Can you have onions through January in Virginia?
In answer to the question above ——my guess is most people you ask will tell you emphatically NO! At least that is what everyone told me when I started raising onions more than 30 years ago.
Since then I’ve had onions (starting with the new spring onions in March ) through at least December of every year and most of the time through January and occasionally through February. Depends on how many I grow and how many I eat.
There is nothing likean onion from your own garden. They taste better – even in December when they are not as sweet and moist. And you know what’s been done to them. In short – they beat the pants off store bought onions. As a matter of fact, I got so fed up year before last buying “no nothing” onions from the store in February when I didn’t have any —that I decided to do without onions for the two or three months during the year that I don’t have my own.
I wasn’t sure that would be possible — since it seems that I use onions in just about every recipe —- but I left them out and survived until March with no onions.
One of the Most Important Ingredients a Cook Can Have on Hand
When I grew onions for market, I put in 2,500 plants. When I grow for just Bill and me, I put in 1,250 plants. Yes, that is correct — 1,250 onions. What do I do with them? I eat them. Think about it: onions in soup, onions with squash, roasted onions, sauteed onions, onions burgers (these are great – another future post topic), onions on burgers, onions with cucumbers, onion sandwiches (don’t cringe – they’re really good), onions in lettuce and tomato salads, in potato salad, in pasta salad, in spaghetti sauce, and hundreds of other recipes. I consider onions one of the most important ingredients a cook can have on hand.
Even if you don’t grow or eat as many onions as we do, you can still cure your onions in order to have some through the fall months and possibly the winter. It’s easy and just requires that you be realistic and follow a few basic principles.
Onions That Won’t Cure
Keep in mind that bald onions (onions that are missing their layers of wrapper or skin) will not cure. (They are perfectly good to eat.) Also remove any bruised, or hard-necked bulbs and use them first for they will not cure. If you have more than you can use immediately, chop them and put them in freezer bags for use in recipes during the winter.
How You Know When to Harvest
Harvesting mature onions in my garden starts about the first week in June and is usually complete by about July 4th. I grew some different varieties this year so I am still harvesting and probably will be until almost the end of July.
You’ll know when your onions are starting to mature when you go out one morning and find a few onions stalks have “fallen” over as in the picture below.
Where to Cure Them
When my onions start to fall over Bill sets up my temporary onion curing rig behind the old shed on our property. And even with various adjustments in design each year, here’s what we always use to set it up: cinder blocks, ropes, tarp, screens, and hooks.
(Years ago, I had no place outside to cure them. It was cure inside or not have onions. They make a mess and it takes longer. But —–it can be done.) (If you are going to cure them inside — remember they need warmth and plenty of air to cure.)
The main things you want to accomplish with your curing rig is:
- Keep the onions from direct sunlight.
- Keep rain off the onions.
- Make sure the air can circulate under, over, and around the onions.
Any set-up that accomplishes these goals will be fine. It doesn’t have to be fancy as you can see by mine.
Best Time to Harvest
Once they start maturing, each morning (and sometimes late evening) I harvest the ones that have “fallen” over and put them on the screens to cure. I try to harvest only in dry weather. Onions have a lot more moisture when harvested after a rain and won’t dry out as well.
When I place them on the screen (picture below) I leave a little space between each onions to give it some breathing room. Air circulation is important through all stages of onions growth, curing and storage.
How Long It Takes and What They Look Like
It can take up to 4 weeks for an onion to totally cure. I remove mine from the outdoor screens in about two weeks and the curing process is completed inside. When the stalk, skins, and roots are totally dry (about two weeks) they are ready for the next step.
What To Do Next
Cut the roots off and cut the tops 1 or 2 inches from the bulb. If there is ANY moisture in the top leave up to 4 inches of top in order for it to complete the curing process. Cutting through any portion of a top that is still green or moist could result in the onions rotting in storage.
Handle your onions as gently as you can; keeping them perfect and not bruised so they will keep longer. Keep the dry wrapper scales (skins) intact on the bulbs if you can because they enhance the onion’s keeping ability.
How and Where to Store
Store in a dry place with constant air circulation. I store mine in baskets on the floor of our enclosed porch with a fan running 24/7. Most baskets have only two layers of onions, but one has 6 or 7 layers of onions. That’s the one I worry about and check on the most. Just too deep, but I have no more room. (Far right in picture below.)
Ideal temperatures for onion storage are 50 to 60 degrees. If you can maintain that – do so. Just so you’ll know, my porch temperatures are sometimes higher and sometimes lower. I don’t always have perfect conditions and probably you won’t either. Just do the best you can.
Check Stored Onions Regularly
Know that you will lose a few onions and check them regularly. (I usually check once every two weeks, but if you’re new at this check at least once a week until you get the hang of it.) Use or discard those that begin to soften or rot.
Having your own onions for the winter is —- as a friend who has long since passed into history use to say —- “living on top of the pile.”
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