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Storing Homegrown Onions

June 21st, 2012

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?

Highly recommended reading about long term vegetable storage:

26 Comments to “Storing Homegrown Onions”
  1. Victoria on June 21, 2012 at 8:01 am

    What beauties! I’ve only grown bunching onions and chives…. but you make this sound fairly simple! I failed miserably at shallot growing a few years ago but may try again this fall…. Try, try again.. Right? :)
    Victoria´s last post ..Harvesting & Curing Garlic

    Reply to Victoria's comment

    • Susy on June 21, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Of course – that’s my motto. I grew onions for years before I finally figured out how to do it right.

      Reply to Susy's comment

    • Melissa on June 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Keep trying! I’m in the same boat– still trying to find the exact varieties that really excel here in the South. But this year’s harvest was better than last year! I just keep trying different things and learn as I go! My second shot at shallots finally produced some, small but at least I got a bit of a bulb on them!
      Melissa´s last post ..Baby Ducklings!

      Reply to Melissa's comment

  2. Songbirdtiff on June 21, 2012 at 8:11 am

    This is wonderful information! No one I know around here does this, among most of the gardening things I want to do, so I have to learn from people like you. Thank you for that! I really need to find a place that would make a good root cellar. I’m leaning toward digging one in the yard. Our winters are sometimes very mild, with occasional temperatures even into the 70’s so I’ll have to be careful to find the right set up. Now that we are in a house that we purchased (YAY!) I can do that. Very cool.
    Songbirdtiff´s last post ..Just because her name is lady….

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    • Susy on June 21, 2012 at 8:25 am

      My grandpa always tells stories of filling up the outside pit root cellar with potatoes and how they did it each fall to eat all winter. The Back to Basics books has a few different ways to do an outside one.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  3. amy on June 21, 2012 at 9:24 am

    What a wonderful idea about cutting them up and freezing them when they start to go soft or bad! It seems I should have known that….but….that is what insightful blogs are for…..To teach us what we need to know:) Thanks Susy….as always.

    Reply to amy's comment

  4. Mrs. Mac on June 21, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Last year my walla-walla sweet onions didn’t mature with a bulb end .. they were just really large green onions. I sliced the green tops and dehydrated them for winter use .. the whites were sliced and used for salads and soups.
    Mrs. Mac´s last post ..Floral ‘Drinks’

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  5. Bettina on June 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Should you have a glut of onions that do not keep, consider making things like onion soup and freeze or can it, or, make “Confit d’oignon”, onion jam. I love using this, it is great with cold cuts, but you can also use a bit of it, brown and crisp it in butter over mashed potatoes, good sausages, etc. I have used it in home fries, omelettes, on sandwiches (hot and cold), and it makes for a great gift in a nice jam jar with a cute label.

    Reply to Bettina's comment

    • amy on June 21, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      Bettina~More wonderful ideas….especially the Confit d’oignon…..that I will definitely look into! Do you have a good recipe and if so would you consider sharing:) Thanks.

      Reply to amy's comment

      • Bettina on June 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm

        Hello Amy,

        I tend use this one:

        http://www.food.com/recipe/confit-d-oignon-french-onion-marmalade-211001

        By the way, you can use more vinegar and leave off the wine. Also, any type of sugar works, it doesn’t have to be brown one.

        And, if you do it like us Europeans, use twist-off jars, keep them in near boiling water to sterilise together with the lids. Then, put them on a wet towel when you fill them with the jam, screw the lid on tightly and invert. Do not process in water bath.

        (I tend to do this with normal fruit jams as well, and so far, none of mine have ever gone bad – at least not in the year it takes me to eat the last glass I make).

        Hardly anyone in Europe processes fruit jam by canning after cooking it.

        to Bettina's comment

      • Susy on June 23, 2012 at 7:39 am

        Thanks, sounds GREAT!

        to Susy's comment

    • KimH on June 23, 2012 at 9:13 am

      Thanks Bettina, for great ideas & the link to the Confit. It looks like its a winner~ :)

      Reply to KimH's comment

  6. julie on June 21, 2012 at 10:32 am

    This is great — thank you! We are a little nervous about growing onions since our dog is a digger/stealer and I know they aren’t good for dogs… but he managed to leave the garlic in the back alone, so maybe we’ll go for it. Do you recommend these same techniques for curing/storing garlic? I’ve seen a few tutorials but this is my first year so I am doing as much research as possible, the closer we get to digging them up !!
    julie´s last post ..Palette love: Charleston, SC.

    Reply to julie's comment

    • Susy on June 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Yes, same techniques for garlic.

      Reply to Susy's comment

    • Melissa on June 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      My dogs (jack russells who dig like crazy!) don’t seem to care for my onion and garlic bed. I think the smell drives them away.
      Melissa´s last post ..Baby Ducklings!

      Reply to Melissa's comment

      • Julie on June 22, 2012 at 6:06 am

        I guess if he’s smart enough to know EXACTLY when a tomato/carrot/strawberry is ready to be dug up/picked (I mean… down to the very minute of peak size/ripeness) he’s probably smart enough to know what not to eat in the garden. Nature is fantastic.
        Julie´s last post ..Palette love: Charleston, SC.

        to Julie's comment

    • KimH on June 23, 2012 at 9:04 am

      My second cousin had a dog who would eat every onion he could find. He’d dig them out of Bill’s garden or he’d sneak into his root cellar if he could.. They never hurt him. I’ve heard that about onions for years, but not near as long as I’ve heard about the onion stealing dog. ;)

      Reply to KimH's comment

  7. Janet Anderson on June 21, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Thank you!

    Reply to Janet Anderson's comment

  8. Andrea Duke on June 21, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I usually grow a variety called Candy and they do well for me, but not this year. I think it’s where I planted them this time.

    I store mine in mesh bags hanging in the garage. They stayed nice until I used them all, which was March, I think.

    Reply to Andrea Duke's comment

    • Susy on June 21, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Some people I know around here grow candy onions and like them.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  9. Angela on June 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this. I’m growing onions for the first time and the tops have recently turned brown and fallen over. I need to harvest them, and now I know how to store them. Thank you!!
    Angela´s last post ..Happy Summer!

    Reply to Angela's comment

  10. Joy Giles on June 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I let my 10/15 onions cure well. Then, buy some cheap panty hose or half hose and drop in an onion in one, tie it off, drop in another onion, tie off, etc. After all are done I tie each “stocking” of onions onto an old wooden hanger and hand in a cool dry place. In our home it’s our office. Never had any go bad.

    Reply to Joy Giles's comment

  11. Melissa on June 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    You may be going to address this tomorrow but just thought I’d ask– on the perennial leeks- do you eat the main stalk it produces and then pull up the rest and dry the side bulbs and then replant them or do you leave them in the ground all the time and eat the leeks as they get to the desired size? Mine were starting to die off in the garden so I pulled them and hung the smaller ones to dry so I could replant the bulbs this fall. Not quite sure if perennial leeks are really suited for the hot South. I’m definitely going to re-plant them this fall where they will get some summer shade. Great article by the way!!!!
    Melissa´s last post ..Baby Ducklings!

    Reply to Melissa's comment

    • Susy on June 21, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Yes, replant the little bulbs, you don’t really need to dry them before replanting, some mine are already sprouting even before digging the main leek.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  12. Texan on June 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I would so love a real root cellar!
    Texan´s last post ..Question… updated with answer

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  13. Lexa on June 21, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Suzy- A wonderful post as always. I keep my onions in an unheated side room off of the garage. It’s insulated so it doesn’t freeze but it gets quite cool. In this environment I am still enjoying last years crop. If you are looking for an excellent yellow storage onion, I would HIGHLY recommend Prince. You can get the seed from Johnny’s. It grows to a nice big size, tastes great, and keeps like a champ!
    Lexa´s last post ..The Bleeding Hearts in June

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