As the onion harvest comes in, it's time to start curing and storing

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By: Jim Carpenter
cutterofwood@hotmail.com

Chiot's Run/Flickr

Anything I harvest from my garden gives me a real sense of satisfaction, a feeling of the circle being completed.

From the first seed, plant or bulb that is planted in the garden, this is what all the work is about — all the tending, all the weeding, watering, bug watching and everything else that goes into having any kind of a decent harvest from your garden.

I realize that I am a bit fickle when it comes to getting excited about one vegetable or another. It seems that whatever is getting ripe and ready to be harvested is my favorite at that time.

Right now I am excited about my onions. I have harvested about half of what I have, and they are pretty nice. Onions are used a lot in our household and they are also a vegetable that stores very well if a few precautions are taken with them.

We prefer to plant onions that keep well, which also happen to be the ones with a stronger flavor that we like. The main ones I planted this year were the Copra variety, which will store for up to 10 months.

Very generally speaking, there are two types of onion plants. The sweeter type will not store for over three months, while the more pungent variety might store much longer.

For best storage, onions need to be cured for several weeks in an open dry area. This allows enough moisture to leave the onion so that the skin will tighten for better long term keeping.

In my situation, I have a small porch where we spread out newspapers and cover them with many large onions. The rest of my onion crop will have to wait for harvesting until these are ready to hit the basement.

We store them in paper or cardboard and they seem to do well. Many people save the mesh type bags for onion storage which works very well also. The most important thing is to check them on a regular basis in case one starts to go bad. Once a month or so is usually sufficient.

Onions are done growing when their tops lay over. At this point the onions can be harvested and then cured for several weeks. I cut off the majority of any top that is left simply to make it easier to spread out on the floor. Some sources say to leave the top intact through the curing process to eliminate a potential entry point for diseases or organisms to enter the onion. I have not found this to be a problem.

There is some confusion people have about the difference between onion sets and onion plants. An onion set is a second-year onion that is used mainly to grow green onions for the table. Sets will not grow into the larger onions that you will want for storage.

Onion plants are usually sold by the bundle with about 60 to 75 plants per bundle. The sets are semi-dormant and will keep for a while until you plant them. Onion plants, on the other hand, need to get into the ground sooner.

Over the last several years, I have constructed a number of raised beds that I grow my produce in. I like to grow the majority of my onions in these raised beds, as I find it is much easier to keep up with the weeding there. The onion does not like any weed competition.

Growing vegetables in raised beds has been an important part of my gardening in recent years and is something I would recommend to anyone. Raised beds are easier to keep on top of with the weeding, fertilizing and watering. Some sources say that with a raised bed you might grow up to 60 percent more produce in the same area.

How do I like my onions? Sliced, diced, cubed, cooked, raw, fried and caramelized. In soups, salads, stews and stir fry. I suppose you get the point.

And for those who might remember a song from the ’60s, “I don’t like shoes that pinch your toes, or people who squirt you with the garden hose, but mmm, I love onions.”

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