How to Grow and Prepare Onions for Exhibition

Having only begun exhibiting my onions for the first time in 2009, I had a lot to learn. Fortunately living in the Channel Island of Guernsey, famous for it’s growing industry, I had ample access to people who had far more experience and could advise me of what was required. I want to pass this knowledge on as simply as possible for others who fancy showing their Onions, yet don’t want to overcomplicate what is required or expected by the judges.

onion vegetables

1) The first thing you need to make sure is that you plant your onion sets as early as possible for your region to give them ample time to mature at a decent size. You may well have better success growing them in containers of good quality compost to ensure they get plenty of nutrients and water in order to get good-sized healthy bulbs upon harvest. Feeding weekly with a good quality plant food such as Miracle Grow or a Seaweed extract can make a big difference.

2) Make sure you harvest your onions as far in advance of exhibiting as possible, a minimum of about three weeks, although anything up to six weeks is better to allow time for the skins to dry evenly, (do not bend over the tops of the onions, wait for the tops to die down naturally). Initially, gently lift the onions with a fork and leave them on the surface of the soil or compost to dry for a couple of weeks. Wait for a dry day so you can move the onions to a cool dry and airy location such as a shed or cellar,  spread out in trays and leave to continue the drying process.

3) One of the requirements of a show onion  (for maximum points), is to have a bulb with a complete and unbroken skin, ideally without any blemishes. To achieve this you may well want to sort through your stored bulbs well in advance of the show and select the potential show candidates.

4) Once you have your potential show specimens strip off any outer broken skins until you have a complete and healthy unblemished skin. By now the roots should have dried up and fallen away, but if not, carefully trim these back to the base of the bulb.

5) It is likely that you may have had to remove several layers of skin from your bulbs to get down to an unblemished and undamaged layer, so by now, the skin may not be the ideal even brown color required. There is a solution to this however, buy some talcum powder or baby powder and scatter it over your chosen bulbs, before gently rubbing it evenly over the bulb with your hands. This will facilitate even color in the bulbs once they are fully dry again.

6) A few days prior to the show, choose your final selection of onions or shallots for exhibition, (aiming for the narrow-necked bulbs of similar shapes and sizes if at all possible). You will then need to trim the tops of these down to about two to three inches. Using a clean soft brush (such as an unused paintbrush), dust off any talcum/baby powder remaining on the bulbs.


7) Moisten the base of the necks to avoid cracking of the skins when you tie the tops down for exhibition.

8 ) To tie your onions you will need raffia.  Either fold over the tops of the onions to equal lengths and tidily bind the doubled over tops with raffia so that the end result looks smart and tidy, or don’t fold over the tops and simply tie the remaining tops as they are a centimeter or so from the tip of the stem.

9) Display your onions or shallots in a tray of powdery sand, (or on collars/rings) to ensure they sit upright and tidily in their display positions.