Have you ever tried storing your home grown onions in the kitchen, only to discover they rotted in their papery peels 2-3 months later? We all know that traditionally, women used to cook from their onions all winter long and even used onions in home remedies. But how’d they manage to keep onions on hand?
There isn’t any secret. All you need is a bit of know-how and a few pointers. So let me show you how to harvest, cure and store onions for winter keeping!
The Difference Between Sweet Onions and Storage Onions
The first thing you need to know is that not all onions have equal self-preserving qualities when it comes to storage.
Sweet onions are often preferred for cooking because their flavor is mild and they caramelize beautifully when sautéed. But here’s something you need to know: sweet onions have higher water content and because of this, they don’t store well. In most cases, home cooks try to use up their home-grown sweet onions within 3 months of the harvest date.
Storage Onions are more pungent in flavor and as a general rule of thumb, tend to be smaller than sweet onion varieties. But their keeping qualities are outstanding and if you want onions to last until spring, storage onions are the way to go!
You can go here to read over my list of Sweet Onion Varieties.
Go here to get my list of Heirloom Storage Onions.
How To Harvest, Cure and Store Onions
It’s not difficult to learn how to harvest, cure and store onions for winter! Let me walk you through the procedure step-by-step, so you feel confident about trying it yourself.
Because there’s something so satisfying about cooking with home grown onions all winter long. And if you use onions in home remedies (such as fire cider), their potency and effectiveness is unmatchable.
When to Harvest Onions for Storage
As with many garden vegetables, there is a prime time to harvest onions for cold storage.
In the ideal situation, you would wait until 1/2-2/3 of your onion tops in each row weaken and fall over. Flattened green tops are a sign that your plant has “finished” and the bulb is preparing for winter. And you can harvest at this time.
Q: What if you have a short growing season (like me) and onion tops never fall over before the first frost?
A: You can knock your onion tops over 4-6 weeks before your first average frost. This forces your onions into “winterizing” mode and many gardeners believe it makes onions last longer in storage.
But here’s a rule of thumb you need to know! When onion tops go down, you need to stop watering your beds. Wet earth can cause your onions to rot from the bottom up. And that’s something no gardener wants to deal with!
Now you might be wondering if you can harvest and cure onions at any point in time? The answer is yes! Just remember that they only last so long once pulled. By leaving in the garden for as long as possible, your onions will last that much later into the year.
How to Harvest Onions for Curing
It’s easy to harvest onions! All you have to do is grab hold of their green tops and pull. And the round, globe shaped roots will pop out of the earth.
I like to pile mine in a wheel barrow so they’re easy to transport.
Having issues with the green tops snapping off? You either left them in the ground for too long and they are rotting just above the round of your onions, or they are planted too deep and as a result the roots weren’t able to properly form.
Once harvested, I spread them out to dry in a place with good ventilation!
Tips on Curing Onions for Winter Keeping
Letting your onions cure (aka dry out) is important. It keeps them from molding in storage and will prolong their lifespan. Here are a few things you need to know!
- Always cure onions in a dry place where rain and dew cannot reach them.
- Choose a place with good airflow.
- Try to keep them out of direct sunlight.
- Make sure you have a large, flat surface area where you can spread out onions in a single layer.
In most cases, the best place to cure your onions will be out-of-doors. A barn, covered deck or even a woodshed will do. And by curing onions outdoors, you’ll be able to clean up the bulbs before bringing them inside!
How to Cure Onions for Winter Storage
To cure your onions, all you have to do is spread them out in an even layer. Keep the bulbs on the top and the greens underneath. You can do this by starting on one side of your drying area and working your way across, laying bulbs on top of the greens of your already-laid onions.
This accomplished, leave them to cure until finished.
Watch the Tutorial Here!
When Are My Onions Cured?
How can you tell when your onions have finished curing and are ready for storage? Here are the telltale signs you should look for!
- When the green tops have shriveled, turned brown and are papery to the touch.
- The papers on your onion bulbs should be dry and crisp.
- Tiny roots on the bottom end should be wiry and brittle.
- If the protective papers surrounding your onions are loose, your onions are done!
If all 4 of these signs are present on your curing onions, it’s time to clean them up so you can bring them into your home with as little mess as possible.
How to Clean Onions for Storage
I don’t know about you, but after a summer of dealing with garden dirt in my home, I’m all about cleaning up my onions before bringing them indoors!
The process is simple.
- Brush off the dirt.
- Remove a layer of onion papers, if needed.
- Using pruning shears or scissors, cut off the tiny bottom roots.
- Unless I’m creating a braid, I also cut off the long, dry, brown tops about 1 inch from the onion bulb itself.
When you’re cleaning onions for storage, make sure you don’t cut into the onion flesh itself. Particularly when you’re trimming dry tops or bottom roots! Oxygen exposure will cause your onion to rot much faster.
Sort Through Your Onions
One benefit of curing onions before putting them into storage is that the bad ones will be noticeably bad by the time you clean them up! So as you brush off dirt and trim up your onions, keep an eye open for soft, spongy spots.
Good onions are always firm and hard, like a softball. They can be safely piled into baskets, bins or boxes.
But if you find onions with soft spots? Take them to the kitchen and cut them open, so you can see what is going on! Most of the time, onions decay from bruising or from being left in the ground too long.
The Best Way to Store Onions for Winter
Like all members of the allium family, onion keep best in a dry location. Too much moisture causes them to rot prematurely. They also like being stored in a cool, dark place.
A basement, cold room or even a cool entryway is a good idea. Here in our home, I keep them in our cold room, right beside our freezers. And most of the time, storage varieties will last until spring.
How to Harvest, Cure and Store Onions for Winter
So there you have it! That’s how you can harvest, cure and store onions for winter, regardless of whether you grow sweet or storage varieties.
And while it may sound complicated, the process is really quite simple. Harvest. Dry. Brush up and store away. That’s how it works!
Questions or comments? Leave them below!