After posting about onions yesterday, everyone was asking about how I store my onions. The home in which I spent part of my childhood had a proper root cellar. It was located under the porch and had a gravel floor. As a result it stayed cold and humid. It was full of spiders and had one a lightbulb in the middle of the room – you had to open the wooden door and step into the damp dark room while feeling around for the pull cord – it was the scariest thing in the world when we were little (right up there with the basement stairs without backs). A proper root cellar like this is the best place to store crops, but many of us do not have such spaces.
Our home is like most modern homes, we have a basement, but no proper root cellar. Generally I simply store my onions in baskets on shelves in the basement. We don’t heat our basement so it stays about 50-55 degrees all winter long. A little warm for storing vegetables, but better than the upstairs. Things would store a bit longer if we could keep it cooler, but they usually store until we eat them all. The biggest challenge you will face if you don’t have a cool enough spot is that your onions will start to sprout, That’s not a huge problem since they can still be used.
I often store my onions in the workshop off the garage until the weather starts to get below freezing. In the fall it’s much cooler than our basement. If you have an enclosed porch that hovers around these temperatures that might work as well. We’ve considered turning our basement stairway into a root cellar but haven’t taken the plunge. I have friends that store their potatoes in their barns in makeshift root cellars made of bales of straw. My grandpa tells stories of them using a pit in the yard to store potatoes between layers of straw. Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition has a section that describes how to build a few different types of root cellars. Here’s an article on how to build a proper root cellar into your basement via Mother Earth News
Here are a few things that you can do to ensure longer storage of your homegrown onions.
Select the right variety. Some onions are long-keepers and are meant to be stored in root cellars, others are not. Most companies will list this information in the description. If not, head off to Google to find out. Consider starting your onions from seed or purchasing onion plants. Seed started onions generally will store longer than onions grown from sets. If you grow both, make sure you label each kind and keep them separate so you can eat the set grown onions first.
Don’t over fertilize. Onions are heavy feeders and like a lot of water, but over fertilizing can cause crown rot. It’s better to have smaller onions that keep longer than huge onions that rot. Keeping onions well watered and well weeded will help the bulbs grow larger without as much fertilizer. Eat large onions from you pantry first as they don’t seem to store as long as the smaller onions.
Cure onions before storing them. In summer the tops of your onions will flop over and the leaves will start to yellow. This signals to the plant that it’s time to get ready for the winter ahead. When the necks look dry, pull onions and allow them to cure in a warm spot to cure. Let them sit in a single layer in a warm dry location for two weeks (a garage or attic works well for this). Once the necks of the onions are completely dry you can store them in baskets in a cool dark location (35-40 degrees is best).
Check onions in storage regularly and use up those that are starting to soften or sprout first. If you notice that the majority of your onions are sprouting, cut them all up, cook them and freeze them.
You can also grow a variety of other alliums to fill in the gaps throughout the year. Here at Chiot’s Run we also grow: traditional leeks, potato onions, shallots, Egyptian walking onions, scallions, bunching onions and perennial leeks. More on these alternative alliums tomorrow.
Do you have any tips to share on storing homegrown onions?Around the Garden | Comments (26)