On Vacations and Onions

Last week, I came back from our ocean vacation, the one during which I  tried not to think about the garden for a week. This was preceded by some fast and furious hours hoeing, weeding, mulching, watering and generally preparing all plants for a week of neglect. Everyone survived, tomatoes are in high production mode, spitting out ripe orbs faster than I can use them; and the peppers and eggplant are jumping into harvest baskets, big and ripe. Potatoes are ready to be dug, garlic is cured after a couple of weeks hanging from the barn rafters. Onions are next on the harvest and cure list. I never seem to have enough onions to last through the winter even though I plant so many of them each spring. I think the culprit this year was poor bed preparation prior to planting. I try to get onions in as soon as possible in April, the same time that coincides with peak greenhouse production and growing wholesale orders. So yes, once again, the onions are on the small side because we planted them into some soil that was a little compacted and not rich enough in composted donkey manure.  What do I love most about gardening? Being able to say, "there is always next year."

Onions: harvest the onions by pulling up the whole plant once the tops die back and start to lie on the ground. It's best to pull them up on a sunny, breezy day so that they can spend a few hours drying in the sunshine and wind. Before night falls, on that same day, bring them inside, out of direct sunlight so that they may cure for a few weeks. The curing process is what turns the outside layer of the onion into the paper-like skin. This outer layer, when dried properly, is what gives onions their real staying power as a storage crop. It is best to place onions in an airy, dark place - a garage with airflow but no direct light, an attic with air circulation, a shed, or even an extra bedroom with the curtains drawn and the windows open. You can braid the onion tops, bundle them into bunches and hang them up from the ceiling or rafters. You can also leave them in a single layer on the floor, but they must be turned over at least once a week. Once the tops are completely dried and the outer layer is paper-like, you can pull off the tops and store the onions in baskets, brown paper bags (with slits cut for ventilation), milk crates, apple crates, or cardboard boxes. Again, the important thing is to make sure the onions are in a dark place and it is well ventilated. Basements are often too humid for onion storage. In the winter, onions can go down to the low thirties and be fine. Colder temperatures better for onion storage than warmth with the ideal storage temperature being 35 to 45 degrees F.