When and how to dry or store/preserve onions after harvesting them: Braiding OR sack hanging method

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WHEN AND HOW TO DRY OR STORE/PRESERVE ONIONS AFTER HARVESTING THEM: Braiding OR sack hanging method

Onions are popular cool season vegetables that can be cultivated from seed, sets or transplants. Onions are an easy-to-grow and manage crop, that when properly harvested, can provide a kitchen staple through the fall and winter.

Onions offer flavor, texture and color to our meals. They are eaten raw, cooked and pickled. They are very easy to grow, harvest and preserve. There are yellow, white and even purple onions. There are bunching onions, pungent cooking onions and sweet onions.

Any bulbs that have bolted, or formed flower stalks, should be pulled and used right away; they are not good for storage.

Onions can be harvested at any time during their growth but require lots of water for optimal growth. Stop watering when the onion bulbs are ready to be pulled and harvested. Knowing how to harvest onions is also important, as you don’t want to damage the plants or onion bulbs. Carefully pull or dig onions up from the ground with the tops intact. Gently shake the soil from around the bulbs.

There are different ways to do this. Some people swear by hanging freshly picked onions on the garden fence, or leaving them to lie in the soil after being picked. The issue with this is controlling any moisture that may interfere with their drying! You will have to plan around the rain and humidity. Onions can be harvested at any time during their growing cycle, depending on how old you want them to be, but they are ready to be picked for storage once their green tops have begun to dry out.

Onions should be cured for at least two to three weeks or until the tops necks are completely dry and the outer skin on the onion becomes slightly crisp. Cut tops off to within one inch (2.5 cm.) after drying is complete.

They are at full maturity and ready for harvest when at least half of the tops of the onions start to dry out and fall over onto the soil. After pulling them out of the ground, you can leave them in the garden for a few hours so the wind and sun can dry them. However, if the weather is damp and threatening or the soil is wet, remove the onions immediately to a garage or other dry, well-ventilated area, and spread them out to dry for several days.

Store dried onions in a wire basket, crate or nylon bag in a place where the temperature is between 32 to 40 F. (0-4 C.). Humidity levels should be between 65 and 70 percent for best results. If the location is too damp, rotting may occur. Most onions can keep for up to three months if dried and stored properly, but others can go for up to 6 months.

Onions intended for storage should be dried well and cured in the field, under sheds, or in storage. After 2 weeks of field drying, onions can be transferred to storage rooms for final drying and curing. Drying is complete when the onion neck is tight, outer scales are dry and make a rustling noise when touched, and the skin colour is uniform.

The length of the curing period will depend on how dry the tops are already. If you plan to braid your harvest, the tops need to still be a bit pliable and not completely brittle.

If you have lots of onions and don't have a lot of spare time, you can simply cut the the tops, about 7.5cm to 10cm from the bulb. If you cut too close to the bulb, by the time it dries it would have begun rotting from inside. After cutting the tops, place the onions in a potato or onion sack and hang it in a place where there is good ventilation but without direct sunlight. It's just that simple. The problem with this method is that you will not get a 100% success rate, because some onions will never get enough air circulation, and so they will get bad before they dry.

My favourite method is to plait or braid the onions, the same way women plait their hair.

Simply get your three “strands” of onions to start with. Divide the onions into 3 equal-sized sections: left, middle and right. Now carefully holding all three strands, cross the right section over the top of the middle section. Now it should look like the right section is the middle section and the middle section is the right section.

Next, cross the left section over the new middle section. They should now be switched, as they were with the previous section. Repeat the process. Alternate the right and left sections over the center, repeating until the bunch has grown long enough to meet your satisfaction or until you have braided all the onions you have, whichever comes first.

When you are done braiding your onions, simply hang the plaited bunches anywhere where there is no direct sunlight, in your garage, in your pantry, in your store room, under the shade, in your kitchen, behind the door etc.

To store your onions for later use, remove any loose dirt and cut off the dry tops to within 1 to 3 inches from the top of the bulb. Then, trim the roots off of the onion bulb. Be sure to leave the outer protective dry skin in place around the bulb.