Harvesting and Curing Onions

The first plants to go in my garden this year were onion plants. Not sets, like I've always grown in the past. Instead, a friend had given me a coffee can full of onion plants. Enough to fill an entire 4x8-foot raised bed.

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. 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?

This year the young plants were put in the ground in late March, and grew into beautiful, tall plants. A few flowered in May. And then they all sort of fell over. It was only the end of May and I had expected my onions to be ready to harvest in mid-summer or so.

Onions need a lot of water, and the onion bed should be kept as free of weeds as possible so the onions don't have to compete with the weeds for water. Mulching the onion bed is a good idea, to help keep down weeds as well as hold in the moisture in hot weather. I meant to mulch them, and wrote "buy wood shavings for the onion bed" on my calendar so I'd remember when we got back from our trip to visit family, but before I bought the shavings, the onions started falling over.

How to harvest and cure onions - Oak Hill Homestead

Well, either these onions were ready to harvest or some animal was walking through the raised bed at night and stomping on my beautiful onions.

When to harvest onions

For several mornings I thought "I'll have to research when to harvest onions when I get back in the house," but by the time I went inside I'd forgotten. Finally the morning came when I realized I could look it up right now, here in the garden, on my phone.

So I did. I found a YouTube video on when to harvest onions and another from the Utah Extension Service on how to cure onions. Here is a synopsis of what I learned.

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. If the neck of the onion is at all rigid, leave it in the ground a little longer.

Aha! I checked my onion bed, and harvested about 2/3 of the crop, all with flexible necks. The rest I left where they were, one here, a couple over there. A few days later I harvested most of those, and right now I only have half a dozen in the ground. (Yay, I had a place to plant the last couple of those tomato plants I bought when we were out of town.)

How to cure onions

The best way to cure onions is to lay them on a screen in a single layer so they'll have airflow both above and below. I set a baby gate we're not using on top of two boxes with empty space underneath, and laid the onions on top. It's in our mudroom, which gets extremely hot during the summer and doesn't have much airflow. If you can cure yours in the garage or someplace similar and have windows open or a fan blowing across them, that would be more ideal than my setup.

The onions need to cure for three to four weeks, until the necks have dried out completely and the skin is dry and tight. If you have onions that have a stiff, thick neck, or onions that have 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.

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How to store onions

When your onions are completely cured and dry, 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. I recently bought some mesh laundry bags at the dollar store (3 for $1) that I will use, since they're not holding up well in the laundry, although certainly all these beautiful onions won't fit in those three small bags.

This post from Our Stoney Acres has excellent advice on the ideal storage temperatures for onions; you'll also discover how to tell if your storage location is too warm or too humid, and why you should put all the small onions in one bag and the larger ones in another.

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, just peel, slice or chop, and freeze. Take one more step for best results: freeze them on a baking sheet in a single layer. After a few hours in the freezer, 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.

I need to ask my friend what variety these onions are so I can grow them again; they worked so well in my garden and they're delicious. What kind of onions do you grow? Do you have any additional tips?

I've been sharing the progress of the onions on Instagram over the past months. Instagram seems to be a friendly and engaging place; it's easy to comment and I love connecting with friends. Find me, follow me and talk to me!


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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  1. I've had varying success with our onions in the past, but hadn't taken the time to figure out how to know when to harvest them. I've read a bit about harvesting the onions, but that floppy neck tip is not one I've heard before. Great information, thanks for sharing!

    1. It was a new tip to me too, Danielle, but it makes sense. Hope you have better success with your onions this year.

  2. My onions are still going strong, but then I'm a lot farther north than your garden. :) I always thought I was supposed to harvest when they fell over...you learn something new every day! Thanks, Kathi!

    1. I'm glad it was helpful, Lisa. :-)

  3. I have found using straw (Do Not use hay)as mulch works best for me for all my gardening; tomato plants, pepper plants, etc. Works so much better than wood (cypress) mulch.
    I remember when my mom planted onions. She wouldn't pull them till the green tops turned brown. She then tied with twine and hung up for them to dry in the basement

    1. I tried hay one year and won't do that again, Colleen! The weed seeds were prolific. Straw is impossible to find here though, so that's not an option. Pine shavings were my plan.

  4. Hay does have A Lot of weeds in with. Straw has some but not many and those that do comer up are very easy to pull out
    We buy our straw at Tractor Supply; basically the only place we have found that sells it or maybe check with a local Feed Supply place, they may sell straw as well.

    Have a fun and enjoyable weekend

  5. I did not know grasshoppers liked onions! I really enjoyed this post, and as I've often had trouble with onions sprouting I especially enjoyed the storage tips. Pinning and sharing. Thank you so much for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party. I hope you are having a lovely weekend!

    1. I was shocked when I realized that the grasshoppers were eating the tops of my onions, April. I had no idea, and they seemed to prefer them to other plants, at least until the onions were gone and they started on other things. We lost a young peach and a young nectarine tree that year to grasshoppers too.

      I hope the storage tips are helpful, and that you too had a nice weekend.

  6. My first year growing onions. Thanks for this info.

  7. Good info, thanks!

  8. I really enjoyed this. I haven't got my garden growing yet. (We've only been on our homestead a couple months) I bookmarked this page so that I can come back. Thank you.

    1. Congratulations on your new homestead, Nicole!

  9. This post has helped me so much. I had no idea about curing onions. Thank you for this post!

  10. perfect timing as usual. Onion's seem to be early for us this year, and I've never had any get this far. I enjoy your videos, haven't commented as much as I'd like to, but I don't miss a one.

    1. How sweet, Debbie, thank you!


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