Edible Landscaping: Growing Onions
Onions are often overlooked in favor of fancier foods when it comes to the discussion of superfoods and other health-promoting fruits and vegetables.
Green tea, acai berries, red wine and goji berries are much trendier than onions; however, while they might be considered the peasants of the vegetable world, onions are health-enhancing powerhouses that largely outshine some of the most popular superfoods.
Onions were among the first plants to be cultivated and have been used for food and medicine for thousands of years.
Best known for their ability to add flavor to otherwise bland dishes, onions can also lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, blood clots and an array of ailments.
Add to this the fact that they are easy to grow and easy to incorporate into meal planning, and you might start wondering why you have not yet added this humble vegetable to your backyard landscaping.
That is another thing: Notice that I said backyard landscaping, instead of backyard vegetable garden.
That is because these attractive bulbs are just as at home in a decorative border or container garden as they are in an urban farm.
Onions can also be used to protect other plants from pests and, if you can handle the smell, you can even include it in all-natural facial masks for gentle exfoliation and skin brightening.
With great flavor and lots of uses, onions are one easy-to-grow vegetable you should definitely consider cultivating in your backyard.
Read on to learn more about how to grow onions, as well as their health benefits and household uses.
Health Benefits of Onions
Onions do not just add some fantastic flavor to soups, stews, salads and entrées.
They also offer a wide range of proven and potential health benefits for you and your family.
Perhaps most importantly, onions are a member of the cancer-fighting allium family, which also includes garlic, shallots, chives and leeks.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, the sulfur compounds found in vegetables in the allium family are believed to help prevent – or, perhaps, even treat – cancer.
These compounds have been found to help the body resist the spread of cancer, including slowing or potentially stopping the growth of cancer cells and reducing the rate of growth of cancerous tumors.
Here are some of the other proven and potential health benefits of onions:
1. Onion greens are high in vitamin A and can be used in salads and soups.
2. Eating raw onion has been shown to increase HDL (good cholesterol) production.
3. The flavonoids in onions are believed to lower the risk of developing blood clots.
4. These flavonoids are also believed to help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
5. Onions have been used for centuries to provide relief from the symptoms of colds, coughs and bronchitis.
6. Studies in Greece, China and The Netherlands show a significant reduction in the rate of stomach cancer among those with higher levels of consumption of onions and other allium vegetables.
7. The chromium found in onions helps your body properly regulate your blood sugar.
8. Onions indirectly boost immunity by improving your body’s ability to effectively use vitamin C.
9. Onions are believed to improve lung function in people with asthma.
10. The sulfides present in onions are believed to help people manage their blood pressure.
11. Onions are used to treat bacterial infections in Chinese medicine.
12. Onion tea is used to treat sore throats.
13. Consuming the outer layers of onions, which are the layers with the highest concentration of the antioxidant quercitin, is believed to fight infections, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
14. Onions provide vitamin C, cystine and methionine, which are considered an important part of a diet intended to detoxify the body.
15. The antibacterial qualities of onions include killing salmonella and E. coli.
16. Onions have been used for centuries as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
17. Rubbing a raw onion on an insect bite or bee sting helps soothe the pain.
18. Rubbing a raw onion on a burn can help soothe the pain.
Other Uses for Onions
Aside from being a mainstay in the culinary arts and a popular ingredient for folk remedies and natural medicines, onions can also be used around the house and in all-natural personal care products.
Here are eight additional uses for onions:
1. Cut up an onion and leave the pieces in areas frequented by ants to rid your home of these annoying pests.
2. Scatter pieces of raw onion around your yard to help ward off unwanted animals.
Keep in mind that any member of the allium family can be toxic to pets, such as dogs and cats, so only use this tip if you do not have pets that spend time in your backyard.
3. Rub raw onion on bare skin as a replacement for chemical-filled insect repellant sprays.
4. Clean metal fixtures and dining utensils with a paste made from equal parts water and crushed, raw onions.
5. Place a sliced red onion in an airtight container with your cut avocados to keep your avocados from turning brown.
6. Crush some raw onion, mix it with water, and then apply it to pimples for an all-natural acne treatment.
7. Ward off aphids with an all-natural spray made from pureed onions, garlic and water.
8. You can add a small amount of crushed, raw onion to your favorite all-natural facial recipe to boost its exfoliating and skin brightening qualities.
How to Grow Onions
There are many different types of onions you can grow, and each is a little different when it comes to how to grow them and the time between planting and harvesting your crop.
If you purchase your seeds or sets at a garden center or online, they should come with a tag explaining the best way to grow that particular variety.
Here are 14 general tips on growing onions that will help you successfully add these healthy, attractive plants to your backyard landscaping:
1. Onions grow best in full sun.
2. Because of their shallow root systems, onions require regular watering to keep the soil moist.
3. Spreading compost around your growing onions will add nutrients to the soil and help retain the moisture.
4. If you live close to the coast, it is usually best to plant most varieties of onions between February and March.
5. If you live in an inland area, you can likely plant them as early as November.
6. Bulbs should be planted about two inches deep and about two inches apart.
7. You will likely need to thin your plants as they grow to keep them at least three or four inches apart.
8. If you have limited space or prefer a more organized look, onions can be grown in containers.
9. You can purchase ornamental onion varieties that are intended for use in decorative borders, but you can also add color and texture to your borders or flowerbeds with edible varieties.
10. When planting an edible landscape, you can use onions to border walkways or to take the place of ornamental grasses in planting beds.
11. Onions should not be planted near asparagus, peas or beans.
12. Onions and lettuces can thrive together in decorative, edible borders.
13. The aroma given off by onions can provide some pest control for other types of plants, such as kale, strawberries, cauliflower or cabbage.
14. Onions make good companion plants for some other commonly grown backyard garden finds, such as peppers and tomatoes.
Keep in mind that onion greens are a good source of vitamin A and can be eaten like you would eat green onions or chives.
Therefore, when you are thinning your plants to help ensure onion-growing success, you can use the greens you remove to add flavor and nutrition to your meals.
Your onions are ready to harvest when the tops turn yellow and begin to fall over.
You will likely also notice the top of the bulb pushing through the ground, and may see the outer skin beginning to dry out.
You can harvest your onions at this time, if you plan to use them right away.
If you want to store them for later use, it is better to leave them in the ground for at least another week to allow them to cure a bit before harvesting them.
If you have a good crop of onions, you might want to remove some as you intend to use them, and leave some to cure for storage.
Your onions should come out of the ground easily when you gently pull them out by the neck.
Carefully remove any remaining dirt from the bulb, and avoid damaging the outer skin.
Spread your onions out in a sunny spot for a couple of days to allow them to dry out.
You will then want to move them to a covered patio or indoors to a spot with good ventilation to allow them to dry for at least another week.
At this point, you can remove any remaining stalks or use the stalks to braid a few bulbs together for storage.
If you choose to remove the tops, leave at least an inch near the neck to help keep your onions from rotting prematurely.
How to Cut an Onion Without Crying
When onion cells are crushed, an enzyme called alliinase is released.
This enzyme is an important part of the chemical reaction that gives onions their flavor and is also responsible for making your eyes water when you cut them.
This defense mechanism is mostly meant to ward off wildlife intent on eating the onion, but when we chop onions for meals or medicinal uses, this chemical reaction causes the onion chopper to experience watering, stinging or burning eyes.
If chopping onions brings you to tears, try one of these seven tricks the next time you are preparing a meal that requires onions.
1. Place your onions in the refrigerator or freezer for about 15 minutes before cutting them.
This will reduce the amount of alliinase released during the chopping process.
2. Turn on a fan to blow the alliinase away from you while you cut your onions.
3. Soak your knife with vinegar or lemon juice before chopping onions.
By denaturing the alliinase with one of these acidic options, you should be able to avoid tears.
4. A sharp knife will cause less damage to the cells as it slices through the onion, which means less tear-causing gas will be released.
5. You can always throw on a pair of goggles with a good seal to avoid the gas reaching your eyes.
6. If you don’t mind losing a little flavor and dealing with a slippery onion, you can soak the onion in water after peeling it to draw out at least some of this tear-inducing enzyme before cutting it.
7. Loosely hold a piece of bread in your mouth as you chop your onions.
This may sound a little strange, but it is a folk remedy that plenty of people swear by during meal preparation.
Growing Onions: Final Thoughts
Growing even a small amount of food in a backyard vegetable garden is a rewarding activity that can help you save money, spend more time outdoors, reduce stress, and enjoy better-tasting, fresher produce.
Look to your local garden center for advice on which varieties will grow best where you live, and begin to enjoy the multiple benefits of including edible landscaping in your backyard design.
What is your favorite variety of onions to grow in your backyard garden? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo Credits (in order of appearance): morgueFile, multadroit; morgueFile, veggiegretz; morgueFile, deanjenkins; morgueFile, DTL; morgueFile, drummerboy