Onions – Tip – What to Do with the Small Ones

A reader wrote to me the other night and gave me the details of the wonderful success she and her husband have had with onions this year. She had written to me earlier saying she’d followed my onion planting instructions to the letter. Although she is an experienced gardener, her previous onion crops had not been successful. But by planting transplants, planting earlier than she normally would (to allow time for root and leaf development), and planting no deeper than 1 inch — they ended up with a great crop!

The tops are starting to fall over now and they’ve set up a place to cure them.

The Red Candy Apple onions of course, are a bit smaller but the larger white ones are in the 3 to 4 inch diameter range. Needless to say, she and her husband are thrilled! (And I’m excited for them, because I know how great that can feel!)

Small Onions – Normal Occurrence

In the course of our email conversation, she mentioned that some of the onions were still about an inch or smaller. I consider this a normal occurrence from planting transplants since the bunches usually have various sizes and real tiny ones usually make the smaller onions.

What Can Happen

Many times these small onions will cure right in the ground.  They can stay buried in summer’s dry soil without any indication until fall — or even next spring — and then come up.  Many times I’d see them and leave them in the ground on purpose as my back-ups for spring onions during the fall and winter months. The only problem with that was — it’s pretty inconvenient to work around volunteer spring onions when you’re trying to get a bed mulched or planted.

Or Cure and Plant for Spring Onions

Last year I harvested all the small onions (one inch or smaller) I could find and cured them with the rest of my onions. (After they’re cured they’re called sets.)  Last fall I planted them in the same spot so they would be more conveniently placed when I wanted to work in my garden beds.

Biennial Plants

Onions are biennial plants.  The seed is started and grows into an onion; the tops fall over; the onion is cured.  Then the small ones can be planted again and in many cases will produce a larger onion. Or you can use them for spring onions.

Final Thought

They’ll sure taste good this winter when you’ve harvested greens from your fall/winter garden and then pick a spring onion to top it off.


Other Onion Posts:
Onions Plants – A Bonus Can be Green onions in Winter

Onions – Why Grow A Lot?

Onions – Starting from Seed is Easy and Economical

Onion Sets – What You Need to Know to Get Better Results

Growing Onions

Bunching Onions – A Perennial Scallion Patch

Onions – More Reasons to Plant

How to Have Garden Onions April thru January

Onion Trivia


Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient and it’s a lot healthier.


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  • Theresa,
    Just wanted you to know we are having a bumper crop of onions this year for the first time–thanks to your great instructions! I’m so excited! Onions are one of our staples!

  • Gayle, this really is wonderful news!
    Onions are a staple for us also and I can’t imagine being without them. And they are so easy.
    I just a got an email this morning from the reader I mentioned in the post. They had been following advice from their county Extension Office — which was way off base.
    I am thrilled that I have been able to provide some basic information that makes bumper crops of onions possible!
    Thank you so much for letting me know. Makes me feel great!

  • Theresa, I hope you can see from this feedback, that you are providing others with invaluable help. Be encouraged! Tending My Garden is a fantastic resource – and here is the proof. I feel so thankful to have found it.

  • I must say, Sandra, it is encouraging. I think this is a time in our history that people need encouragement and proper information to be able to take care of themselves and be independent rather than relying on big agri-business and government —-. If I can be a positive part of the education process — and show people that they can do it — I’d call that making a difference.

    I always appreciate the encouragement I receive from you. Everybody needs that little boost now and then. Not to mention the fact — that friends like you make life a lot more fun!

    Warmly and with thanks,

  • Theresa, I’m rereading this info. Did you write somewhere about how your sets – saved from the smaller onions performed?
    I read above that you planted them in the Fall (that would’ve been last year). You may have told me, and I apologize if you have to repeat, but how did they do for you? Did they seed really quickly, or did they continue to grow well? Did they get much bigger? Will they keep if you just harvested them now? I’m guessing you’ve harvested them by now. If you can direct me to an update, or briefly give me your opinion on how that went, I’d be really grateful.
    Thanks for all your time and help with onions.

  • I answer your questions in a post Sandra. I’ll try to get to it soon.
    I’m sure if you have these questions — so do others.
    Thanks for asking them.

  • Please help us on when to harvest our onions. We plant in early spring and eat several of the green onions in salads and etc., but would like to hold the mature onions for fall relishes and dressings. That is chicken and dressing down here in the south.
    By dressing making time most have decayed.
    How can we save after harvest?

  • Welcome to TMG Joan.
    Onions are done when their tops fall over. At that time they should be harvested and cured.
    The sweeter the onion the less time it will store.
    I explain all this in great detail with pictures in the posts:
    If you still have questions after you read those, let me know.
    Next year, you should have all the onions for chicken and dressing that you want!

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