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How to Have Garden Onions April thru January

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 some layers of wrapper or skin) will not cure. (They are perfectly good to eat.) Also remove any bruised, soft 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.)

Storage Temperatures

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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All content including pictures is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights are reserved.

9 comments to How to Have Garden Onions April thru January

  • Wonderful post. Thank you. We grew onions for the first time last year and it was hit and miss in terms of picking and curing. Now we know what will work in the future!

  • Theresa

    Good luck with the onions next year, Farming Bear! Once you have your own, you’ll never want to buy the store onions again.

    Best wishes,
    Theresa

  • Gail

    Theresa,

    Thank you for this posting…it is the most complete treatment on growing onions I’ve ever seen. Have you written any books? I think maybe you should consider doing so. Your husband’s photography is wonderful as well.

    We are starting to find the “fallen”, but they are not very large…either the wrong variety or planting too late, I believe.

    We are laying them on elevated screens in our basement with an oscilating fan blowing 24/7 (it’s our garlic drying area, and we are beginning to clean up the garlic now that it is completely dried down)

    Again, thanks for your post. What varieties do you grow? They all look great.

    Peace

    Gail

  • Theresa

    I sure did appreciate your response to the post, Gail. One of the reasons I wrote it was because I don’t think a lot of information out there is complete enough and/or simple enough. I think more people would store onions if they knew all the facts.

    One tremendous benefit in my opinion is being able to stay away from the chemical maleic hydrazide. All store onions are sprayed with this possible cancer causing chemical to prevent the onions from sprouting. Potatoes are sprayed with the same things as you probably know.

    In answer to your question about writing —— I have written quite a bit over the years — including a small book. As my site progresses I plan to make PDFs of some topics available to my readers. For example the six soil improvement/organic matter posts would be offered in PDF format as one piece. It will be easier for people to keep up with the information that way I feel. A larger book is a possibility for the future.

    I am always open to and take to heart suggestions and comments, so keep them coming. If I know what people want and what they need, I can better know how to serve.

    Thank you too for complimenting Bill’s photography. His artist’s eye is indeed a tremendous asset to TendingMyGarden!

    I plan to do another post on onions before spring about various aspects of growing onions.

    Regarding the varieties that I grow: I love candy (a yellow globe), super star (a white globe a/k/a Sierra Blanca), and red candy. The reds are so sweet! I also tried some cippolini this year. (It’s in one of the photos. A flat onion. You can’t miss it. ) Along with cippolini I tried copra and first edition and red zeppelin —–all long day varieties. Since I’m right on the line of long day and short day onions — they all did wonderfully for me. They are why I am still harvesting this late in the summer.

    What varieties do you grow? When do you plant? Do you grow from seed, transplant or sets?

    Wishing you all the best,
    Theresa

  • Sandra

    Yes, I agree with the other comment. This is very thorough and complete. Simple without being simplistic. Yes, and great photographs to show the point being made. This is the kind of information I was always seeking in Organic Gardening magazine, but they never seemed to get there. By the time I got to the end of your onion series, I felt that I too could do it!!

  • Theresa

    You CAN do it, Sandra! So glad you knew that when you got to the end of the post.
    Regarding the photos — they really make things easier to write — and to understand. Of course, I owe all that to Bill. He’s so wonderful about taking picture for me and I think all readers of TMG benefit from it.

    As far as magazines — I never realized it before I studied writing — but they have so many restrictions —and many times articles are written by people who just research the topic and don’t really have hands on experience.

    Regarding Organic Magazine —- they’re not what they use to be. I’ve been subscribing for 34 years and almost didn’t resubscribe this year. Use to be fabulous! I could hardly put it down when it arrived, but now I can hardly get through it. But as with most things — when the creator passes on —- the people who take over don’t have the same objectives.

    Thanks for commenting. Sure was nice.
    Theresa

  • danita

    It’s been along time since I’ve posted but I’m always reading your posts.
    This is the first year I have had real success with growing onions. I grew yellow ones but can’t find the tag so I don’t know the name. I started some from seed but most are from starts. The leaves are stating to fall, not all but a few. I have read so many different things about when to pull them. I even read somewhere not to pull them at all and leave them in the ground till you need them.
    I know you love onions and have success with them so I come to you with my questions.
    Do I wait till all the leaves fall? Do I wait till they turn brown? I also read to leave them in the sun for a day.
    Thanks for any info.
    D.

  • Theresa

    Yes, Danita, it has been a while and I’ve missed you! Good to hear from you again.
    When the tops (also called leaves) of your onions fall over, your onions are finished growing. (There’s a picture in the above post.)
    Do NOT leave them in the hot sun, in spite of the many articles that tell you to do just that. Put them in shaded area to dry. If you want to cure them so they will last longer follow my explicit instructions in the post above.
    Let me know how you do and/or if you have more questions.
    Theresa

  • danita

    Thanks Theresa, I’ll let you know how it all turns out.
    D

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