Planting Onions: The 80 Minute Allotment

Planting Onions The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered BlogIt's time to plant onions at the 80 Minute Allotment. After a couple of weeks of terrible weather kept me away from the plot, it was nice to get back on the allotment this week, and even nicer to be able to get something in the ground. My first planting of the year is onions, one of the easiest things to grow.

Grow your own onions

Onions are really easy to grow. They grow in almost any soil type and don't need much looking after. Unless your area is exceptionally dry they won't need much watering, and they don't need much feeding either. It's a good idea to remove weeds from around them as they grow, and this is best done by hand to avoid disturbing them. But apart from that they can pretty much be left alone. They're a great crop to try if you haven't got that much time to spare.

Onions can also be stored for a long time. We are still using what's left of last years harvest, which have kept since last summer. We haven't needed to buy onions from the supermarket at all since then! 

I'm growing fruit and veg in an average of 80 minutes a week on my allotment. If you've also got limited time to grow your own, then come and visit me regularly on the 80 Minute Allotment. Click here to Subscribe by Email and you'll get regular updates on how I use my time, in short sessions of one to two hours. I'll show you how growing your own can fit into a busy lifestyle and still produce regular harvests of fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. 

When is the right time to plant onions?

Many people plant onions in autumn, and some varieties are apparently well suited to this. Most onions are hardy enough to withstand being in the ground during the coldest months, and this gives them a head start once spring arrives. Being in the ground already makes for an earlier harvest and maybe bigger onions.

I've always waited until slightly warmer weather arrives before sowing mine. I'm worried that any onions in the ground over winter here in South Wales will just rot, as it's fairly wet all winter long. But my onions have never got that big, so I'm planting some early this year in the hope that a longer growing season will give them a chance to reach a bigger size by the time I pull them up. We'll see. 

How do you plant onions?

You can sow onions from seed, but that takes even longer, and the temperature outside is definitely not yet warm enough for seed germination. Other crops that I do grow from seed will be sown much later on when it is both warmer and dryer. I haven't even sown any indoors yet! By far the easiest way to grow onions is from sets - specially grown baby size bulbs.

I've chosen two varieties this year, one white (Sturon) and one red (Red Baron).

Planting them is really easy. It's the same process as for planting any bulbs. Dig a hole, drop in a bulb, pointy side up, and cover it over. Simple. Check the packet for the required planting depth and distance between each bulb. I don't measure it, just do it approximately, by eye. Both my packets said three inches apart but I allowed twice that, again in the hope that more space will help them grow a bit bigger.
Planting Onions The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Onions planted about 6 inches apart

If you're planting onions in rows, you can dig a shallow trench rather than plant each bulb separately. Space the bulbs along the trench before covering them over.

GREEN FINGERS TIP: The packets I bought each contained 80 bulbs. I probably won't have room to plant all of them, so I use the bigger ones first. These have the best chance of producing strong plants. If there are any left over after planting as many as I can, they will be the weediest looking ones in the packet. 

Planting Onions The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Plant all the larger bulbs first
For this early planting, I planted one row of white onions and one of red, with 14 bulbs, as it turned out, in each row. The way I've laid this bed out, each row is about 2m long. (I'll be sharing my full planting layout for the year in a future post.)

These are the early ones. Time will tell whether they produce bigger onions for having a longer growing season. I'll plant more rows in a few weeks time when the soil has warmed up a little. I would usually start from early March onwards - these two rows are pioneers!

I labelled each row so I will remember what is there. I use small logs, sawn so I can write on them. You can use lolly sticks or plastic labels if you prefer - anything that you can write on basically.

Finally, I put some protective netting over the onions to make sure birds can't come and nibble at the emerging shoots. I put a small piece of netting over an old mini greenhouse frame and fixed it to the ground with a few metal pegs. It was previously over the two rows of garlic you can see on the left of the picture. These were sown in autumn as garlic needs a cold spell during its growth to develop fully. Now that the garlic is well established it is less vulnerable to birds so I've moved the netting across to cover the onions when they come up.
Planting Onions The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Cover the area with net to prevent birds nibbling new shoots

Other 80 Minute Allotment jobs this week:

A few weeks ago I was clearing weeds from an overgrown part of the plot. Well I always miss a few! Some will regrow from the smallest piece left in the ground, so I dug a few more up this time, roots and all.

I raked some of the bare areas of the beds too. This removes smaller, shallow rooted weeds and works the top part of the soil, which in places has been compacted over autumn and winter. It also breaks up the larger clumps left from areas that were dug over recently. The aim is to have a loose, fine surface by the time I want to sow seeds.

Finally I cleared a space where I'm going to plant raspberries. I'm using part of the existing strawberry bed, so I dug up a few strawberries to make room. The soil needs a bit of preparation for raspberries but nothing too difficult. More on that in a couple of weeks.

The strawberry plants went on the compost heap. Some of them were past their best anyway, and I've got plenty left. It'll be nice to have raspberries too, I've never grown my own before but they should do well here.

So more on raspberries another time, and I'll also be sharing my planting plan for the year and the simple way I worked out what I'm going to grow, and roughly how many, of each crop, and also where I'm going to plant them.

I'll soon be busy on The 80 Minute Allotment again, so make sure you subscribe if you want to know what you can do to grow your own in under two hours a week! 


  1. I will soon plant my onion bulbs( 'Sturon' like you and 'Jaune paille des vertus') . But I plant them half-buried at the top of a mound. Advantage: well drained soil and avoid rot.

    1. Good tip for areas where it's really wet. Maybe I could plant autumn varieties like that to get them through the winter here. Thanks Fred!