Origins of the Onion
Cultivated bulb onions (Allium cepa) originated in Asia and the Mediterranean, in the areas of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Evidence of garden onions date back over 4,000 years to ancient Egypt where onion images decorate the pyramids. An interesting fact the Egyptians use of onions is that they were incorporated into the embalming and mummification process. Onions were also used in the cuisines of ancient China and India.
Where Are Onions Found Today
Onions are cultivated all over the world. The National Onion Association reported that there are over 500 commercial onion growers in the U.S. from coast to coast, producing almost 7 billion pounds of onions each year. The following states have the largest number of acres for onion cultivation:
- Washington – 24,110 acres
- Idaho and Eastern Oregon – 22,800 acres
- California – 17,170 acres
- Georgia – 12,400 acres
- New York – 9,150 acres
Many other states also produce significant amounts of onions for commercial use each year.
Onions for the Home Gardener
You don’t need thousands of acres to enjoy growing onions in your home garden. In fact, you don’t even need a garden, if you’re short on space. Onions are easy to grow and do well in gardens or indoors.
You can plant onions as soon as the ground thaws in the spring. For most areas, this will happen by the first few weeks of April. Onions tolerate light frosts, so you don’t have to worry too much about planting too early in the spring. Follow these tips for planting and spacing your onion bulbs:
- Dig furrows about 2-inches deep and 2 to 3-feet apart.
- Place your bulbs or transplants into the soil, pressing them firmly.
- Cover the bulbs with soil, allowing the onion tops to show through. If you used transplants, mound the soil around the stalks, so it covers the roots.
- Keep the garden moist and allow onions to dry out between watering.
If you’re planting onion seeds, start them indoors about eight weeks before planting. When using onion transplants or sets, place them directly in the soil. Bulbs sets produce mature onions quicker than transplants, so if you have a short growing season, sets would be your best bet.