The Art of Harvesting Onions

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Harvested onions

It was late January when I started my onions from seed, and last week we tenderly carried the main crop from garden to deck. Oh, happy day! A few shallots aren't quite ready, but having a fine assortment of onions curing in warm shade will make any gardener's day. But let's back up a bit to consider the fine points of how to harvest onions and prepare them for storage, because how you handle your mature onion bulbs will greatly affect how long they will keep. Some onions store better than others, but all will keep better if they are attentively harvested and cured.

When to Harvest Onions

With any bulb-forming onion, the general rule of thumb is to wait for half of the plants to fall over, and then harvest the entire planting. This is fine if you have dry weather, but under moist conditions it's better to feel the necks of your plants for a soft spot a few inches above the onion bulb. This soft spot is a sign that the bulb has finished growing, and you can feel it a day or two before the top of the plant falls over. When rain is predicted, it's best to pull every plant that has gone soft at the neck, because moisture spells trouble for mature onions.

An onion bullying out and not yet ready to harvest

Shallots are an exception to the fall-over rule, because they often splay out over the ground as they divide into separate bulbs, but the plants may still be growing. This rather unattractive posture should therefore be tolerated until shallots' green leaves have withered back about halfway. Then they are ready to harvest and cure.

As for bulb onions, so-called short-day varieties will begin forming bulbs when days are only 12 hours long, while long-day onions form bulbs after days are about 14 hours long. However, bulbing can come on early or late depending on whether spring and summer have been warm or cool. Above-average temperatures that help onions accumulate "thermal time" can make the plants form bulbs ahead of schedule, whereas lower temperatures can lead to slight delays.

Onion plants with lots of big, healthy leaves will produce large bulbs, while those that bolt, or develop seed stalks, will produce small, lopsided bulbs. I rarely have a bolting problem when I grow onions from seed, but it's a common syndrome with onions grown from sets, or from oversized seedlings that are set out too early. Sets are a great way to grow green onions (scallions), but for a bolt-free bulb onion patch you'll need to use seedlings smaller than a pencil, set out after nighttime temperatures have warmed to above 45°F/7°C.

How to Harvest Onions

My best advice on harvesting onions is to treat them like eggs. Gently pull up on the plant's neck, and shake off excess soil. Allow no unnecessary bruising, including what you might cause by brushing off dirt. It's okay to flick away clods of soil and outer wrapper leaves that are obviously rotten, but postpone more serious cleaning until after the onions have air-dried in a warm, shady place for a couple of days.

Leaving the tops and outer wrapper scales intact when harvesting onions buys the bulbs time for the important task ahead – drying (or curing) until several layers of dry outer scales come together to close up the neck at the top of the bulb. From garden to long-term storage, the process of curing onions takes about a month.

Curing Your Onions

After a few days resting in a warm, dry place, I like to clean newly harvested onion bulbs to help them cure faster. Leaving as many outer scales intact as possible, I trim off leaves that have gone slimy or brown, and cut the green ones back to about 12 inches (30 cm). I lightly rub off soil and place the bulbs on an open shelf outdoors, protected from rain.

Curing onions
Curing onions on an open shelf outdoors

About two weeks later, the bulbs are ready to groom a second time and move indoors for a bit more drying time. This round, I use scissors to clip off roots and all but two inches of the withering tops. Then I gently wipe the curing onions with a damp cloth to clean them, and arrange them in a single layer indoors. By this time they hardly smell at all, so the final curing usually takes places on the cool stones of my wood stove hearth. After two weeks there, the onions are fully cured, ready to be relieved of their little stubs and shifted to the basement.

How to Store Onions

Sweet, juicy onions (including most short-day onions) deteriorate quickly, so they should be stored in the refrigerator. Other onions can be store in any cool, dry place. If you don't have a cool basement, look for alternative spots like downstairs closets or under your bed.

Given the same storage conditions, some onions will break dormancy long before others. When this happens, the onions soften and a green shoot may show at the top. One of my favorite onions, 'Long Red of Tropea', will break dormancy in December no matter how well it's cured, but then it's not a storage onion. In my experience, varieties described in seed catalogs as "hard storage" onions will last until February, though they usually get eaten by then. Dense little cipollinis and shallots stay in good condition all the way through winter, so they take over in the kitchen when the bulb onions are gone. All in all, I can't think of a better use of six months of gardening time than growing and curing a generous supply of interesting and delicious gourmet onions that will last until spring.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"Great post! Thanks for sharing! I'm going to post a link to this article on my blog in the reference section for future reference! http://mysquarefootgardenadventure.blogspot.com"
Toni on Friday 23 July 2010
"Thanks! Just in time!"
Tracey on Friday 23 July 2010
"Wish I'd had this blog earlier this year, I have been growing onions from sets and some from seed. The onion sets have all bolted; they flower beautifully for a long time and the bees love it, but the onions are a pitiful size. The seed onions are looking great though and I will be following your harvest advice shortly."
Kim on Friday 23 July 2010
"As soon as the first foliage starts to fall over, I apply Sulphate of Potash over and around the bulbs. This toughens the outer skin. I then lift them about 3 weeks later, regardless of weather (we live in West of Northern Ireland),and store them for a month on sheets of polystyrene (good drying and light reflective) in an open ended polytunnel, turning weekly. They are then moved to a 'chicken wire' platform on sheet plywood on trestles in an open garage. There they will keep happily till early March, (if any are left!) with very little loss."
Stuart Keys on Friday 6 August 2010
"What I would like is a good onion chutney recipe! We havent really got anywhere to store and our allotment has rewarded us with a crate full!"
Helen Page on Friday 6 August 2010
"Could you also post when to plant the bulbs? If you start in pots? etc.?"
noelle on Friday 6 August 2010
"I have just tried the Onion Marmalade recipe on the BBC Good Food site. It is excellent and easy to do. Does anyone have any recipe for using marrows in chutney?"
Karen on Monday 9 August 2010
"Good info, Barbara....too bad Dick just wants to grow yellow and/or purple FLOWERS!! Thanks for sharing"
Mary Hammond on Monday 6 September 2010
"It's wet, rainy and cool now on the west coast where my onions are still trying to grow. They are in varying stages of development. Some are nice big round bulbs and I've been waiting and waiting for the leaves to turn yellow. I even knocked them over to see if I could force them to, but they continue to grow strong, green and upright. Some bolted, and although the bulbs are smaller than the rest, they are still quite large, but with thick green stalks (about 1/2 - 1" thick). I'm wondering what to do at this point - I'm assuming I should harvest them so they don't rot in the ground with all this cool wet weather, but I'm not sure how they'll try with these thick green stalks on them. Any ideas? "
Sol on Thursday 9 September 2010
"That should read "how they'll DRY" not "how they'll try". Sorry."
Sol on Thursday 9 September 2010
"Sol, any that have bolted should be pulled up straight away as the thick stem part will develop to leave less usable onion. My inclination would be to also lift the others unless you are holding out for a warm spell in September (sometimes happens) - just depends on your local climate."
Jeremy Dore on Sunday 12 September 2010
"I lifted my onions in late August and thought I had cured them enough but several of them are rotten when I have cut into them, wish I had a definite reason for this, can any one enlighten me."
Diane Briggs. on Wednesday 10 November 2010
"Diane, I know the feeling. Spoiled onions are so vile that I don't try to cut into them. If they are soft and smelly, into the compost they go. The problems are usually fungi that managed to flourish, and the onions may have been overly damp just prior to harvesting. Next time, try harvesting a little bit sooner, and hopefully you will also get lucky on the weather. Still, I have about one out of a dozen bulb onions go bad before I use them. But the shallots are all still perfect, and I rarely lose one. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 10 November 2010
"Please can any one tell me if there is a wayto long trem store onion sets as i have orderd two many this year and would like to use them over 2 seasons if possable can any one help date 21 nov 2010"
graham gibbons on Sunday 21 November 2010
"It is unlikely that your sets will remain dormant much longer, but you never know. Look on the base and see if little rootlets are starting to appear. If so, you will need to plant the sets and use them as green onions through the winter. Or cook and eat them as pearl onions. "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 21 November 2010
"how to store onion and what should be the storage degree, i mean temperature. And when to cultivate onion."
mateenkhanbabar on Friday 3 June 2011
"how to store onion and what should be the storage degree, i mean temperature. And when to cultivate onion."
mateenkhanbabar on Friday 3 June 2011
"Sweet, early onions need to stay in the fridge, but a well-cured storage onion will store in the 50-60F range (10-15C). If you have no basement or other cool place, diversify into shallots, which are easier to keep and stay dormant longer. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 4 June 2011
"Im growing some troy onions which have all fallen over and only had one that bolted, but im not sure when to lift. Some say to wait until the foliage turns yellow and others say two or three weeks after they fallen. Is it just down to experience of when is the best time or is one right and the other wrong? Sorry if this is a stupid question but its a bit confusing! I just got my gyo magazine today and there are three seperate little articles that say different things."
Emma on Wednesday 29 June 2011
"hi out there i have another problem, my pea flowers are starting to die off never had this problem before can any one help "
diane briggs on Thursday 30 June 2011
"Emma, it is confusing, but once the tops fall over the bulb is receiving little, if any, photosynthetic energy, and is closing up shop. Pull early if the weather is wet, but there is less of a rush when the weather is dry. Diane, a number of root rots and viruses can infect peas, or they can die from heat and old age. Whatever the problem, if the plants fail, pull them out and plant something else -- while there is still time."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 1 July 2011
"Right so i might as well pull them up because it sounds like they have got has big as they can get, plus being able to dry them in good weather. Do the onions get more of a skin during the drying process? "
Emma on Friday 1 July 2011
"Yes, yes! Sometimes they come out of the ground looking rather naked, and like magic after 3 weeks of curing they have beautiful dry skins. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 1 July 2011
"How long should i leave my onions to cure before plaiting?"
Emma on Tuesday 5 July 2011
"Good question, Emma. You should wait only 2-3 days, then clip off roots and all but two or three of the longest leaves. As you braid, it helps to include a piece of hemp or jute "string", woven into the braid, which gives it strength. You can leave long ends on the string and use them for tying the onion braid to rafters. Good luck! "
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 5 July 2011
"Thanks for answering so quickly! so i guess its just like plaiting garlic but with string to support the weight of the onions? "
Emma on Tuesday 5 July 2011
"The string is optional, but it does give the onion braid good structure for hanging. Eventually the onions will let go of the leaves used in the braid, but not so dramatically if they are reinforced. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 6 July 2011
"After I pull my garlic, I dry/cure it in the shade by hanging it on the fence and it works perfectly. I've never dried/cured onions that way - would it work the same?"
Emmanuela on Tuesday 12 July 2011
"How timely is this post. I just harvested my Walla Wallas this week. This is the first time I have grown onions and was surprised how easy it was. Looks like I am on the right curing track. Thank you for reassuring me."
Claudia M on Sunday 17 July 2011
"Emmanuela, I hope your onions are curing nicely by now. As long as the place is shaded and sheltered from rain, it should do nicely for onion and garlic curing. Slow drying is best, which is maybe why they call it curing."
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 17 July 2011
"Barbara Pleasant, I enjoy reading your advice about gardening but I have a question for you now. This is the first time growing Onion bulbs and would like to know after I pick them out, if the plant roots kept in the ground, would re-grow next season. Somewhere I "think" I read that onions are planted once and come back over and over again. If that's so, how is that done? Thank you for any light you can shed on this question. Yours, Gini"
Gini on Thursday 21 July 2011
"Hi Gini, you're too kind. Actually, you don't want onions to grow again in the same spot, because aged onion tissues attract the flies whose babies become onion root maggots. Therefore, even perennial onions like the Evergreen Bunching variety should be lifted and moved annually to a fresh spot... I think perhaps the idea of regrowing onions has to do with replanting the bottom inch of any shank-forming onion (leeks, scallion) with roots attached. It will quickly grow into a new leek or scallion. Recently harvested bulb onions may do similar things if you replant the base with roots attached, but it would be an adventure, not a sure thing. Onions are so interesting! "
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 21 July 2011
"Thank you Barbara for your advice on onions. I will do as you suggest and plant new onion bulbs in a changed spot. Thanks so much for your quick response, I'm your fan. Gini"
Gini on Friday 22 July 2011
"Very useful information. This is my first year growing onions so i was a bit concerned when they all fell over!"
James on Monday 25 July 2011
"Can anyone show steps on how to braid the onions for storage? I don't think I am getting the right image because I have harvested, dried off, and stored these in a flat basket in my garage. I'd like to get them off of the basket and hang, but how? "
Charlotte Ross on Saturday 30 July 2011
"I have my beautiful onion crop drying outside in a warm, shady place on a raised screen. Unfortunately, it rained unexpectedly in the night. What should I do now?"
J Steider on Wednesday 3 August 2011
"Great post. Can you please clarify what the below means, i.e. the stub, is this where the long stalk has been cut off a couple of times, then removed altogether? ' After two weeks there, the onions are fully cured, ready to be relieved of their little stubs and shifted to the basement.'"
sam h on Wednesday 3 August 2011
"J, simply move your onions to a dry place and continue curing them. One rain won't mess you up if the onions get dry again promptly...Sam, good question! How quickly and completely the necks dry down varies with variety and weather conditions. You never want to trim into juicy tissue when cutting back the dried necks. This is not much of an issue with round onions, but elongated torpedo onions and shallots can take a long time to get dry necks."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 3 August 2011
"Many thanks Barbara"
sam h on Wednesday 3 August 2011
"the weather has been too wet to allow my onions to cure. I am left with onions appear to be developed but have very wet tops, what is the best way to proceed? would it still be possible to store them/ should I cut off the tops and hope for the best?"
g.c.bernal on Monday 15 August 2011
"I suggest cutting the tops back to about a hand's width, and clipping off most of the roots before putting your onions in a dry indoor place for a couple of days with a fan turned on low. The outer 2-3 layers must be encouraged to dry rather than soften, or you will have rotten onions. Set aside any onions that feel soft and use them right away. Truly mature onions "want" to dry, so nature is on your side."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 16 August 2011
"Thanks for all the great information re harvesting onions. My question has to do with watering them prior to harvesting. Am I supposed to stop watering them some weeks prior to harvesting the way we do for garlic? I haven't done this (first time onion and garlic grower) so I'm not sure how successful my harvest will be here in southeast BC."
Lee McAleese on Sunday 21 August 2011
"Yes, Lee, when the plants show subtle signs of decline, for example withering older leaves and leaf tips, it's best to let them stay on the dry side if you can. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 22 August 2011
"Store onions in a cool dry place yes, but what about light or does it not matter ?"
Jim Beattie on Thursday 8 September 2011
"Jim, a little light won't hurt onions, but exposure to very bright light would eventually cause greening of the outer layers. Green outer layers are edible but quite tough. Just remember that cured bulb onions are still very much alive, and need to be kept dormant in an environment that resembles cool, dry earth. They are much easier to store compared to potatoes."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 9 September 2011
"Hello Barbara, Just before Hurriicane Irene i harvested my onions. All leaves had fallen over ( some were green ) and the onions are beautiful, several varieties of Red and White. I pulled them and put them inside - in a sunny location - because I am new to growing onions I thought this was smart! But I left them there for several weeks as I was distracted by canning etc and when I happen to gaze upon them they looked beautiful! I went to braid them and many have a slightly soft top - and some have mushy stems at the top. I have brushed off the dirt, taken dead leaves off, sorted them and now have them in the garage in a cool airy location, should I put a fan on them? Some are just slightly soft right at the top 1" diameter - I thought if I am going to eventually loose them to rot maybe I would chop and freeze....anyway...how would you proceed? Thank you for your help. "
Christine Du Mond on Tuesday 13 September 2011
"Christine, it's important to sort out any onions that feel soft or smell funky, and use them right away. I often include them in frozen packets of other veggies. The neck is the last part of the onion to dry, so be patient for the next couple of weeks and let your good onions keep curing. Congratulations on your crop! "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 14 September 2011
"Christine, I posted a question a while back about how to braid. Can you share how you braid? No one else has offered advice on that. Thank you. "
Charlotte Ross on Friday 16 September 2011
"This thread is great, it is my first year at growing onions too. I am a little concerned with the dates of some of the posts - some people appear to have been pulling up their onions in July, whereas I'm just thinking about pulling mine up now - is this because they A) planted earlier and/or B) have a different variety? Also, I'm very much wanting to know how to braid the onions too. I look forward to reading a response. "
Lorraine on Saturday 17 September 2011
"Lorraine, people in the south and central US grow short day or intermediate day varieties that bulb in July. Long day varieties mature later in more northern latitudes. With bulb onions, it's all about day length...To braid, clip off all but about 3 central leaves. Working on a flat surface, braid the tops as you would hair, only incorporate a long piece of cotton string or ribbon into the braid. The string provides a hanging device and helps hold the braid secure as the tops dry down more. "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 18 September 2011
"I don't have enough space in my garden to plant all the onions sold in a set. Can I store them? containers? Any suggestions would be helpful and greatly appreciated."
Kimberli Maddox on Thursday 19 April 2012
"I'm trying as a novice to grow veggies in a greenhouse, can I cut the greens for salad, leaving small bulbs/roots in dirt in hopes they will continue to grow? "
Tamera on Thursday 10 May 2012
"Tamera, the plants will continue to grow, but removing green growth reduces the amount of energy that can be sent to the bulb. For green onions, you can simply plant sets close together and pull them young, or grow "bunching" onions that multiply by division instead of making bulbs. The world of onions is huge, and full of adventures for curious gardeners."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 14 May 2012
"Regarding storing sets, I have had some luck maintaining them in the crisper of the fridge. I like to use them throughout the season for scallions, yet they are only available to purchase in early spring or are of poor quality as the season progresses. To keep them, I put them in an open plastic produce bag in the crisper. This reduces shrinkage in the dehydrated environment that they would experience in merely their mesh bag and so prolongs storage life, but if the bag is sealed to the extent there is dew in the bag, there will be mold and loss. If you have a fridge with glass shelving or where people stand with the doors open all the time, the light will green them up and get the sets growing, thus reducing storage time, so try putting them in a cardboard box or thick paper envelope. I buy several pounds of sets. I do not let them sit around at all when I bring them home. Before they go into the crisper, I pull out all moldy and bad-looking ones and PLANT THEM right away because a bunch will actually grow if planted shallowly. As I plant, I prioritize use of the sets that have already put a lot of energy into a sprout or look like they may not have enough energy to hold out much longer, like the tiniest or shriveled sets, leaving the biggest and strongest sets to wait for the late season. This reduces storage loss compared to randomly selecting sets. I have kept them for maximum six months this way. After the heat of summer (late Sept) I plant whatever is left for use into fall and winter. Whatever I don't get around to using by the time the snow is down will be there come spring before anything else is ready. I am in Iowa btw if that makes a difference, 42 degrees latitude. "
Athena on Tuesday 26 June 2012
"Many thanks for this very helpful article! We're getting a bigger crop of onions this year, though they're still smaller than I'd like. But I'm trying to cure them now, and didn't know that it takes so long, or how the top closes up. Now I do! "
Phyllis Smith on Tuesday 3 July 2012
"Diddo that last comment...this article is EXTREMELY helpful! I have always wanted to dry my onions for storage and later use, but wasn't sure of the proper way. Thank you for the very detailed steps! I just harvested my onions today, and am excited to see how they turn out! THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing this information!"
Lori on Saturday 7 July 2012
"Thank you for a very helpful site. Just one question. You say you dry them outside for a couple weeks then bring them inside and on your wood stove hearth for a couple weeks then take them to the basement. Is there a reason you don't just take them to the basement and skip the hearth? Thanks for the help. Theresa"
Theresa Austing on Monday 16 July 2012
"You want the drying to proceed, but it often takes a while for the last moisture to leave the necks at the tops of the bulbs. The bulbs can be in no mood for mold when moved to the still, humid conditions in my basement, so I give them some time in the main part of the house for final drying. Hope this helps."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 17 July 2012
"Great Post! This is wonderfully helpful for a beginner (me)!"
Norm on Friday 27 July 2012
"I love this site!!! I wish I knew where everybody was, but the information is still great. I didn't know about the soft spot on onions, going out to feel mine now. I am in southern Michigan, USA. "
Audrey on Tuesday 7 August 2012
"Hi Audrey, I'm in the northwest of England, actually. But I'm American, and lived in the U.P. when I was a little girl, and in central Indiana til I moved to the UK 10 years ago. Small world! Phyllis"
Phyllis on Tuesday 7 August 2012
"Great article and very informative for the amateur gardener,one tip,you should never pull onions out of the ground always dig them up,this prevents tthe roots from being ripped off and exposing the base of the bulb to disease. "
John Anderson on Sunday 12 August 2012
"Great article and very informative for the amateur gardener,one tip,you should never pull onions out of the ground always dig them up,this prevents tthe roots from being ripped off and exposing the base of the bulb to disease. "
John Anderson on Sunday 12 August 2012
"Thank you for such detailed and useful information Barbara. I found your site, and immediately realized that it was time to harvest my onions. They are hanging from the rafters in the woodshed and I will follow your suggestions for further drying before moving them to the basement. Can you please explain the concept of "bunching" onions. Same as multiplier onions? I planted those last year and wasn't sure what to do with them. The onion part in the ground was great but what to do with the "bulbs" at the tops ? Are they to be replanted? Thank you. "
Carol Ann Mills on Friday 17 August 2012
"Carol Ann: You have multipliers, which in my experience are best handled as top-setting shallots. Replant the bulblets from the tops of the plants, and they will grow into green onions to harvest in fall. Unharvested plants will divide in spring (more scallions to harvest) and then produce topsets. The bases of withered parent plants will yield one or two elongated shallots, which can be eaten or replanted. Bunching onions multiply by division and by true seed, not by topsets. Hope this helps!"
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 17 August 2012
"It's 2012 now,and I have just seen Barbara's "How to harvest onions".Very helpful, thank you.I just have my best crop ever,and hope I can do them justice!"
Cecily Smith on Thursday 6 September 2012
"We have quite a lot of onions(planted from sets) that just haven't developed this year- don't know whether it's the soil or the weather- we live in Cornwall. I've dug them up and they seem perfectly healthy, but I don't know whether we can replant them, or whether we should just use them as baby- well foetus really- onions when cooking. Any tips please?"
Joanna on Saturday 8 September 2012
"I would suspect an interaction of weather, planting stock and planting dates to be the explanation. In parts of the central US this year, some onions also failed to bulb properly. Go ahead and use some of them as giant green onions and see what happens with the rest. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 10 September 2012
"Thanks Barbara, that's really helpful"
Joanna Carter on Tuesday 11 September 2012
"Hi all, could someone please help me. I know nothing about gardening but I have an Onion plant which started out as a shop bought Onion that started shooting in the fridge, so I planted it just for fun. It's now 24th Sept 2012 and it's grown quite tall with white flowers starting to open on top of two long stalks. Question: Can I collect seeds from this plant for use next year or it is destined for the bin. Many thanks, Dave."
Dave Humphreys on Monday 24 September 2012
"Dave, you can use the onion flowers in salads or sandwiches, but there won't be time for the plant to develop mature seeds if it is flowering now. Below ground, you will probably find a bulb that has divided into two parts, with one part supporting the flower. That part can go in the bin, but you can harvest the other half and eat it like the onion that it is."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 25 September 2012
"Hi Barbara, sorry for delayed reply but I've had connection problems with my Virgin broadband. Thank you for your response, I'll do exactly what you suggested and am now looking forward to eating the first thing I've grown. :) Shame about the seeds, I'm in the UK but I guess the same applies. This could be the start of more home grown veg. lol Best Regards, Dave."
Dave Humphreys on Friday 28 September 2012
"We live in Alberta; in Western Canada, quite near the mountains, at elevations where late Spring frosts and early Autumn frosts leave a short growing season. We nearly always plant onions from sets and not seeds because of this. Our garden is planted near May 24th and our onions come off to dry, in late August. Generally our onion crop is good. The onions are a good size and seem to store quite well. In fact I am holding in my hand right now both a red onion and a yellow onion that were dug up in August 2011; 13 1/2 months ago. They are both firm and in good shape. They are some of the last of last years crop. We have found that when growing, onions like sunshine and water on a regular basis with drying periods in between. If you want larger onions, plant them 3 or 4 inches apart so they can grow to fill their alotted space. The closer the onions are planted to each other, the smaller the onions will be at harvest time. Generally we will go down the row a week or so before time to dig up the onions and step on the stems to bend them right over to the ground. This seems to help speed up the process of drying the onions. After the onions are dug up the dirt is brushed off and the onions are laid out in the sun for a few days to dry. Be gentle and leave as may outer layers of onion in place at this time and at all times when they are being processed. In the sun, if dug up before it turns colder, the tops will dry reasonably quick and start to become brittle. Before the tops become too brittle, we tie the onions together by the withering tops, in manageable bunches, and hang them up in the sun if possible. We will move them into shelter in the evening or if the weather becomes damp. Eventually (in about two to three weeks) the onions can be separated from the dried up tops and we will lay the onions in boxes about two onions deep. Inspect the onions and make sure that they are absolutely dry and that there are no new green leaves starting to grow. Otherwise they will not store for any length of time at all. At this point our storage procedures deviate from those advocated most of the time. This works well for us. We place the boxed onions not in a cool dry place but in a reasonably warm dry place. Not hot but reasonably warm. In fact we store ours in the furnace room in our basement, about five feet from our furnace. Two or three outer layers of the onion become very dry and form a tight seal around the onion and allow it to store well for a good length of time. It may sound strange but it works well for us. I hope this works for some of you also. "
Cal on Wednesday 10 October 2012
"Are you familiar with "Poor Man's Onions"???? When are thet ready to harvest? How are they used in a recipe? They are SO tiny! The beach is covered with them!"
Sharon on Sunday 28 April 2013
"Barbara, after I harvest my onions, how long do I let them dry out before I can eat them?"
jimmyb on Tuesday 25 June 2013
"This is a great site for anyone interested in growing and storing onions. In spite of the wet summer last year I had a very successful crop. Stored in a potting shed between a slatted bench they kept well into late March. "
John anderson on Tuesday 25 June 2013
"Jimmy, you can eat onions right out of the ground, but as you peel them you will find that you must remove the outer 2 or 3 layers, which may feel slightly slimy. If allowed to cure, these layers of tissue would form the dry outer wrappers. Fresh, uncured onions often taste quite mild, and they cook quickly, too. "
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 25 June 2013
"I planted a group of walla walla onions last year. After harvesting the larger ones, I left the smaller onions in the ground thinking I would take them out before winter came. I forgot about, and now after the winter has come and gone, they've all grown again and are fairly large. Should I still discard these onions or are they save to be eaten once cured?"
Kathleen on Tuesday 2 July 2013
"Onions are safe to eat at any stage. If your onions have not flowered, count yourself lucky. As biennials, they would normally bloom after going through winter. If the do bolt, because your plants are so large, you will probably still get partial bulbs from the plants. Only cure and store plants that have not produced flower spikes."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 3 July 2013
"I planted garlic bulbs that were in my pantry and showing signs of trying to grow, also the bottom inch or so of onions that we had eaten, all together and I can't tell one from the other in the ground. Can I harvest them all together and figure out what they are when pulled up. We live in Seattle and have had an unusually warm early summer. The leaves are starting to brown at the base but are still upright and green further up. I don't know if this is due to lack of water or just part of the normal maturation process. Also many are forming what looks like flowers or seed pods, thickening just before the top. I think these may be the garlic but am not sure. Should I cut these stems back and use them in salads or saute or whatever. Will this help the bulbs develop further or should I harvest now. We will have at least another month or two of dry weather. Is there any reason not to leave them in the ground even if they are essentially done growing (if they are). Why do you not eat the part of the onion bulb that supports the flower. "
steve on Saturday 6 July 2013
"Steve, the garlic plants will have flat leaves, while the onions have round leaves. Usually garlic matures a week or two before onions, though this varies with climate. Onion and garlic flowers are edible and quite nutritious, but plants that produce flowers develop smaller bulbs. When new growth stops, start sampling what you've grown in your mystery patch. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 8 July 2013
"When your stored onions start to sprout or may start going bad, peel them, dice them small enough to use in casseroles, put them in a plastic bag and freeze them. When frozen, bang on the bag to loosen them and then dump them into a tupperware container and put directly back into the freezer while still frozen. Take out handfuls of them and put them in your casseroles. They freeze great and it is so handy to have cut up onions when you are in a hurry!! : )"
Heidi on Thursday 11 July 2013
"This isn't an onion question but I know you will have an answer for me anyway. I have two rosemary plants that have gotten leggy so I cut them back a week ago hoping they would fill in during the growing season. I took the pieces I cut, up to a foot long and washed them and put them on my kitchen counter to dry for a few days. I turned them and kept them seperate. We went on vacation so I just left them there and as far as I can tell they look fine. I also cut some oregano at the same time and did the same with it. Now I am tying my herbs in bundles to hang. I am putting them in paper bags, from the grocery store, with a two or three by one inch slit on each side for ventalation, to keep the dust off of them. How long should I leave them? Do I need to strip the leaves and put them in glass or can I just use them as needed from the bags. This is just fun for me since the plants are big enough to supply me with all I need fresh but I hate to waste. I gave away a ton of the rosemary when I cut it and a friend who is a chef is going to use hers to make rosemary simple syrup (I think). What should I do with all of my rosemary? Thanks, Steve "
steve on Monday 15 July 2013
"Herbs often produce more than you can use, which is a good thing. I would finish drying the herbs in a warm oven (150 degrees F) for a couple of hours, then store them uncrushed in airtight containers. I keep my dried herbs in glass jars in a dark, cool cabinet. Exposure to light or heat will cause them to loose color and flavor. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 16 July 2013
"I am growing Walla Walla Sweet Onions. They are at varying stages in development, with some being larger than my fist,and others being slightly bigger around than my thumb. Though nearly half my crop have flopped, I don't want to harvest all of them, seeing as some have very little bulb. Should I harvest the onions that have flopped, and cure my crop in stages, or just harvest them all, regardless of the size of the bulb? This leads me to my next query. Do I need to go through the two-week curing process described in your article, seeing as my onions are short-day onions, and therefore wouldn't keep in my basement; or should I just put them into the refrigerator directly after harvesting? If I do put them in the refrigerator, does it matter if they're in a plastic bag, a paper bag, or just loose? Thank you so much!"
First Time Onion Gardener on Wednesday 17 July 2013
"Day length triggers the bulbing response, so any onions that are going to bulb have already done so. It is typical to have a mix of large and small onions in a garden planting. If half of the crop has flopped, I would go ahead and pull them. Cure or dry the onions in warm shade for a few days to a week before cleaning them up and storing them in your fridge. This short curing time for sweet onions helps dry the outer skins, but they will still need to be refrigerated."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 18 July 2013
"Hi Madame Barbara Pleasant, I'm planning to buy a lots of onions, then i want to put them to storage for a few months until raining season(normally July-December in Philippines), what should i do to keep them good and to avoid loosing weight? Thank You so much. Mark"
Mark Anthony B. Portuguez on Wednesday 14 August 2013
"HI! I pulled my onions but the first layer of skins (papery brown) are split around the root. I wanted to store them for the winter. Will these onions keep? : ("
alana on Wednesday 14 August 2013
"The problem with splits in the skin is that little bugs or microorganims can access the juicy inner tissues. You should store the split onions separately and use them first. Late rain, while the onions were finishing the bulbing process, probably caused the problem."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 15 August 2013
"Hi, Can I sneak a question about chives in here? I have a pot of chives about three years old that grow well but I have two problems. A lot of stalks go brown and wither. This is throughout the plant not just at the edges. Also I get a lot of stalks that look banded, a band of brownish yellow followed by green followed by brownish yellow followed by green etc. Eventually the whole stalk withers. Is this a pest, some sort of fungus or mildew, overwatering, not enough fertilizer, or what. Can I still use the chive if it is mostly green? Thanks, Steve"
Steve on Thursday 22 August 2013
"Hi, I tied my onions and hung them on a fence and they were drying well, about 4 weeks ago i moved them under the wooden gazebo and hung them against a wall thinking i could leave them there to cut as i needed them, i realise i've made a mistake and as the weather has turned they have absorbed the moisture and now i dont know what to do? Should i hang them in the workshop with the woodburner lit or risk cutting the tops and putting them in baskets in a cool dark shed? Thanks Adele "
Adele on Saturday 19 October 2013
"Adele, regardless of curing or storage conditions, stored onions should be checked weekly for signs for rotting or breaking dormancy. Cutting off the tops is an excellent move, because then you will be able to see and feel the necks better. That is the part of the onion where problems tend to develop in storage. "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 20 October 2013
"Why do you have a warm drying period? My onions grew huge and fast this year, I knocked the tops over to try and slow them and then pulled them today because we're getting thunderstorms every afternoon. Anywhere here is hot and humid right now and the bugs get at everything. I put them straight in our basement which is cool and dry. ???"
Sarah on Tuesday 15 July 2014
"Sarah, the onions will store much better if you let them dry in warm conditions for a while. The outer two layers of wrappers need to let go of most of their moisture and the neck must close up, too, which happens best under warm conditions. Putting the onions straight into cool temps with no air circulation invites problems with rot. "
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 15 July 2014
"I am growing hard stem brown onions in my garden in Victoria, Australia, and some of the leaves are just beginning to turn brown. The plants are also forming seed pods at the end of stalks. Should I cut off the pods now, or just let them bloom?"
Eric Page on Friday 24 October 2014
" Very interesting articles on raising and storing onions. This year is my first attempt at starting with seeds so far they are approximitley 2" in height. Plan on planting them around the first week of May, I live in Western New York hope the snow is gone by then."
KKen King on Wednesday 25 March 2015
"My onions are ready to harvest but I just didn't get a chance this week and now we are having a thunderstorm and it has been racing pretty much all day. What should I do if it isn't raining tomorrow pull them up or wait until they dry out while in the ground. Hope I haven't missed my chance of a good harvest."
Myden on Saturday 20 June 2015
"If you expect nothing but rain and your onions have fallen over, go ahead a pull them. If lots of soil sticks to them, swish them in a bucket of water to float it off. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 22 June 2015
"Hi Barbara, I googled onions bolting and found your wonderful blog. Here in N E Scotland we are having a miserable summer so far with no sunshine and dull, often wet days. I notice a few of my onions have bolted so I'll take your good advice. My onions didn't store well last year but now I'm armed with the good advice on this page I'm sure I'll have onions and shallots to last me until next spring. Meantime I'll save this blog to my favourites. Thank you, Iris Ann"
Iris Ann on Wednesday 24 June 2015
"My onions appear to have shot do I need to pull them"
Julia humbles on Thursday 25 June 2015
"Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic however I'd figured I'd ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My site goes over a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!"
Buford on Sunday 2 August 2015
"Just dug up this years crop of onions, suggest growers try 'Rumba' from Suttons, they are Heat Treated so planted a little later than other types. I've grown them for the past two years and had excellent results. John"
John anderson on Sunday 2 August 2015
"Lots of onion stringing methods on youtube A useful visual tool."
Paul on Tuesday 25 August 2015
"Hello All, I have several yellow onions planted, and the bulbs are pretty large on most of them. However, they did bolt producing a flower casing that never opened. What does this do? Should I harvest them? Should I cut off the flower stalk? other options??? Thanks in advance"
Britt on Wednesday 18 May 2016
"The stalk of the flower will usually emerge from a divided bulb, with one division giving much of its energy to the stalk. As you harvest, set aside the onions that bolted for eating fresh. You can cure and store those that appear round and perfect. Most onions that are as far along as yours are short day types, which tend to taste mild and sweet but do not store well anyway. Enjoy your crop! "
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 19 May 2016
"Hello, advice please. My luxurious crop of shallotts had their leaves turn black and die during a week I was away. Any notion what caused this, and should I lift or leave the nearly fully formed shallotts? Thanks, Stephen"
Stephen Fremantle on Monday 3 July 2017
"Stephen, I don't know why the leaves would turn black, but I think lifting and curing the shallots is a good idea. "
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 6 July 2017

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