The first crop of bulb onions were ready for harvest this week in my garden. 4 dozen yellows and 2 dozen whites. In many ways onions are an easy crop. But, in a few ways they are tricky. Growing them from seed is very tricky. I’ve tried a few times and failed. I’ll keep trying, I know it’s just a matter of timing and variety selection, but for now my onion growing is done from sets, which is not tricky at all. Sets go in the ground in early spring, a bit of weeding once or twice, wait till the tops fall over, and harvest. In order to get the best storage life from home grown onions, you’ll want to cure them. Curing isn’t tricky, but I find that many gardeners don’t know they need to do this step. It dries the skins/wrappings to decrease mold and increase protection of the bulb.
Illinois Extension has these instructions for curing, and I follow them with good results.
Pull the mature onions in the morning and allow the bulbs to air dry in the garden until late afternoon. On especially hot, bright, sunny days, the bulb may sunburn. On days when this is likely, remove onions to a shaded location and allow them to dry thoroughly. Then, place them under dry shelter on elevated slats or screens or hang them in small bunches. Tops may be braided or tied with string before hanging. Full air circulation for 2 to 3 weeks is necessary for complete drying and curing. Keep the dry wrapper scales as intact as possible on the bulbs, as they enhance the keeping ability.
I’ve used a couple of methods for this. I’ve braided them into several ropes and hung them in porches, and sheds. I’ve also arranged them on a tarp in heavy shade under a tree, turning a couple of times a day. All of these seemed to work equally well. The downside to the tarp was that it ended up in the middle of our living room during a rainy spell, with a fan blowing on them. The house smelled of onions and garlic for a week after that. I didn’t care, but a couple of visitors made funny crinkly faces.
Speaking of garlic, it was harvested this week as well. I grow hardneck garlic, I find it is better suited to really cold winters than the softneck varieties. Like onions, they store better after curing. You’re aiming for the same end result: lower moisture levels and fully dried skins/wrappings. You want a shady, dry area with sufficient air flow. Be careful when harvesting, any bulbs with cuts or bruises should be preserved immediately. I like it diced in oil, or dried. Garlic doesn’t need any time in the sun, especially if you can keep the bulbs dry the week before you plan to harvest. Allow them 2 to 3 weeks in the curing area, depending on temps and humidity. The hardnecks don’t braid as well as softnecks, so I’ve never been able to make the pretty braids. I just have a bit of tie line strung in a pantry, with a window and fan to control the temperature and move air if it’s needed. I use clothes pins to hang the bulbs. 😀 Real fancy stuff here. 😀
After curing, these tasty bulbs will store for 6-8 months. Try to keep them around 60 – 65°F and away from light.
I find that it’s easy to grow about half of my family’s yearly onion and garlic needs. That allows me to try varieties for sale in the local market, but still feel comfortable with my ability to scale up if I need to. Growing my own garlic means I have free seed garlic every year. [Now’s the time to get garlic orders in for early fall delivery.]
If, for some reason, you wanted these to be lightweight and easy to carry. (BoB food, dry soup mixes, nomadic existence….) I would dice them. Then dry them. Solar dehydrators get you extra points.
Dried Veggie Soup Mix
2 chicken bouillon cubes, unwrapped
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1-1/2 cup uncooked medium shells pasta