by National Gardening Association Editors
Because there's such a wide variety of onions, it's helpful to know what characteristics to consider in selecting them for your garden.
Sweet vs. Pungent
Grouping onions according to taste is one way to select onions. There are basically two options: the strong-flavored kinds and the milder (and usually bigger) ones. Mild varieties are sometimes called "European" onions. These include the kinds we slice for hamburgers and onion rings, like 'Sweet Spanish', 'Vidalia', 'Walla Walla', 'Bermuda' and the big red onions.
Onions vary in keeping qualities, too. For an onion that you can keep long after the growing season, the strong-flavored, yellow ones are your best bet. They're the most widely grown in this country and they keep extremely well. Commercial growers like these onions because they store them for long periods of time and ship them long distances. 'Stuttgarter' and 'Yellow Globe' are examples of onions you can bag and hang in your root cellar in fall that will last through the winter and following spring. 'Copra', a newer yellow variety for home gardeners, is one of the longest keepers under good storage conditions.
The milder Bermuda, Portugal and Spanish onions won't keep that long. They don't develop the really firm outer skin needed for long storage. In fact, some white Bermuda onions will keep for just a few weeks. They're definitely worth growing, though, for their sweet, mild taste.
Onions by Daylength
It may also help to sort out varieties according to how much daylight they need to form a bulb. Short-day types described in seed catalogs bulb when there are about 12 hours of light per day. Long-day onions bulb only when they receive 15 or 16 hours of daylight. In general, the long-day varieties are recommended for northern areas, while the short-day varieties are intended for use in the South.
Here's a good rule of thumb: the stronger the skin and flavor of the onion, the longer it keeps. For instance, you can use white onions first for pickling and boiling, then the large, mild ones, sliced, in summer and finally the yellow ones for cooking throughout the year.
The following onion varieties are by no means the only ones you have to choose from. It may take you a few seasons to find types that are the best for your garden soil and climate. It can be helpful to talk with experienced local gardeners or to get in touch with your local county cooperative Extension agent for more information on which kinds of onions grow best in your area. Of course, your own garden is your "laboratory." Don't be afraid to experiment and have fun with different varieties. Planting any onion will at least give you something tasty to eat.
Popular in the South
'Burgundy' - A good dark red-skinned table onion with mild, sweet white flesh.
'Crystal Wax' - This mild-tasting small, white pickling onion has good disease resistance and has been a steady performer over the years in southern states. However, it doesn't store well.
'Granex' -- One of the Deep South's most popular onions, the large, yellow bulbs may be thick-flat or almost globed. It's an early variety, and it keeps well if cured and stored properly. Granex, also known as the Vidalia onion, comes in red and white varieties.
'Texas Grano 1015Y' - A new strain of 'Yellow Grano' with a sweet, mild flavor and better storing ability and disease resistance than other Texas Granos.
'Yellow Bermuda' - A flat-globed, medium-sized onion with pale straw-colored skin and white flesh. It also comes in white and red types.
Popular in the North
'Buffalo' - An early-maturing, yellow-skinned variety that will store until late December.
'Early Yellow Globe' - A medium-sized bulb that matures in about 100 days and is a good keeper.
'Ebenezer' - Generally sold as sets, these white or yellow onions have a strong flavor and store well.
'Red Wethersfield' - This red onion produces flat bulbs with juicy white flesh. It's an excellent keeper and is often sold as sets.
'Sweet Sandwich Hybrid' - Brown skinned with light yellow flesh, this onion is an excellent keeper that gets milder with storage.
'White Portugal' - Excellent direct-seeded in garden for green tops and pickling-size bulbs, but not a good storage onion.
'White' or 'Yellow Sweet Spanish' and other Spanish types - These onions need a long growing season, but will produce large, globe-shaped, mild-flavored bulbs. Many northern gardeners buy transplants grown in the South or Northwest for spring planting. Spanish onions mature in 120 to 130 days. One of the most famous of these types is the 'Walla Walla Sweet'.
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