Thursday, July 21, 2016

Onion Update

Here's what the onions looked like the other day. The greens on a few of the varieties had toppled over, a sign that they have matured enough to lift and cure.

Di Maggio Cippollini
The first to come out were the so called cippollini  onions. They didn't do very well, most of them split and they are just not cippollini sized. It occurred to me today that I've probably got my timing wrong. I sowed the seeds last fall along with the rest of the onions so they had all winter and spring to grow and they got to be too big. I'm going to try again next year but I'll hold off sowing the seeds until January or February and set them out in early spring. Perhaps I'll try a few sowings staggered over a few weeks and then perhaps I can figure out the proper timing to get those lovely little flat onions. A few of them bolted but not too many and I suspect that bolting will be less of an issue with a later start.

Cippollini and Rossa Piatta d'Italia Onions

There was a lot of soil clinging to the roots so I gave them a quick rinse and set them out on the garden path to dry a bit.

L to R: Rossa Piatta d'Italia, Di Maggio Cippollini, Tropea Rossa Tonda

I improvised a drying rack made from a length of old wire fencing set up under the dappled shade of an oak tree. I pull the tops through the fencing and let it hang below. There's plenty of air circulation around the onions and other than foggy nights the humidity here is very low. Rain is definitely not an issue so I can just leave them uncovered until the tops and outer layers dry out and they develop a protective skin. Then I'll trim the tops back, not all the way, I like to leave a good 6 inches of the tops which seems to help prevent pathogens from getting into the bulbs. This is the setup and method that I used last year and it worked great.

After I lifted the three varieties that had flopped over I went through the patch and bent the necks on the rest of the onions to help them along. I need this space to plant out some Romanesco broccoli and cauliflower seedlings that I've already got growing for the fall/winter garden.

So here's a few observations about the varieties I grew this year:

Rossa Piatta d'Italia - this variety resisted bolting, not one of them produced a flower stalk. However, a few of them did split. Splitting isn't ideal but it's better than bolting. I love that intense color so I will probably try these again next year. I also like that they matured fairly early. I'm going to have to do some research about splitting to see if there's something I my try to prevent it.

Tropea Rossa Tonda - This one matured early as well and it resisted splitting, but there were a couple of bolters. I can put up with a small portion of the onions bolting since I can use those right away. You can see in the photo of them on the rack that they produced some nice sized well shaped bulbs so I'm probably going to try them again next year.

Rossa Savonese - This one won't be returning next year because at least half of them bolted.

Rossa Lunga di Firenze - I grew this one last year and I was quite happy with it. There were a few bolters last year but this year all of them resisted. It's a torpedo shaped sweet onion, not a storage onion, but they will store for at least a couple of months if cured properly. I'll be growing it again next year. You can see them in that last photo, they are standing fairly tall on the left.

Exhibition - This is an extra-large sweet yellow onion, not a keeper. My biggest complaint is that the seeds didn't germinate very well. I ended up setting out only 8 or 9 seedlings. But they've grown well and they are about ready to lift. None of them bolted but a couple split. I might be trying them again next year.

Yellow Sweet Spanish Utah - Another large sweet yellow onion. Just about every one of these bolted. They won't be back.

Ramata di Milano - Another yellow onion, supposedly a good storage onion. They all bolted as well. Bye bye!

That's all the varieties that I tried other than I'Itoi which I wrote a bit about on my July 11 Harvest Monday post. I'm still searching for a yellow or white storage onion and have already ordered seeds for a few varieties that Territorial Seed Company is offering. They have 3 yellow intermediate day length onions that are supposed to be good for overwintering. Gate Keeper, Top Keeper, and Keepsake onions each sound promising. I also added Desert Sunrise, a red cippollini type, to the order. And Zoey, a sweet yellow onion that is supposed to keep up to 4 months somehow found its way into the shopping cart as well.


  1. I wish I could grow onions well enough to be such a connoisseur as you are. I use onion at almost every meal but cannot seem to do much in the garden! I love the varieties and such an amazing harvest as always.

    A coincidence to find a new post ... I actually just popped by to confirm your instagram link as it was not what I thought. Following you now!

  2. Your onions get to a huge size. They look pretty amazing. Onions grown in this area are usually very pungent. I'm going to try growing them overwinter from sets.

  3. I have almost no experience with growing onions - I have had shallots a couple of times though, and they did OK. From what I can gather, onions are pretty tricky to get right. Everyone says that bolting is an issue these days, due to less predictable, and highly erratic, weather patterns. Onions just don't seem to like change! Anyway, I'm going to have a try and see what happens. I have even bought some seeds already. They are "Long Red Florence". I may have to come back to you for advice...

    1. I think the "Long Red Florence" is the same as the "Rossa Lunga di Firenze" that I've been growing this year (and last year). They have done very well for me. I think you're right about onions not liking change, the weather here was more erratic last year and bolting was definitely more of a problem then.

  4. Hi Michelle, I'm a new fan of your blog. I discovered it by chance when searching for info on growing capers. Your blog, garden, harvest and photos are all very inspiring. Thanks very much for sharing the beauty of your garden. I'm very glad to have found your wonderful blog. Please keep up the great work. Best wishes. :)

    1. Hi Ngeun! Thank you so much, I'm happy you are enjoying what I have to share.

  5. You did get some nice size onions. Onions are biennials, that's why you get a lot of bolting if you plant bulbs instead of seedlings. I wonder if the bolting has to do with your setting out plants in the fall. Are your mild winters cold enough to make the onions think spring is year two?

    1. I don't get them into the garden until the cold weather sets in so I don't think it's because they've gone from warm to cold to warm. I'm pretty sure it's because of our weird weather patterns here where we can have very warm spells in the late winter and spring and then we get a shift to foggy and cool weather in May and June - so they go from cold to warm to cold, a number of times! Whatever, it's got to be the back and forth and back and forth that we/they experience in this climate.

  6. Your onions have done so well this year compared to last - that's so great! Mine, on the other hand, are not doing well at all - I just spoke to someone on the farm and they said that all of theirs are not doing well either, attributing it to the heat & dryness.


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