What is easy to grow in the desert, tasty to eat in a vast variety of dishes, and healthy for you too? Onions!
Onions and Their Kin
Not just onions but also their kin. Onion kin include – garlic, elephant garlic, garlic chives, society garlic, I’itoi onions, scallions, and shallots are all on this list. All of these oniony plants grow just great in our area, especially in the cooler days of winter. Plant any of these right now! (Standard chives from back east are a bit more tricky because they don’t like our heat.)
If you have never gardened before, these oniony plants are a great way to start. They are, of all the garden vegetables, some of the most tolerant of abuse and most forgiving of mistakes. You can grow all of these in pots filled with potting soil. Just add water, and you have an instant desert garden.
Starting Onions In January
“Sets” of onion, garlic, elephant garlic, I’itoi onions, scallions, and shallots can be planted in January and into February. I have planted as late as Rodeo Weekend, the last weekend in February, and still had a lovely harvest.
Next year – plant from seeds. September is the time to plants seeds of onion, garlic, chives, elephant garlic, scallions and shallots.
Growing Conditions for Onions
Soil is not as critical as for most vegetables. For best overall health, flavor, and final size of your crop, an improved garden soil is recommended, but you can add them around your landscape, like around your rose bushes. Or plant in pots of potting soil on the patio.
Garden soil means mixing your desert soil half and half with compost to a depth of two feet, and, where necessary, improving drainage by adding sand. Since we live in an imperfect world, try for at least a foot deep and one third compost.
For an edible landscape, you can plant your onion kin here and there around the landscape – next to plants getting irrigation. (Roses love garlic.) BUT! due to the bacteria-killing chemicals in their roots, avoid planting onion kin around anything in the Legume or Pea Family. The Pea Family grows in partnership with bacteria and can suffer without those bacteria.
Javelina, ground squirrels, and bunnies all think onion members are a tasty treat – especially as the bulbs swell and fatten. The leaves are occasionally eaten by quail but usually regrow.
Water should be applied on a regular basis for nice fat bulbs and succulent leaves. In general, for plants in the ground, this means daily until the sets are established, tapering down to two or three times per week. In a hot, dry times, like this winter, you may need to water more often.
How often you water also depends on your soil. A soil that holds the water well, one with ample compost in it, will need less water than a sandy soil. If you are growing your crop in containers, you may need to water daily.
Not much needed by these oniony crops. If you do fertilize, use one for root crops, high in nitrogen and potassium. Avoid fertilizer for flowers, like a rose or tomato “food.” Flowering takes energy away from growing yummy bulbs and leaves.
Harvesting onion bulbs is a good test of patience. You need to wait until the tops have turned brown and are entirely dead, having sent all their flavor and moisture down into the bulb. Then dig up and use your onions and shallots within a month for the absolute best flavor. Garlic and elephant garlic can be stored longer. With them be sure to harvest fully dried bulbs, with the pointed tips of the cloves quite hard.
Growing plants you can use for food should be fun. Relax and enjoy the journey — from seed to table.
Where to Order Your Onions
The three places mentioned in this article – Dixondale Farms, Native Seeds/SEARCH, and Renee’s Garden – are listed on my “Seed Companies” page on this website – even though you are not purchasing seeds per say. If I did it correctly – you can also click on their images in this article.
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More onions and vegetable gardening in this book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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