Garden Files: Onions

This was my second year growing onions, and my first year actually producing something. Two winters ago, I planted Spanish Yellow Onions around December/January. By April I was ready to put in my summer tomatoes and eggplant, and having limited garden space at the time, had to tear the onions out. Those onions were like massive green onions; a 1 inch diameter stem, with little to no bulb to speak of. When I did pull them out, the smell of onions and the feeling of regret were overwhelming.

In my second year I made opposite mistake. Determined to see the onions through to fruition, I built extra garden space so I would be able to maintain onion beds year round if necessary. My onions grew, swelled at the base, and began to shoot flowers. If you have never seen onion flowers they are quite nice; a mix between some sort of Mum and a giant dandelion. My fiance was quite taken with them, and later we saw dyed onion flowers for sale by the flower vendors at our farmer’s market.

Based on no knowledge whatsoever, we decided to let the onions flower and die before harvest. This was a mistake. Evidently a flowering onion is one which is putting all its energy into seed making. Hence, said onion is rapidly on its way to being unpalatable and unstorable.

Onions can apparently be harvested at any time. But if you wait until they are flowering you’ve gone a bit too far. When I learned this I immediately ripped all my onions from the ground. All but a few were flowering, and thus I am not entirely sure whether they’ll be any good or not. In spite of that, I persevered into the drying process.

When onions are first harvested, they are somewhat soft and they are loaded with shoots. The drying process allows the shoots to die off and the root ball to harden. The recommendation is that onions be pulled in the morning, then left to sit on the spot of harvest until evening. After a full day of sitting in the sun, they should be moved to partial sun/shade to dry out. I followed this procedure myself, pulling the onions before work then moving them to the porch at evening.

I left my onions on the back porch for 3-4 weeks, checking them periodically.  I think since they were already flowering, they were not so eager to dry out. Some continued to produce flowers, without soil or water, whilst sitting on my porch.

Finally I decided enough was enough. I twisted off all loose shoots and cut off all flowers and root remnants. I then starting peeling off the outer layers of the onions, to try to removed all the dirt and crap that was sticking to them. In some cases I think I went too far with the peeling; we’ll see.

Now my onions are sitting in flat, waiting to be used. I am thinking of making an onion marmalade or perhaps making and canning a bunch of marinara sauce with all my tomatoes (and maybe even eggplant). The flowering ones will not last long (apparently) so I need to act fast.

I also managed to dry out one of the seeded-over flowers. I am thinking I will plant some of these when I have some more garden space and the time is right. There is an issue with using onions seeds, since they may have been cross-pollinated by someone else’s garden and could be hybrids and/or infertile. We shall see. In the meantime, happy onioning.

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6 thoughts on “Garden Files: Onions”

  1. Hey Matt,
    I always let my onions bloom and let all the blooms and shoots almost die off before I take them out of the ground. Then I just leave them lying on the ground to dry before bringing them in. You dont have to peel much if anything off by then. Mine stayed fine after that.

    1. Lynette-

      I just did a quick search on freezing onions. It seems lots of people freeze chopped or quartered onions. I was surprised since I’ve always been told not to refrigerate them. The consensus though seems to be that the thawed onions have lots of moisture and tend to clump together. Therefore only good for soups and stews. People claim that they are no good raw, in crispy application like stir fry, and have too much moisture for caramelization. Do you find that to be true?

      1. I use them for soups, hot dishes, etc… I like the taste of onions,but don’t like the crunch so freezing them works great for me. In the fall and winter I make alot of soup up in the freezing north… 🙂

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