September is here, and that means it’s time to harvest those beautiful onions you’ve been nurturing all summer long. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a newbie, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of plucking these pungent treasures from the earth.
But wait, before you start pulling, curing, and storing those onions, there are some essential steps and tips you should know to ensure they last through the winter and beyond.
How to Dig Up, Cure, and Store Onions in September
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll take you through a 10-step journey on how to dig up, cure, and store onions in September. Grab your gardening gloves, sharpen your spade, and let’s dive in!
1. Choose the Right Time to Harvest:
When it comes to harvesting onions in September, timing is crucial. To ensure you pick your onions at their peak, keep a close eye on their foliage.
Look for the majority of the onion tops to have turned yellow and wilted. This is a sign that the bulbs have stopped growing and are ready for harvest.
Another key indicator is a soft and papery feel to the necks of the onions. If about 90% of your onions show these signs, it’s time to get digging.
2. Gather Your Tools:
Now that you’re ready to bring in the onion bounty, it’s time to assemble your harvesting toolkit. You’ll need a trusty garden fork or spade to gently lift the onions from the soil without damaging them.
A basket or crate is essential for collecting your freshly dug onions. Make sure your tools are clean and in good working order before you start.
3. Prepare the Soil:
Before you start extracting your precious onions, it’s a good idea to prepare the soil. The day before your planned harvest, give the onion bed a good watering.
This will help soften the soil and make it less likely to cling to the onions, making extraction smoother and less likely to cause damage.
4. Gently Loosen the Soil:
With your soil properly moistened, it’s time to gently loosen it around the onion row. Approach each onion carefully, ensuring you don’t accidentally spear or damage the bulbs.
The goal here is to create enough space for you to extract the onions without a wrestling match with the earth.
5. Lift and Inspect:
As you start lifting the onions from the soil, be gentle. The idea is to avoid any bruising or cuts to the bulbs. As each onion emerges, give it a shake to remove excess soil.
Take a moment to inspect each one for any signs of damage, rot, or disease. Discard any onions that don’t make the cut.
6. Dry and Cure:
Once you’ve gathered your precious onion haul, it’s time to move on to the curing process. Curing is essential for extending the shelf life of your onions. Spread them out in a single layer in a well-ventilated, dry area.
A shaded porch, garage, or barn is ideal. Leave the onions to cure for approximately two to three weeks. During this time, the necks will dry completely, and the outer skin will become papery.
7. Trim and Clean:
With your onions fully cured, it’s time for a little tidying up. Grab a pair of garden scissors or shears and trim the roots. Cut the tops down to about an inch above the onion.
This helps create a neater appearance and prevents the tops from tangling during storage. Additionally, give each onion a gentle brushing to remove any loose dirt.
8. Sort and Store:
Now that your onions are clean and trimmed, it’s time to sort them for storage. Inspect each one closely, looking for any soft spots or bruises.
Sort them into three categories: those in perfect condition, ones with minor imperfections (these should be used first), and any onions showing signs of damage or rot (discard these). This careful sorting ensures you’ll enjoy your onions at their best.
9. Choose Your Storage Method:
Selecting the right storage method is crucial for keeping your onions fresh. Depending on your needs and the quantity you’ve harvested, consider the following options:
Mesh Bags: Place your onions in mesh bags or repurpose old pantyhose by tying a knot between each onion. Hang these bags in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area.
Wooden Crates: Layer your onions in wooden crates, separating each layer with newspaper or cardboard. Store these crates in a cool, dark, and dry location.
Braiding: If you’ve grown soft-necked onions, consider braiding their tops together. This creates an attractive and space-saving storage solution. Hang the braids in a cool, dry spot.
10. Monitor and Rotate:
Your onion-storing journey doesn’t end with the perfect storage method. Throughout the winter, keep a close watch on your stored onions. Periodically check for any signs of spoilage, sprouting, or softening.
If you notice any issues, remove the affected onions to prevent the problem from spreading. Additionally, be sure to rotate your onions as needed to ensure even air circulation, which helps prevent mold and rot.
Preserving Onions for Long-Term Use
Now that you’ve mastered the art of harvesting, curing, and storing onions, let’s explore some additional methods to preserve your onions for extended use throughout the year:
Freezing Onions for Convenience:
Freezing is a fantastic way to ensure your onions stay fresh for months. Start by peeling and chopping your onions into small pieces. Spread them out on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer until they’re frozen solid.
Transfer the frozen onion pieces into airtight freezer bags or containers. Label them with the date and quantity for easy reference. Frozen onions work wonderfully in soups, stews, and casseroles, saving you time on chopping during meal prep.
Dehydrating Onions for Flavorful Powders:
Dehydrating onions is an excellent method to create your own onion powder or flakes. Slice your onions thinly and place them on a dehydrator tray or in an oven set to its lowest temperature.
Allow them to dehydrate until they become brittle. Once dehydrated, grind them into a fine powder or crush them into flakes using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Store your homemade onion powder or flakes in airtight containers. These can be used as a seasoning in various dishes, enhancing their flavor with the intense taste of homegrown onions.
Making Onion Jam for Long-Term Storage:
While we mentioned caramelized onion jam earlier, consider taking it a step further for long-term storage. After preparing a batch of onion jam, follow proper canning procedures to preserve it in sealed jars.
This method can extend the shelf life of your onion jam for up to a year or more. The sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark pantry until you’re ready to enjoy the sweet and savory condiment.
Onion Flakes for Easy Seasoning:
If you prefer a milder onion flavor in your dishes, consider making your own onion flakes. After curing and drying your onions, chop them into small pieces and store them in an airtight container.
These dried onion flakes can be conveniently sprinkled onto dishes as a seasoning or rehydrated by soaking them in warm water before use.
Fermenting Onions for Probiotic Goodness:
Fermentation is a preservation method that not only extends the shelf life of your onions but also enhances their nutritional value. To ferment onions, chop them into desired sizes and place them in a clean, sterilized jar.
Prepare a brine solution using non-chlorinated water and salt (about 1-2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water). Pour the brine over the onions, ensuring they are fully submerged.
Use a weight to keep the onions submerged if necessary. Cover the jar with a lid and allow the onions to ferment at room temperature for several days to weeks, depending on your taste preference.
Once they reach the desired level of tanginess, store them in the refrigerator. Fermented onions can be used in salads, as a topping for tacos, or as a probiotic-rich snack.
Onion Vinegar for Culinary Flair:
Create a delightful onion-infused vinegar by placing peeled and sliced onions in a sterilized glass container and covering them with vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar works well).
Seal the container and store it in a cool, dark place for a few weeks to allow the flavors to meld. Strain the vinegar to remove the onion pieces and transfer the infused vinegar to a clean bottle.
Use it to add a unique depth of flavor to salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Onion Soup Mix for Quick Meals:
Prepare your own homemade onion soup mix by combining dehydrated onions, beef bouillon granules, onion powder, and various seasonings.
Store the mix in an airtight container, and when you’re ready to make a quick and flavorful onion soup or enhance the taste of other dishes, simply add water or use it as a seasoning blend.
Onion Salsa for a Flavorful Kick:
Whip up a batch of onion salsa using your homegrown onions. Combine diced onions with tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeños, lime juice, and salt. Preserve this zesty condiment by canning or freezing it.
Enjoy it as a topping for tacos, grilled meats, or as a dip for tortilla chips.
Preserving onions using these methods ensures you can savor the flavors of your homegrown onions well beyond the harvest season.
Whether you choose freezing, dehydrating, canning, fermenting, or infusing, these techniques allow you to incorporate the delicious taste of onions into your culinary creations all year round.
In conclusion, the journey from digging up onions in September to storing them successfully is a rewarding one.
With the right timing, tools, and techniques, you can ensure your homegrown onions remain fresh and flavorful throughout the year.
Remember to monitor and care for them as they rest in storage, and you’ll enjoy the sweet rewards of your labor in countless delightful dishes. Happy harvesting and onion-enjoying!