able to find varieties labelled yellow, white or red. They’ll taste just fine.
To grow the best onions, think of them as leafy vegetables instead of root vegetables. Keep in mind that onions have two distinct periods of growth. The first period involves the leaves. A perfect onion has 13 leaves. The size of the leaves will determine the potential size of the onion. Each leaf will form a corresponding layer or ring of the onion. Rachel and I grow onions in five-gallon buckets filled with potting soil and composted manure. Every three weeks we add blood meal as a new leaf emerges. High nitrogen fertilizers like blood meal produce lush, green foliage. Bigger leaves mean bigger onions.
The second period of growth involves the bulb formation. Once the onions start pushing up from the soil, quit fertilizing. Onions are mature and ready for harvest when the leaf tops turn yellow and fall over.
The most important thing to know about onions is their day length requirement. Onions first form leafy tops. When the proper length of daylight arrives, they start to form the bulbs. The length of time needed to form an onion is determined by the amount of daylight, not the age of the plant. If you purchase onions online or from catalogues, intermediate-day onions are the best choice for Kansas gardens. The wrong type may get you lots of leaves but no bulbs underneath.
Yellow onions are the most popular onions for cooking. They have a sharp, spicy flavor and contain lots of sugar. Cooking tempers the pungency and brings out the sweetness. White onions are slightly milder than yellow ones. They’re most commonly used in Mexican and Latin American cuisines. Keep that in mind if you’re considering growing your own salsa. Red onions are mild and slightly peppery, perfect for raw dishes like salads, sandwiches or wedged on a burger.
Onions may very well be the most widely used vegetable. Raw or cooked, they add mouthwatering flavor to most savory dishes.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org