IT WAS ONE OF THOSE “live and learn” moments, and I did, last year: Onions, it turns out, are easy to grow from seed. No more $20-a-bunch organic mail-order seedlings (50ish young plants) for me, when a packet of somewhere from 300-500 organic onion seeds is maybe $4.
Here’s the thing: At that price difference, even if you have barely moderate success with your seedlings, it’s to your advantage to try. What I found was that just like in those bundles of seedlings by mail, some of the transplants I grew myself were puny; others, though, got chunky and robust-looking.
At a few dollars a packet, who cares about the runts? Toss them, or separate them out and plant a group of them to use as scallion substitutes. In my first-year experiment, I wasn’t ruthless like that, because I wanted to see what happened. The bigger starts basically had the best results, so this time I’ll be brutal in culling before transplanting.
I got my onion-growing lesson last winter from onion breeder and seed farmer Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds, whose wisdom included sowing thickly into open flats (no cellpacks). Here’s his detailed process.
With any onions that still had green necks, and wouldn’t cure well or store very long as harvest time: I used them up first, especially in my favorite recipe for onion soup, which promptly went into the freezer.
Learn how to make Paris-based David Lebovitz’s easy onion soup my way (vegetarian-style).
when to sow onions
NOTE: Onions (and their cousins like shallots and leeks) are one of the earliest things to start from seed indoors. I do mine in early-ish February. My Seed-Starting Calculator can tell you when to sow what. And with onions: Always start with fresh seed. Unless stored under ideal conditions, it doesn’t last well year to year.