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.

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 did.

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.)

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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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 they won't all fit in these three small bags. I might need to braid some of them, or buy more laundry 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.

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

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