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Do you have goals to eat your own home grown onions through the winter? Than you are in the right place and I’ll tell you how to do just that. I will share with you my tips on how to store onions from the garden through the winter. A lot of it has to do with how you store them, but also a key component, is which variety of onions you grow.
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As a homesteader and gardener, my goal was to grow as much food as I can for my family to eat. The goal was to eliminate buying as much produce as possible from the store in an effort to be as self-sustaining as possible. So onions? YES! We eat a lot of onions. So through trial and error, I have figured out how to best grow them, store them and eat them, all through the winter.
Please check out my articles on How to Plant Onion Seed and also How to Plant Onion Seedlings for more detailed direction on those specific topics. The rest of this article, will talk about which onion varieties to choose, and how to store them in order to keep eating your home grown onions through the winter.
This is the first thing you must consider. If you live in the Northern States, you need to grow a Long Day Onion. These require 14-16 hours of sunlight per day in order for the bulb to start forming. In the Northern States, they have longer daylight in the summer, so this makes sense.
If you live in the Southern States, you are closer to the equator, and therefore have shorter summer days. So you would need to grow Short Day Onions, which only require 10-12 hours of daylight to start growing their bulbs.
Intermediate Day Onions are a good middle of the road onion if you aren’t sure. They require 12-14 hours of daylight to start forming. However, these are often sweeter onions, which are not good for long term storage.
The next thing you have to consider, is how are you going to plant those onions? I personally prefer onion seed, and there are many onion seed benefits. I begin planting onion seeds indoors in January. After the holidays are over, I am just itching to get back into gardening mode, and onions are what I start with after the New Year. I prefer planting onion seed because I can find more onion varieties by going this route. This is important if you are planning to store your onions long term, which I will go into in more detail further down. Be sure to check out my article on How to Plant Onion Seed.
What is an onion set? Onion sets, are actually last year’s onions grown from seed. So because of this, a lot of them will bolt and go to seed, instead of forming nice big onion bulbs. Another problem is that these don’t come in as many varieties as the seed, which is important if you want a long storing onion. Another problem I have found trying to grow onion sets here in the PNW, is it is just too wet. A lot of them will rot before the prime growing season has even started. So no sets for me!
Transplants, yes, because I use my own, from seed I started! And I have been known to buy a bunch or two of Walla Walla sweet onion starts and plant them as well because they are plentiful here. Sweet onions don’t store well due to the sugar content, so I focus on planting my own long storing or keeping onions from seed, and I will grab a bunch of Walla Walla’s at the local nursery if I don’t plant any by seed for myself.
If you are looking to plant onion transplants and don’t want to start from seed yourself, you will find that not many varieties are likely available to you locally. And probably not long storing varieties. I recently heard about Dixondale Farms, and I would recommend ordering onion transplants from them as they have a lot of varieties to choose from, including long storing onions! They are also a farm that focuses only on onions, so they know what they are doing. Once you have onion seedlings in hand, be sure to check out my article on How to Plant Onion Seedlings.
So on top of deciding if you need long day onions vs short day onions, then deciding on seeds, sets or transplants, now you need to decide which varieties of onions you want to grow. Lets talk about varieties of onions. You have leeks, scallions/bunching/green onions, sweet onions, yellow onions, white onions, red onions, walking onions, overwintering onions and STORAGE ONIONS!!!!
I like to grow a mix of these. Sweet onions and green onions for fresh eating in the summer. I grow leeks into the fall and winter. But to keep your family in onions through the winter, good storage onion varieties is where it is at. I like to buy my seed at Territorial Seed Company, as they specialize in seeds for the PNW, and they have a good selection of storage onion varieties to choose from.
What makes an onion a good storage/keeping onion? They have several traits that make them good for storage that others don’t have. As I’ve mentioned, sweet onions are not good storage onions, because of their high sugar content and higher water content. Good storage onions will have slender necks that will dry out quickly. They will have thick skins and be firm. Their onion bulb will have less water content than other varieties.
Choosing a storage onion variety, is the most important piece of the puzzle, if you want to keep your family in home grown onions through the winter. I like to buy my seed at Territorial Seed Company, as they specialize in seeds for the PNW, and they have a good selection of storage onion varieties to choose from. Some of my favorite storage onion varieties are Talon, Copra, Cortland and Red Bull.
The best way to store your onions for long term, is hanging in mesh bags, or in pantyhose, in a cool, dark, dry place. The goal is to have as much air circulation around them as possible. I have also had success keeping them in a laundry basket. If you use something like a laundry basket where they are piled up, be sure to go through the basket regularly, to remove any that might be going off or sprouting. Ideally keep them at 45-55 degrees. I have had great success storing them in an unfinished (uninsulated) basement room. However our basement is pretty dry. If you have a wet basement, this might not work. The fridge is too cold, so don’t store them in there.
When to harvest onions and how to cure onions. These are almost as important as choosing the right variety of onion. I will do another post on harvesting and curing onions before harvest time.
Once you have managed to grow the correct types of storage onions, and you have learned to dry, cure and store them properly, eating them throughout the winter months is your reward! Keep track of how long they last for you. If you would like to have them last longer into the winter, you may need to plant more next year. If you still have a lot and spring is setting in and they are beginning to sprout, you may decide to plant less next year.
But don’t let those sprouting ones go to waste! Once you notice a good quantity of onions beginning to sprout, understand that they won’t keep for much longer. This is where I gather them all up and go into food preservation mode.
These are a couple of my favorite ways for preserving onions. You can dice them up and dehydrate them and use them that way. You can grind up the dehydrated bits (I have found a coffee grinder used only for herbs works really well for this!) to make you own onion powder. Or, slice or dice them all up and freeze them! This will extend the life of them, and allow you to continue using your own home grown onions until hopefully, you have young green tender onions you can pull from the garden.