Simple steps to harvesting and preserving onions

Onions are an all-around delectable vegetable and easy to grow, harvest and preserve for later use.

Onions | Photo by Jeannie Nichols
Onions | Photo by Jeannie Nichols

Onions offer flavor, texture and color to our meals. They are eaten raw, cooked and pickled. They are very easy to grow, harvest and preserve. There are yellow, white and even purple onions. There are bunching onions, pungent cooking onions and sweet onions.

Bunching onions are simply immature onions and should always be kept refrigerated. Pungent cooking onions have a high pyruvic acid content, and so they store longer unrefrigerated. Sweet and cooking onions are sold unrefrigerated but they should be used quickly after buying because they have a lower pyruvic acid content and so have a shorter storage time. If you do not use them quickly, then they should be stored in the refrigerator.

For soups and stews, most people like to use a pungent onion. For fresh and stir fries, a sweet onion is desired.

When you purchase onions for your garden, be sure to buy a long-day onion or they will not bulb. Onions are day-length dependent for bulbing. Onions grown in Michigan for commercial sales are planted in April, and they bulb in May as the days get longer.

Onions can be harvested at any time during their growth but require lots of water for optimal growth. Stop watering when the onion bulbs are ready to be pulled and harvested. Tips for planting, watering and harvesting onions can be found in the article Growing onions in Minnesota home gardens.

Pay attention to your onions in the garden and they will tell you when they are ready to be harvested. They are at full maturity and ready for harvest when at least half of the tops of the onions start to dry out and fall over onto the soil. After pulling them out of the ground, you can leave them in the garden for a few hours so the wind and sun can dry them. However, if the weather is damp and threatening or the soil is wet, remove the onions immediately to a garage or other dry, well-ventilated area, and spread them out to dry for several days. They are ready to be stored when all the tops are dry and brown.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that you store onions in a cool, dry place. To store your onions for later use, remove any loose dirt and cut off the dry tops to within 1 to 3 inches from the top of the bulb. Then, trim the roots off of the onion bulb. Be sure to leave the outer protective dry skin in place around the bulb.

You can generally store onions up to eight months. To store them this , they should be stored in a cool, dry area with temperatures between 35 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 50 to 60 percent.

You can learn about canning or freezing onions in the MI Fresh Using, Storing and Preserving Onions bulletin. If you choose to dry them, use a food drier. It is very easy and can be done in five easy steps:

  1. Rinse the onions
  2. Remove outer “paper shells”
  3. Cut off tops and root ends
  4. Slice onions 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick
  5. Place them in the dehydrator for three to nine hours

Onions, like all vegetables, should be brittle, or crisp, when thoroughly dried.

Onions have the potential to make us cry, but they have so much potential to add flavor, nutrition and variety to our meals that they are worth a few tears. Sweet onions have less pyruvic acid content so they create less tears.

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