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Onion-Growing Tips

I, Ted, have put away my Australian summer garden hat for the season and am back to wearing my Singing Gardener cap.


& got me to thinking about onions. It reminded me of days when I was a disc jockey and a 78 r.p.m. song I used to spin called: Onions, You ve Been Eating Onions.

So today How about everything you ever wanted to know about growing onions and then some? Well not quite! That would take a book of many pages. I shall however, squeeze in as much info as possible on this Singing GardenerGrainewspage.


I read your items inGrainews and get lots of input. I have had gardens for 50 years and never had trouble til last year with onion sets I grew. The tips started to brown then moved down the stem. The onions were OK stored, just smaller. I was wondering if it is a blight or too rich of soil. Everything else is fine. From: J &L Arp.


& may, or may not be responsible for aforesaid problem. However, it s such a common pest I shall provide some insight. Onion maggots are the offspring of a small fly that lays eggs near the base of the plant or right on the onion bulb itself. Small maggots injure or kill the plant by burrowing into the neck end. This often causes green stems to prematurely brown. Adult maggots are legless, pearly white and about 1/2 inch long (or less) when fully grown. The pest tapers to a point at the head. A single maggot is capable of weakening or killing many onion seedlings by also destroying underground roots. Several maggots will team up and gain entrance to a developing larger onion through the base and then burrow upward. Such destruction reduces size and quality of large bulbs, while onion sets and transplanted seedlings lose uniformity. White onions are more susceptible than yellow and red ones; but none are totally immune.


Try mixing some sand and wood ashes together about 50/50 and applying it to soil surface around onion plants. Sometimes, I also like to stir in a trowel full of used coffee grounds as well. Or, get diatomaceous earth from your garden centre or animal feed supplier and sprinkle on soil surface around onion plants. Alternatively, I recommend organic gardeners try Insect Stop natural dusting powder or Reemay row cover, also called Frost Blanket. The lightweight, transparent, porous material is draped over onions and cole crops, providing protection from insect pests and frost. (See my Oct. 3-11Grainews column for source of Reemay and Insect Stop.)

One of the best suggestions for home gardeners lies in the manner of planting. Avoid growing onions in rows. This only serves to help maggots travel from root to root. Instead, scatter onion plantings throughout the entire garden and keep them well spaced. This in itself will starve out many maggots.


They are very tiny, extremely active brown insects with wings. The larval form is a wingless version that s even smaller and can barely be seen with the naked eye. As they feed on onion leaves, the larvae cause plant tissue to collapse and wither. A sign of feeding thrips is whitish blotches that run together forming silvery areas. Heavily infested onion plants become stunted, the leaves are bleached and die back from the tips and necks grow abnormally thick, while bulbs fail to develop to their full potential. Injury is at its worst during hot, dry summers, such as we experienced this past season in many areas of Canada. Grow onion sets separate and apart from groups of larger onions, since thrips will migrate.

A spray or dusting of rotenone powder available at garden centres will usually provide a good measure of control. However, several applications about five to seven days apart may be required, as this product breaks down quickly. Apply rotenone in the evening when bees are least active.

On a side note! I ve dusted cattle louse powder containing rotenone on lilies and around the base of lily plants to control lily leaf beetles. This catches any adult beetles I ve missed after hand-picking and terminates their grubs.

Other onion challenges include wireworms that attack the tiny rootlets. There can also be issues such as neck rot, pink root, smut and fungal diseases including damping off and downy mildew. Fusarium basal rot (also a fungal disease) first shows up as yellowing leaf tips which die back as the season progresses. Roots rot off underground and white mould appears. Onion maggots referred to earlier can spread this disease. A four-year crop rotation program, lighter soil, raised beds and growing disease-resistant varieties will help.

Keep in mind it s difficult to overfertilize onions. They like a lot of nutrients and are never known to refuse a liquid feeding of seaweed extract diluted in water according to label directions. Especially beneficial is plenty of compost and rotted or dried cattle manure that s spread two or three inches away from the bulbs. Work it in as they grow. Do this more often in sandy or lighter soil, but stop feeding once tops start to fall over.

Be diligent about watering. Don t allow soil around shallow roots to dry out during bulb formation. Dry soil may cause a bulb to split and form into two onions. You can assist onions to increase in size by pulling away some of the soil along the side edges. Leave just the bottom third of the bulb in the ground. The downside is the tops of bulbs can get sunburned during continuous sunny, hot weather. Exposed areas of the bulb can be left with greenish parts and a stronger onion taste.


& translated into English says: The onion is used against seven illnesses, but onion peels can be used against 77 illnesses. Research says the benefit is found in a special effective form of quercetin crystals located in onion peels.

Decades, even generations ago, people who lived off the land were very inventive. Indeed they had to be; often for survival. As a result, very little was wasted.


& to the plant genus Allium and are related to garlic, chives, leeks and numerous other cousins. All of these absorb sulphur from the earth and form a class of volatile organic molecules called amino acid sulfoxides that are responsible for bringing tears to the eyes when cutting into onions. Supposedly, the more you peel onions, endure their sting and cook with them; the less they ll affect you over time. Meantime, other options are to chop an onion beneath water, turn on the kitchen fan while cutting onions to scatter the sulphur compounds, wear eye-protecting goggles, or chill onions first in the freezer. After handling onions, dot your fingers and palms with lemon juice or vinegar to help neutralize the lingering odour.

Before I tell you about some health benefits and home remedies attributed to onion skins and peels, readers are reminded that I am not a doctor and do not diagnose nor prescribe. Seek the guidance of your health-care professional appropriate to any condition.

Recipes that follow are derived from folklore sources and grandmother s old-time kitchen. Results may vary and there are no guarantees, but some of you may well think twice before chucking out onion peels. Rinse the outside of whole onions before peeling off skins. Discard any mouldy or spoiled sections.


For a dry cough, simmer 2 tablespoons of crumpled, dry skins or fresh onion peel in 2 cups of water for a few minutes. Remove from heat and let the brew cool, then strain. Drink 1/4 cup of warm onion tea three times daily, before meals. You also can use garlic and onion peel half n half for brewing tea. This is said to be an effective home treatment against psoriasis.

A cup of onion peel tea taken daily is a reputed old remedy against hypertension to help lower blood pressure. Tea from onion peels may also tone cardiac activity, boost immune system, and reduce muscle spasms. Those who experience nighttime leg muscle cramps might consider sipping a cup of onion peel tea early in the evening before going to bed. A good night s sleep is usually certain to follow.

Mix equal amounts of onion juice and honey and take three to four teaspoons of this mixture daily for respiratory issues. It helps liquefy mucus and prevents its further formation. Onion juice and honey is also one of the best preventive potions against the common cold.

For rhinitis, hay fever, itching, sneezing, seasonal allergies or dripping nose of any nature, put 4 tablespoons of chopped onion skins in a pot of boiling water. Cover the head with a towel and inhale the onion vapours for three to five minutes. Always be extremely careful when using boiling water. Any way you look at it, onions are a health-promoting, dynamic bulb.

ThisisTedMeseytontheSingingGardener andGrow-ItPoetfrom TheHappeningCity ofPortagelaPrairie,Man.AnoldDutch proverbsayssicknesscomesonhorseback butdepartsonfoot.Wanttoslowdownthe horseandspeedupwellness?Keephealthy byleavingfootprintsinthegarden!Rely onyourownabilitytogrowonions,garlic, tomatoesandotherveggiesandfruitaspart ofyourlifelongregimen.Myemailaddressis [email protected]


Sue Armstrong

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About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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