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Bringing in the Sheaves (or braids)

October 11th, 2014

Yesterday I started bringing in the onion crop. They have been drying in the top of the garage for a month or so. This year they were harvested a bit later than last, they didn’t get blown over like they did last year. The results were much larger onions, which I’m pretty happy about.
onion braids 1
I only braid the smaller onions, the big ones are put into wooden boxes in a single layer and stowed away in the basement where it’s nice and cool. Usually they last through early June of the following year, just in time for spring onions and small fresh onions. This is my best onion harvest so far, I’m guessing I harvested around a hundred and fifty pounds of onions.
onion braids 2
Onions are one of my favorite crops to grow, I love nurturing them from tiny seeds. Perhaps I love growing them so much because I really love eating them. Pretty much every meal around here begins with the chopping of an onion!

What’s your favorite crop to grow?

The Results Are In….

July 26th, 2012

All of the ‘Copra’ onions have finally be harvested. If you remember, this year I’m experimenting to see which method of growing onions works best. I started ‘Copra’ seed back in late January. Plants of the same variety were also purchased from Johnny’s Seeds. Seeds were also sowed directly in the garden in March when I transplanted the ones from the seed starting area.

As expected, the onions grown from seed started in winter produced the biggest onions. The direct seeded onions might have been bigger had I thinned them, but I completely forgot to do so until it was too late. I’m going to save the small onions to plant next spring as sets, we’ll see how that works out. It’s amazing how they were all ready to harvest at roughly the same time.

From top to bottom:

  • direct seeded in garden on March 2
  • purchased plants transplanted in the garden on April 13
  • started in late January & transplanted in the garden March 24

I always figured that starting onions from seed would produce the best onions. After reading about how onions are treated with so many pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals I have decided that all my onions will be grown from seed. The plants I purchased from Johnny’s Seeds were from Dixondale farms. After reading on their website that they recommend using fungicides every two weeks to control blight and fungus I decided I really wan’t comfortable using their plants in the garden. It’s worth it to me, to take the time to start mine so I can ensure that my onions aren’t sprayed with fungicides, pesticides and other chemicals.

Now that all the onions are harvested it’s time to store them. I’m keeping all of the types separate to see which of the above store best. I’m also trying a few different storage methods. Most will be stored in shallow wooden boxes. I did braid some, both because they’re very pretty and I figure the old-timers probably knew a little something about keeping onions all winter. Seems to me the air circulation around onion braids hung from the ceiling would be much better than for those stored in a basket or crate. I’ll let you know.

Now it’s time to harvest all the red ‘Zepellin’ onions that were planted back in April as well. I’ve never grown many red onions because I’ve found they don’t store quite as long as yellow onions. This variety promises to store well so we shall see. When it comes to cooking I’m not choosy about the color/type of onion, I like them all. As long as I have onions in the pantry I’m one happy camper.

Do you like red, white, or yellow onions best?

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:

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.