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How To Grow Pickling Onions – A Helpful Guide

Pickled onions are a delicious and nutritious way for any gardener to stock their winter pantries, use up any leftover onions and are a great snack to have on hand. The refreshing, semi-sweet, sour, tart and sometimes spicy flavors of the pickling liquid brings life and dimension to the onions.

So how do you make these delicious canned goodies? Which onions are the best for pickling? Read on to learn more about pickling onions, how to grow onions for pickling, and how to pickle the onions from your garden. 

Choosing Your Pickling Onion

Choosing which onions to grow and harvest for the purpose of pickling requires a gardener to know and understand onion flavors and textures. For pickling, it is best to choose onions that are firm, small, and sweeter in flavor. The best onions for pickling include pearl onions and bulb onions. Each type of onion will have a different flavor, texture, pickling needs, and different growing conditions. 

Pearl Onions

Pearl onions make a great choice for pickling onions. They are fast-growing and generally allow for a large yield because of their small size. These onions are small, about 1-inch diameter at the largest, white, and generally used for stews and pickling. 

Growing pearl onions is simple and delicious and often offers a large yield. Begin your pearl onion seeds indoors 5-6 weeks before the final frost for your area. Using clean and fresh garden soil, fill a seed starting tray before adding the onion seeds.

Place each onion seed about an inch apart from one another. Water thoroughly. After the tray is set, place either a humidity dome or plastic sheet over top and place in an area that has a temperature of over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Once the seedlings begin to sprout, remove the cover or lid and move the tray to a south-facing window for the most sunlight. Keep your tray water well as the seedlings begin to grow. Once they are ready to go outside and the threat of frost has passed, begin hardening your onions for the transfer. 

Grow your onion in clean soil outdoors in an area with full sub. Water thoroughly and regularly once they are in the ground. Pearl onions like moist, but not soggy, soil. Avoid letting the soil dry out. The pearl onions will be ready for harvest when their greenery begins to yellow and fall over about midsummer.

When removing pearl onions from the ground, always use a small shovel and be careful to never go directly at the onion. Instead, remove the onion by shoveling from the side and scooping the onion out to avoid damaging any other bulbs in the ground. 

Bulb Onions 

While the small white full bulb pickled onions are a classic favorite and a great option for canning and storing, red bulb onions are making a statement in the pickling community lately.

This sliced onion pickle can be found on many dishes, from elegant five-star restaurants to local diners and everywhere in between. Because they can be used to make a ”quick pickle,” red bulb onions are having their moment, and it is delicious!

Growing red bulb onions is very similar to growing pearl onions. It is best to start the onion seeds indoors about 5-7 weeks before the final frost date. Place the seeds into a seed starter tray filled with fresh soil. Water the seed tray thoroughly and place a plastic lid or plastic sheet over the tray to keep humidity in. Once the onions start sprouting, remove the plastic and move to a sunny window. Keep your seedlings well watered until it is time to transplant the onions outdoors.

When the frost has gone, and it is safe to move your onions into your garden, begin hardening the seedlings to prepare them for transplant. Once they are ready, find a place in your garden with full sun to plant your onion seedlings.

Keep your onions watered and the soil moist to encourage bulb production. Most bulb onions are ready to begin harvesting around mid to late summer and continue into the fall. When the green foliage turns yellow and begins to droop, it is time to harvest your bulb onions.

How to Pickle Pearl Onions 

The first step in pickling onions is to gather your ingredients. Choosing which type of onion you want to pickle will help you decide which ingredients you want to add to your pickling liquid. Below, find a list of items and ingredients you need to properly begin pickling your onions. 

  • Glass Jars with Lids
  • Pickling Liquid or Vinegar 
  • Spices like a mustard seed, peppercorn, bay leaves, fresh dill, or dried chili flakes 
  • Sugar
  • A dark place to store pickled onions 

Begin by peeling your pearl onions and placing them in a bowl. Salt the onions well, mix with a spoon, and allow the onions to sit overnight.

In the morning, rinse the onions and dry them with a towel. Then begin gathering the spices you wish to use. Try coriander seeds, mustard seeds, chili flakes, and black peppercorns for a traditional spice blend. 

Place the spices, vinegar, and sugar into a pan on your stovetop and begin heating slowly. You only want to heat enough to dissolve the sugars, do not boil the mixture. 

Pack the onions into the jars and pour the liquid into the jars. You will want to ensure that each jar has some spices. Also, be sure to check that the jar has no air pockets. Seal the jars tightly and store them away for at least a month. 

In Summary 

Pickling onions are a delicious and traditional food that is a part of many cuisines and cultures around the world. The trick to amazing pickled onions is to start with homegrown onions! Growing onions for pickling is simple and easy once you know how to plant them properly!

Starting onion seeds indoors six weeks before the final frost is necessary for many places with cold and extreme winter temperatures. Once the frost has gone, you can begin the process of transplanting the onions outdoors.

Pay attention to their soil and keep it moist but not soggy to ensure the best onions. Harvest the onions once the foliage yellows and begins to droop. Pickling onions is a lengthy process from seed to pickle, but it is worth it when you taste that first bite!