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Storing Onions

storing onions

What would life be without onions? What would cooking be without onions? It's a scenario too horrible to contemplate. I shudder at the thought. For this reason, and because onions store extremely well - for six to eight months when properly done - we've always grown lots of onions. And also, of course, for the complete range of the 72+ trace elements in all of our own home-grown produce, for our supreme health.

Proper harvesting and drying is essential to long term storage. The key issue is to handle your onions gently, as gently as possible. Any cuts and bruises will result in rot and diseases, and particularly so before they are dry. So, the gentler you are with your onions, the longer they will last in storage.

Like many biennials, onions have a natural period of dormancy to take them over the winter, and it is this natural dormancy period what makes them last so long in storage - when properly handled. And this begins with harvesting. Harvest your onions when about half of them are mature and their tops have fallen over. Then gently drag a rake upside down - tines up - over your onion beds to bend over the remaining upright tops. This will direct all growth energy into the bulb. Then wait until all of the tops are dry and brittle, at which time the onions can be lifted. Lift them out gently, leaving the roots and tops intact. Do not wash the onions; any soil clinging to them will dry and fall off while they dry.

In our climate, onions are best dried in a very warm and well ventilated place - a sunny porch is ideal. If you can hang them up by their stalks, this would be best, and if not, then either hang them up in mesh bags or spread them out in a single layer on a dry and well ventilated surface.

To store well for any length of time, onions must be thoroughly dried and in a state of complete dormancy. Onions that are not completely dormant are subject to infection by decay organisms and are sensitive to bruising and other mechanical damage. There is no alternative to complete drying and proper handling after harvest.

The signs of complete drying - which takes anywhere from 3 to 7 days or more, depending upon temperature - are; the complete dryness of the roots and stalks, and of several outer layers of the skin. It should be 'paper' dry, and have uniform colour and texture. The best indicator is the neck of the onion; this should be totally dry. And onions with the narrowest necks store the best. The most common disease at this stage is neck rot. Earmark any onions with neck rot for immediate consumption - or for slicing the good parts and putting them into a dehydrator for dehydrated onions.

Long-Term Storage
Onions need to be stored separately from other kinds of produce, since many fruits and vegetables will readily absorb the odor of onions. Well-dried onions also draw moisture readily from fresh vegetables. For long term storage, leave the roots intact, and clip the dry tops at no less than 1 inch from the neck of the onion. Onions are best stored in well ventilated wooden crates, or in mesh bags, at a temperature of 32 to 35 F. and a relative humidity of 65 to 75 per cent. Keep them as cool as possible in a well ventilated place - such as your coolest basement corner - off the floor - and do not allow them to be exposed to frost. Any touch of frost will quickly turn them into a nasty mush. At temperatures over 50 degrees F, stored onions will start to sprout.

Under the best conditions, your onions will store well for up to 8 months. But inspect them often and remove any onions which show any sign of deterioration for immediate consumption.


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