Ready, Get Onion Sets, GO!!!


My mother informs me that this year the price of onions is set to increase a fair amount. I think this is in part due to last year’s soggy summer, which proved a blight for onion growers. My Hercules onions that I grew last year were utterly fantastic – bursting with flavour and so sweet when cooked in soups and stews. I use onions almost every day in my cooking, and so it just made sense to grow as many as I could. However, last year I didn’t grow enough to store – only 50 sets or so that were each pulled, peeled, chopped and cooked and eaten within the hour.

Mum visited an onion growing farm last year – they had crates and crates bursting with literally tonnes of onions that had been rejected by Tesco, and were going to be binned. So the farmer threw Mum and her friend a few sacks and they filled them up. Crazy. I had a few of these onions, and they were perfectly fine.

I think I blogged (or possibly posted on my forum) last year on the fact that red onions in particular were going to be hit the hardest by the price increase. So earlier this year – safe in the knowledge that thanks to my allotment and new veg plots at the Smallest Smallholding, I now had ample space – I put some money aside for loads of onion sets. I tried growing onions from seed, but they failed miserably, probably due to the fact that I put them in far too late and didn’t nourish the soil enough beforehand. But from my reading and other people experiences, I have come to the conclusion that the general consensus is that sets mean bigger, faster-growing delicious onions.

I think if you’re going to grow from seed you could generally expect a smaller onion – or possibly have to extend your growing season considerably. If space is an issue – and last year, for me it was – then having sets means that you can pull them earlier and use the space for somethig else over the winter. Smaller onions can still obviously be used in cooking, but as with shallots and pickling onions you can preserve them, or do scrumptious things like roast them whole.

Did you know that your average British pickling onion does a few thousand miles? A typical journey might go something like this – grown here in the UK, picked and sent off to places like Poland, where they are peeled, sent back to Britain to be pickled, sent back to Poland to be bottled up and then finally brought back to be put on our supermarket shelves – and sometimes labelled as British. Food miles? Well, for me, about 40ft.

Anyhow, this year I have the following either growing, or going in the ground very soon:

  • Stuttgarter Giant
  • Red Baron
  • Radar (super early, should be ready around May)
  • Hercules (my absolute favourite)

The weather forecast looks more promising, so I will be heading down to my veg plots at the Smallest Smallholding, as well as down to the allotment to get them all in. Still got a packet of Bedfordshire Champion onion seeds from last year that remain unopened. I won’t be growing them and will happily swap them for something else if anyone is interested?


  1. I found about 5 tons of onions discarded in a field where I visit. They too had been rejected by the supermarkets because someone mixed red and white onions in the same batch! Fantastic, perfectly good onions gone to waste. Like you, I rescued as many as I could string together.

  2. The waste of perfectly edible food is shocking! As is the miles of travel by a pickling onion – I suppose the accountants justify he cost – bu it’s so crazy!!!!

    If you grow onions from seed you need to start them reallly early – January. I always plant sets, but success depends greatly on the weather. Usually all is going fantastically well, then we get a deluge of rain in June and the onions begin to look very sorry for themselves!

    Fingers crossed for this year – I’m growing Red Baron and Sturon


  3. Hiya, cracking blog, i know what u mean about the onions, about 1/4 of my plot is currently covered in them. I KNEW there was a reason for it! I’m 29, not far off you i like to think, the Mrs. 28. She’s got a thing for Monty too! And that Carol Klien…pwoah! Did you get that barrow for your birthday?!