Friday, June 29, 2012

On Onion Harvesting and Curing

The main reason I'm writing this blog is so I will remember things from one year to the next. It is my garden journal. Most of my mornings are spent in the yard; planting, harvesting, tying up, cleaning up. I run between what I see in the garden and my computer to look up stuff on the internet; what's that bug, that plant, when to harvest, what do I have growing there again (?!?). This week I harvested a lot of onions, and this is what I've learned.

You can pick onions at any time; young onions are called "green onions", and you can eat from one tip to the other; medium onions are called "spring onions", and you can eat the bottom (root) part, which has started to get bigger \ fatter \ bulb-ier, and some of the green; mature onions are called "bulb onions", and you eat the bulb only.

Bulb onions can either be eaten "green", right out of the garden, or they can be cured for storage.

The trick - some say the art - comes next; knowing when to stop watering.

The longer your bulb onion is in the ground, the larger it will get. However, once they stop growing, you need to stop watering them, so they don't rot because they are no longer taking in the water.

Conventional farmers watch for the leaves to fall over. In a field planted with the same kind of onions, all the onion leaves \ greens will fall over at the same time, signaling that the onions have stopped growing, and to stop watering. In an urban farm, where the crops are often interplanted, that's impossible.

So, you need to feel the shaft of the onions, down near the bulb, and if it feels squishy \ soft, you need to pull that onion today, before you water again, and begin the curing process. The onion in the picture to the right was harvested this morning. The greens have not died back, but the shaft is soft - it bends 90 degrees.

Knock off the excess dirt. Lay the onion out on the ground, or on a screen, in the shade. After a day or two, when the roots are dry, you can trim off the stems, but no less than 1" from the bulb.

If your onions are 2nd year onions, they very likely will have had scapes. When you harvest onions with scape stems, separate that from the bulb. That is where the moisture will concentrate, and your bulb will rot if you don't separate them.

Onions take up to 3 weeks to cure properly. The point is to dry them slowly in order to concentrate the flavors. Keep them in the shade, keep them where the air is circulating. Once they are cured, theoretically they can be thrown in a box and kept in the dark. Last year we tied them up in pantyhose (knot in between each bulb) and hung them from the ceiling. This year most of them are in a basket and seem to be ok so far. Check them periodically to pull any that have gotten soft.

Or (see last week) make them into chutney!

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