When it comes to growing vegetables, it doesn’t get much easier than onions. Just plant them in the garden, give them a little water, and these distinctive, dependable vegetables are ready to harvest almost before you know it.
Once harvested, onions can last weeks and even months if they’re properly cured and stored, and you can grab one for the kitchen whenever you need it. Here’s how to harvest, cure and store onions.
Onions are ready to harvest when the tops begin to flop over and turn yellow. This means the plant has finished growing and the leaves no longer need to provide energy to the bulb. It isn’t necessary to wait until the tops are completely dry.
Don’t harvest the onions right away, though, unless rain is predicted. Instead, stop watering and give them a week or 10 days to finish maturing. If weather turns damp and rainy, then go ahead and harvest.
The best time to harvest onions is during the morning when weather is dry and sunlight is less intense. Loosen the soil around the plants carefully with a spade or garden fork, and then pull the onions gently from the ground. Lay the onions on top of the soil for a day or two to dry. If the weather is hot, cover them lightly with straw to prevent sunburn. If the soil is wet, put the onions in a protected spot like a patio or garage. Handle the onions with care to avoid cuts and bruises. You even can hang the onions over a fence if you live in a dry climate.
If you want to store onions, curing is a critical step that allows the onions to form a papery, protective covering. If you plan to use onions soon, don’t bother curing them, as there’s no need. Keep in mind that mild, sweet onions don’t store as long as sharp, pungent onions. If you grow both types, then use the sweet onions first and save the pungent onions for storage. Some popular onions that store well include Copra, Southport Red Globe, Redwing, White Sweet Spanish and Downing Yellow Globe.
To cure the onions, place them in a clean, dry, shady, well-ventilated spot with stems still attached. If you’re short on space and need to cure the onions outdoors, spread the onions in a single layer and cover them with a light sheet to prevent sunburn, and then anchor the rocks in place with rocks. Never cover them with plastic, as lack of air circulation can cause the onions to rot.
Allow the onions to cure for two or three weeks, until the papery skin is tight and crispy and the roots are dry. Turn them every few days so they cure evenly. Set any soft onions aside for immediate use.
Brush the onions gently with your fingers to remove remaining dirt, and then trim the tops to about an inch with scissors before you store the onions. You can also trim the roots.
Sort through the onions again. If any are bruised, store them in the refrigerator and use them soon. Like apples, one bad onion can ruin the entire batch. Also, do not store onions near potatoes.
Place onions in a wooden crate or a nylon or mesh bag – that is, a dark area — and store them in a cool, dry place where temperatures are kept between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but never freezing.
Check the onions every few weeks and remove any that are turning soft.
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