How to Harvest, Cure and Store Onions

Onion transplants in a red coffee can.

The first plants to go in my garden this year were onion plants. Not sets, like I've always grown in the past. 

Instead, this year I had a coffee can full of onion transplants I purchased. Enough to fill an entire 4x8-foot raised bed.

Related post: How to Plant and Grow Onions

My previous onions hadn't been much to write home about. Eventually during those previous summers I'd get half a dozen small, unremarkable onions from the burlap package of sets I'd bought and planted, but that was about it. 

One year we were inundated with grasshoppers that ate the tops of my onions and decimated the crop. Who knew that grasshoppers like the taste of onions?

Flower on an onion plant.

This year the young plants were put in the ground in late March, and grew into beautiful, tall onion plants. 

Onions need a lot of water, so if your garden doesn't get an inch of water per week, you'll need to water them. They are also heavy feeders and should be fertilized every 2-3 weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as blood meal or bone meal.

The onion bed should be kept as free of weeds as possible so the onions don't have to compete with weeds for water and nutrients. Mulching the onion bed will help keep down weeds as well as hold in the moisture in hot weather. 

A few of my plants flowered in May.  I should have harvested the blooming plants earlier than I did, but I didn't realize that onions that have bolted (flowered) don't store well. After all, my previous attempts at growing onions had been, as I said, pretty lackluster.

And they ripened much earlier than I'd expected. It was only the end of May and I had expected my onions to be ready to harvest in mid-summer or so. Now I know better.

A garden bed of onions, ready to harvest.

How and when to harvest onions

Onions are ready to harvest when the necks are flexible and floppy. 

Not necessarily when the onions fall over, which they do because they're top heavy and their roots are short and shallow. 

If a flower stalk begins to form and runs through the middle of the onion bulb, that particular onion won't store well. So check the necks often - where the leaves come out of the bulb - and harvest when they are flexible.

Harvest onions from your garden by digging them up instead of pulling them up by the stalks. 

If the neck of the onion is at all rigid, leave it in the ground a little longer. It's ok to harvest a dozen onions and leave the rest for a few more days.

A harvested onion with roots and top

Since they ripened much earlier than I'd expected, I harvested about 2/3 of my crop with flexible necks at one time. I'd let a couple go too long and they had flowered, but we simply ate those onions first.

The rest were left in the ground, one here, a couple over there. I checked them daily and harvested them as they were ready.

(That gave me space to plant a few extra tomato plants I'd bought. It's an addiction, I tell you. I just can't pass up a new tomato variety!)

Onion harvest

How to cure onions

Onions need to be cured after harvesting. 

Lay them on a screen in a single layer so they'll have airflow both above and below. An airy place out of the sun is ideal.

I set a baby gate we're not using on top of two boxes with empty space underneath, and laid the onions on top of the mesh gate. I also set up a fan to blow across them since there wasn't much airflow. 

Onions need to cure for three to four weeks, until the necks have dried out completely and the skin is dry, crackly and tight around the bulb. 

If some of your onions have a stiff, thick neck, or if you have some that bloomed (bolted) in the garden, use those up first as they won't keep as well as the others that dry out completely. If you won't be able to use them right away, you can chop and freeze them (see the directions for freezing below).

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How to store onions from your garden

When your onions are completely cured and dry (this takes about three to four weeks), cut the necks off at about an inch long (unless you're going to braid them), and cut the roots short with scissors. Brush off any soil still remaining. 

The ideal way to store onions is to hang them in mesh bags, but you can also braid the stems together and hang the braids.

A woman's hand holding a large onion with the greens still attached.
Harvest onions when the neck of the plant is "floppy" and flexible.

Store your onions in a cool, dark and dry place. This might mean moving them as the seasons change. Our garage is much too hot to store onions until winter - and when the furnace is on in the house in the winter, the cold garage is a better location. 

Do not let onions freeze, though. If you're in a very cold climate an unheated garage might not be ideal after all. 

Check onions often while they are in storage. If they begin to sprout, the location is too warm. If they begin to grow roots, it's too humid. 

Can you store onions in the refrigerator? Yes, you can - if you have enough room!

If you have less-than-ideal storage conditions or a whole lot of onions, consider preserving them in other ways. 

You can freeze onions without having to blanch them, you just peel, slice or chop, and freeze. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Put the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours, then remove the sliced onions from the baking sheet and package them in a zipper-top freezer bag or other freezer container. 

It's so easy to pull out just a handful at a time to add to a recipe, then return the bag or container to the freezer.

For more information on choosing the right onion variety for your location, plus the difference between starting with onion seed, sets or transplants, check out this post How to Plant and Grow Onions.

If you'd like to grow perennial Egyptian walking onions, this post will get you started.

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How do you know when your onions are ready to harvest? Find out here, and how to cure your harvest. From Oak Hill Homestead

How to harvest, cure and store the onions from your garden.
How to know when it's time to harvest the onions.

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