Transplanting onions

We have a very late start this spring, with frosts well into April! However, its time for first transplants of the year – our onions.

We are growing two heirloom types: Stuttgarter and Cortland. These are short-day varieties well suited for Northern gardeners, with pungent flavor and are THE BEST winter keepers. I will be planting around 200 onions to see whether this can satisfy our yearly demand. We have started the seedlings back in January, about 12 weeks before planned transplant. We seeded them in batches, roughly 50 per re-purposed square container in a soiless mixture of peat, perlite and vermiculite.

We prefer seedlings over onion sets because seeds are cheaper than sets and there is greater variety to select from. Also, seedlings, as well as direct seeding, produces onions that are better keepers than the ones grown from sets. However, we do prefer to start seeds indoors as opposed to direct seeding, because it ensures an earlier start, plus provides more control over the amount and the quality of the seedlings.


To transplant, water the onions first and gently lift them out of the container in a clump by their “hair”. Rinse out the extra soil with water – this will decrease the root tangle.


Dig a hole for each onion a few inches deep to prevent j-rooting and ensure that the forming bulb (white part of the onion) is about 1″ in the ground. Gently separate each onion seedling form the clump and plant it.


Space onions 5-8″ apart in rows 1-1.5 feet apart or in an evenly spaced patch. Water well after transplant.


Onions are good insect repellents and are great to put on the edges of the garden and as companion plants to lettuce and other greens to repel caterpillars. They are cold hardy and will reward you with a wonderful harvest in about 3-4 months with little maintenance, other than weeding and a monthly dressing of natural fertilizer or compost.

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