How To Grow, Harvest, and Preserve Onions

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I still remember the first time I tried to cut an onion. I was training for my EMT and I was surrounded by firefighters cooking lunch. If you know anything about firefighters, most are hailed for being wonderful cooks. As the tears rolled down my face blinding me, one of them kindly removed the knife from my hand, preventing a severe injury. Needless to say, I was embarrassed. Looking back now it is no surprise to me that this powerful piece of food holds benefits beyond just flavoring! Yes, I was a young adult the first time I cut an onion… I was not at all interested in learning to cook as a child. I’m making up for that now!

How to Grow Onions

If you have struggled in the past with growing onions you are not alone. It can, however, be easy if you know a few things first. First, you need to know where you live, and once you’ve oriented yourself to your home you can pick the right variety for your garden. Varieties are classified as short, intermediate or long day.

Every leaf of the onion produces a ring; the size of the leaf determines the size of the ring. The more leaves the better! Once the bulb begins to grow the leaves stop producing. The bulb will begin to grow once the hours of sunlight in the day reach the hours of sunlight required for the variety you grow. Short day onions will start bulbing when the day is 10-12 hours long. Intermediate start bulbing at 12-14 hours and long day varieties are 14-16 hours. If you never reach 14-16 hours of daylight then your long day onions will never begin to bulb. It is important to plant your onions before the day length is reached so it has plenty of time to grow enough leaves before it starts bulbing. The farther north you are from the equator the longer your day.

I personally have been hesitant to start anything from seed in the beginning but if you need to grow short or intermediate varieties it is recommended that you start from seed or transplant, not from bulb sets. Sets require very long days and will give you lovely green onions but rarely large bulbs. You can start seeds indoors in the winter and transplant for the largest bulbs or you can plant seeds around six weeks prior to the last frost date.

Onions like full sun and a well-drained soil. Keep in mind you want to water the ground around them, not the leaves to avoid disease. Onions like consistent moisture but the soil should not be saturated regularly. Once the bulbing has begun, increase the watering amount. Keep them mulched well to help them retain moisture as well.

Harvest and Preserve

It is time to harvest your onion when the leaves begin to turn brown and fall over. At this point take the bulbs from the ground and lay them out in a breezy, dry area so they can begin to cure. When the neck of the onion is completely dry you can remove the leaves and trim the roots. Your onion will also form a nice papery outer layer as it cures.
Once they are cured it’s time for storage. Onions will store well at 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. You can store them braided by the leaves or with the leaves removed in a mesh bag or nylon stocking. My grandma taught me to wrap them in a newspaper to extend the storage since I don’t have a root cellar. It works wonderfully.

Cooking with onions

Most people have probably cooked with onions at one time or another. Many recipes wouldn’t be worth the time without some onions. Onions, however, can be difficult to cook with if you start crying while cutting them. There is a gas that is released when cutting onions that causes the tears but it’s worth it to suffer through the tears because without them the onion would not taste as good.

Try cutting your onion in a small puddle of water or near running water or steam to help combat the gasses it gives off. Some say keeping a piece of bread in your mouth will also help. If you have a powerful onion that you’d like to be a bit blander you can soak it in milk to reduce the power. Onions are a tasty way to add nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your meal without adding too many calories. So if you haven’t dug into an onion yet give it a try!

Healing with onions

Beyond just the nutrition you get from eating onions, there are many medicinal benefits that come from using an onion. You can use onions topically, in medicinal recipes and for food as medicine. Onions are antimicrobial, antiallergenic, decongestant, diaphoretic, can prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure. The bulb is where you find these properties. Studies have shown that onions can draw airborne bacteria from the air making it useful at sanitizing a room. This is also why you should never leave an onion in the fridge without placing it in a solid container. It will draw whatever is floating around in your fridge into it. You would not want to cook with an onion that has absorbed all the unknown that lives in your fridge.

Onions can be used as a poultice on the chest to help relieve congestion, they can be used as poultices for abscesses and boils and some swear by placing a halved onion over the ear when dealing with an ear infection. They can be used on nettle rash for instant relief if you’ve had a mishap while harvesting your nettle. You can steep crushed raw onions in honey to help soothe a sore throat or a cough. Don’t throw away the skins! A tea made from the skins can help improve poor circulation being particularly helpful with gout. You can also add the skins to homemade bone broth for added nutrients!

In addition to all of these skills, onions have a heating effect that can increase circulation and sweating making them wonderful for cold and flu season. With all the properties and powers of onions, the winter cider would not have the same effect that it does. Looking back at all the previous ingredients I hope you are getting excited about the upcoming winter cider recipe.

And there’s more!

Onions aren’t just food and medicine – they can also be used as an organic pesticide and fungicide when pureed with water and sprayed on your plants.

Onions have been used for centuries both as food and medicine. They were hung by doors to keep away illness. In ancient Egypt, they were used in burial rituals. While the actual origin of the onion isn’t known for certain, it has been used for centuries as both food and medicine with great success. If you haven’t tried growing your own onions or cooking with onions you are missing out.

I hope this has inspired you to give it a chance! It is well worth it.