Gladstone white onions just after harvest on June 22, 2020

My grandfather was a 6-foot 4-inch, black haired, steel-eyed bear of a man. A retired New York cop who drank scotch each morning, ate only fried food, and cursed freely in both English and Polish, nothing about him said “master vegetable gardener.”

And yet he was.

He was a fountain of advice on how to succeed with my own vegetable garden. Want great tomatoes (he said “tumaytas“)? Add “a lot of chicken crap” the the planter bed in early spring.

Got a problem with aphids? Plant dill weed around the garden because dill weed brings ladybugs and “they’re not ladies, they’re mean sons of bitches that’ll eat anything smaller than them.”

And the one rule you need to know about onions, “plant ’em on the first of spring, pull them on the first of fall.” That way you can eat some fresh (and this man ate onion bulbs right out of the garden), and the rest have time to dry for winter storage.

Grandpa lived in Northwestern Connecticut while I lived in Southern California, so while chicken crap and dill weed were applicable rules, the first of spring and fall didn’t work well.

Here, the onions would get off to a great start, but once the dry, desert heat and intense sun of summer began in June, the poor onions would never make it through the season. They’d just bake and shrivel (even with regular watering) like they were cooking in a giant air fryer.

Figuring that the first of winter in So Cal is a lot like the first of fall in New England, I backed grandpa’s rule up by three months and tried again. It worked perfectly.

So, the Onion Harvest Rule here in San Diego (33rd parallel / Zone 9) is “plant on the shortest day, harvest on the longest.” If you’re using onion sets instead of seed, you can push it all the way out to January 31 and still plan on pulling your onions the first day of summer.