The Lord has smiled on our homestead. Even though we lost over 40 (YES, 40!!!!) meat birds to an owl last week, I was still able to harvest the most incredible bunch of storage onions I've grown to date.
Yes. Life on the farm is a give and take. It's a balance. Things live. Things die. Things grow. Things have their necks broken by a bird of prey.
It's all in the daily life.
But let's not think about ‘the chicken massacre' right now. Let's think about those beautiful onions. Because when devastation hits (did I mention we had the stomach flu when this all went down?) you've got to find joy where you can get it. And this week, I found it in onions.
I grew this variety specifically for long term storage. It's a variety called ‘Yellow of Parma' and was purchased through Seed Savers Exchange – my favorite heirloom seed company. I love supporting amazing organizations like theirs and so while I will save some seed from vegetables, I always make sure to order fresh seed from them as well. It's a wonderful way to support them and all their preservation efforts!
Yellow of Parma. Totally kickin' some serious storage onion booty.
These onions were started back in March and lived out the early spring in my bathtub under grow lamps. About mid-Spring, they were transplanted out to the garden as teeny weeny little green shoots – very tender and fragile. And tedious. That was a lot of wee little onions to plant.
After a recent heat wave, the onion tops bent over and began to die back which let me know the onions were ready for pulling. They were pulled by Georgia and spent a day out in the hot, dry sunshine to help and get them ready for storage by allowing the paper on the outside of the onion to set. Onions must be kept dry on the outside in order to store well – hence the protective outer layer they grow.
Once the onions were dry and set, they were carried inside to be braided. Yes, I probably should have done this task outside. After all, onions are dirty. But it was about 106 degrees outside. And Mama ain't no fool. So into the air conditioning I came, lugging my bins of onions behind me.
I like to braid my onions for a variety of reasons. First, it's efficient because the weight of the onions is distributed evenly vs. a few heavy onions on top squashing all the onions underneath. No onion victims are squished in a braid. On top of that, it's aesthetically pleasing to the eye (at least for this homesteader) and it's a great way to get them out of the cabinets, bins, etc. (read: accessible to mice) and up off the ground where they have a better chance of not being eaten (by little hobbits named Owen or rodents, respectfully).
How To Braid and Store Onions
You will need:
– Storage onions
1. Line up three onions. Cross their tails, just like you're going to begin a braid.
2. Gently fold the left onions tail towards the middle. Repeat with the right onions tail.
3. Add another onion to the middle. Braid the left tail and then the right tail towards the middle once again.
4. Repeat, adding onions as necessary, until the braid is holding 10-12 onions (depending on size and weight). This isn't an exact science, rather, it's an art form. My braids weren't perfect but as I kept braiding and braiding, I got a better feel for what size of onion to add to the braid and where to add it to keep my braid thick and strong.
5. Once the braid is holding a dozen or so onions, use a long piece of twine to tie it off – tiiiight. The tails of the onions will continue to dry and shrink so it's importance to ensure a snug knot.
6. The very top of the onion braid can be cut off, a few inches above the twine tie. No necessary. But it makes it look pretty.
7. Repeat the braiding process with the remaining onions until your floor is lined in onion braid glory! Hallelujah!
8. It's too hot for us to move our onions to our cold storage room in the shop, so for the time being, I made Stuart nail a few ‘ol boards into the wall and tack in a few nails. This gave me a wonderful hanging rack for the onions where it's dry, cool, and the air can easily circulate the braids of onions. Dry onions = happy onions. Once the weather cools down this fall, I'll transfer some of the onions to our storage room – always leaving a few braids up in the house for easy access. The ideal temperature for storing onions is just above freezing – this time of year, that's not really possible but through the fall and winter a garage or shop will provide a great climate for this.
Tips for Storing Onions
– Always keep the onions dry, with proper air circulation.
– Try and keep the storage room at a consistent temperature. Heavy fluctuations in temperature will encourage softening and sprouting!
– Eat the damaged bulbs first, as they'll keep for a shorter time in storage.
– Cull rotting or bruised onions quickly so that it doesn't spread to other onions!
This go round, we put up 35 pounds of storage onions. A good start, but next year I should plan on at least three times that amount. I've got a few other onions patches growing right now in the garden so I'm hoping to at least put up that amount again this fall when they're ready to harvest. I'm slowly learning to concentrate my gardening efforts on food that can be preserved and stored here through the winter – primarily onions, carrots, potatoes, squash, shallots, garlic, beets, etc. They're easy to grow, easy to preserve, and can see a family through those long winter months.
How about you? How's your onion harvest coming along this year?