Onions have formed an important part of the human diet on most continents because they’re so easily stored without spoiling. They keep so well which means one less thing to put in the fridge. This means a smaller fridge, or a fridge that can be shared. (Fridge pooling – the way of the future!)
Onions are very good for you, particularly raw. They contain vitamin C, iron, sulphur and fibre. They’re a very good source of vitamins B6, C, B1 and K. They have also been known to be anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and a useful first aid on bee stings. Studies have shown that onions lower blood pressure. You get the gist, we think onions are awesome.
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made headlines around the world when he ate an onion raw, but it did wonders for the local onion industry!
Some varieties of onion are White Lisbon (a good bunching onion for dense plantings), Red Wethersfield (with beautiful purple-red skin), Cream Gold (has long storage life) and Potato Onion (a multiplier type and produces reasonable bulbs in limited space).
Only recently have onions been developed to grow bulbs with a shorter day length and these can be planted in Melbourne in Autumn and be used in early Spring, but ensure you have a cultivar suited to this function. In all cultivars bulbing increases with temperature. Long varieties can be planted as close as 3cm apart and NSW agriculture uses the figure of 60-70 onions per square metre for Cream Gold, so you can get a good crop of onions in if you are a serious player. Direct seeding is usually preferred with most varieties and can be broadcast, then thinned, to allow good bulb size.
Autumn and winter sown seed can take about 9 months till harvest. Onions do best in a Mediterranean climate because the hot dry summers ensure full ripening which makes Melbourne an ideal location. Cool weather is required for early growth stage. They don’t thrive in soil with a pH below 6.0 because you will find trace elements are unavailable for plant uptake. They like a fairly fertile and well drained soil. Don’t add any extra nitrogen amendments such as fish fertiliser or chicken manure, as onions don’t like excess nitrogen and it softens the bulb and reduces shelf-life. Zinc and calcium are the most important of the minor elements and may be an issue if you haven’t applied a good compost made of a wide variety of ingredients. Harvest with at least 3cm of stem when most of the plants have leaves drooping to the ground, and then hang in mesh bags in the air to cure.
To enjoy the onion’s powers, some ideas are to team it with goat’s cheese and balsamic syrup in tartlets, cut it into rings and fry in beer, slurp some soup or mix it with roast beets and lentils in a warm salad.