How to Harvest, Cure and Store Onions
The Orchard Rack is ideal for storing onions. The drawers ensure good air circulation, and they slide out for easy access. For best results, the rack should be located in a cool, dark cellar or shed.
IF YOU ASK a roomful of good cooks what vegetable they consider indispensible, many will name the onion. Globe onions are an essential ingredient in most soups, stews and main dishes. They add pizzazz to pizza and sizzle to steaks. Another great thing about globe onions is their long shelf life. Kept in a cool, dark location, they're always on hand when needed. In fact, when stored correctly in their own papery wrappers, some varieties will maintain their eating quality for as long as a year.
To cure, I spread the onions on some scrap building paper (newspapers or even the bare floor is fine) in the barn and give them as much room as possible. In drier parts of the country, farmers and gardeners often let their onions cure right in the row after they pull them from the ground.
There are two main types of globe onions: pungent and mild. Mild onions are typically large and juicy with thick rings and thin, papery skins that peel easily. They can be cooked, but can also be eaten raw on sandwiches or burgers. And mild onions are the ones you want inside an onion ring. Unfortunately, mild onions are poor keepers. Even in ideal storage conditions, they will only maintain their eating quality for a couple months. So if you grow both mild and pungent onions, eat the mild ones first. A bumper crop of mild onions can be preserved in pickles, salsas and chutneys or you can turn them into caramelized onions. Learn how to make caramelized onions in our slideshow. Some of the most popular varieties in the "mild" category include Spanish onions, Bermuda onions and Vidalia onions.
Pungent onions are usually smaller in size, have thinner rings, tighter skins and make your eyes sting when you cut them. The same sulfurous compounds that draw tears inhibit rot, so the more pungent the onion the longer it will store. Some popular varieties of storage onions include Candy, Copra, Red Weathersfield and Ebenezer.
Harvesting onions is easy, and is the same for all globe onions. By midsummer, when the bulbs start to fatten up, you can begin harvesting individual onions as needed. In late summer or early fall, the leaves on your onion plants will start to flop over. This happens at the "neck" of the onion and it signals that the plant has stopped growing and is beginning prepare for storage. Onions should be harvested soon thereafter. If the weather is dry and there's no danger of frost, the plants can be gently pulled from the soil and laid right in the garden for a day or two. If the weather is wet or frost is possible, move the onions immediately into a protected spot. The floor of the garage or a covered porch works well. Spread the onions out in a single layer, taking care not to bump or bruise them.
An Orchard Rack is the time-tested way to store your onions. The drawers are slatted to ensure good air circulation, and they slide out for easy access. For best results, the rack should be located in a cool, dark cellar or shed.
Mild onions should be used up within a few weeks. Pungent onions that will be stored for the winter need to be cured for two to four weeks. Leave them spread out in a single layer. Warm (75-80 degrees F), dry and breezy is ideal. As the onions are curing, their necks will gradually wither and the papery skins will tighten around the bulbs. Once the necks are completely tight and dry, and the stems contain no moisture, you can use scissors to trim the roots off the bottom of each bulb. The leaves can also be trimmed to within 1″ of the bulb. Cull any onions that still have green necks, or have bruised or damaged bulbs. Bring the onions indoors and store them in mesh bags, a bushel basket, or a flat cardboard box with some holes punched in it. Keep the onions as cool as possible (35 to 40 degrees F.) and away from light. A good storage onion kept in a cold, dark place will retain its eating quality for 10 to 12 months.
To learn more read Growing Onions.