Monday, July 28, 2008

Onion Harvest

How do you know when your onions are ready to harvest?

The foliage falls to the ground and turns brown.

These are the onions we harvested last week. This is our first year growing onions, so I qualify only as an onion novice. We were hoping for bigger onions. The red ones were particularly small--only the size of golf balls. When I mentioned this to Drew Norman on a recent visit to his farm in Baltimore County, he immediately asked, "Did you plant them from seeds or from sets?"

After doing a bit more reading on onions, I've learned that onions are much more likely to thrive if started from seed rather than from sets, the sets being in essence a baby onion. Why this is so I'm still not sure. Growing from seeds would pose a bit of difficulty for us, since the seeds would be planted in dead of winter and we don't have a greenhouse. We'll have to think on that one.

In addition, I think our onions could have used more sun. Onions are divided into two categories: long-day, for northern areas of the country, and short-day for the South. Here in the District of Columbia we are a bit on the edge, but a check of my catalogue for Southern Exposure Seed (based near Charlottesville, VA) indicates that long-day onions are recommended for our region.

Our east-facing garden gets an average of six to seven hours of sun. As the season wore on, our rows of onions were a bit shaded by surrounding tomato plants. They might also have done better with additional side dressings of compost. Onions apparently do like to feed.

Still, we are happy to have our own ready supply of onions from the garden. I am following directions to cure them by leaving them in a well-ventilated spot out of direct sun for a couple of weeks, or until they develop a tough skins. The onions should not be touching each other. For long-term storage, you can hang the onions in an old pair of nylon stockings, tying off each onions so they are all held in their own individual pouches.

The only remaining question would be, Where do you get the old nylons?

6 comments:

Bob said...

Not sure where you can get old nylons, but my mom cures them in the garage like you described, and then braids the dried greens and hangs them in the basement. Probably one out of 10 goes bad this way.

el said...

Yum! In my experience, with sets, size is definitely related to feed. Don't expect monster sized onions, though, from sets! To get a big harvest today, you would need to start them indoors from seed, but...I also start them outdoors in a row and move them. You can plant them really early (pea time). I expect to harvest mine in September. (As a timing gauge, my sets (which are 2nd season onions not allowed to get large their first year) are ready to harvest now, my indoor-started seed onions are just starting to flop over, the spring seeds won't be ready until Sept. and I have a row of will-be-sets onions that I will not thin or move around until near frost (then I save them as mini onions for next year). Have fun, Ed.

Matriarchy said...

I grew onions for the first time this year, too. I put in white onions (from walmart) as sets mid-March, along with seeds of green onions. In April I put in yellow sets from an organic source. The yellow flopped over and browned first (2 weeks ago), but the onions were all small, some barely bigger than the sets I planted. The white ones looked ready last week, and were a mix of small to medium, a few large. I am still pulling little white onions from the seeds, which now look like those little cocktail onions in jars (and I may pickle some). I didn't do much for any of the onions but weed them. Anyone know what I should have been feeding them?

Ed Bruske said...

Bob, I like the idea of braiding the greens (or browns), as with garlic. Unfortunately, our basement has been turned into an apartment, so my storage is limited.

El, I can't imagine how you keep track of all this. And you are planting different kinds of beans in succession, and so many other things. I can't even keep the days of the week straight.

Matriarchy, feed your onions plenty of compost.

MamaBird said...

I can't help with onions as I've never grown them, but I can tell you that when I asked for stuffed animal innards on freecycle recently (in order to skip buying new polyfill) I got an offer of a bagful of used nylons. I'd suggest asking that community.

Ed Bruske said...

Mamabird, thanks for the suggestion. The mother-in-law has already volunteered hers.