Onion growing has become almost a holiday event. Every year we plant our sets right before Christmas. The harvesting always begins at Easter time.
Although we do start some earlier in fall from seeds we've saved, it sometimes fails. It happens with weird weather these days mostly. But the one thing I do know, is onions grown organically in the garden...well...there is nothing like them!! Firm and delicious and keeping a basket full in the kitchen is mandatory around here.
I've recently met the most fabulous teacher, Tracey Keeler who resides in Australia. She is part of a huge and growing program called The Kitchen Garden Foundation. It's all about the children!! I love it!! They are teaching school gardening from seed to the kitchen cook pot and I don't see a bigger blessing than passing on such valuable lessons to future generations!
Tracey goes on to fill me in on the program when she tells me she is teaching the cooking classes. "The program in which we work through is national through some Australian primary schools. We are extremely lucky and have huge garden throughout the school and have a farm area with a few sheep and chickens. We had 460 odd pumpkins this year. we were turning orange."
Now they are looking for the whole section to be dedicated to onions and have raised some very important questions. She begins by telling me, "We have a big onion crop in our school garden. We are new to the drying process. Do we need to hang or does drying flat work better? How long does it take and if correctly dried how do you store after that?
We begin by gently pulling them up, preferably on a dry day and laying them down on the ground. Once we've pulled them up it is time to go back and gather them. We carry them by bunches and lay them gently up in nice neat rows on the drying racks. I like to keep them sorted by variety and colors. We grow short day varieties, but some mid day as well. I tell you why in a minute.
We may do things a bit different than some folks, but we've had pretty good success with our methods. In the top photo you can see our drying racks. My husband, better known as Mr. Garden to most, built the racks strategically at the southern part of the gardens.
We get a wonderful breeze of warm dry air almost constantly during harvesting time. The racks have a roof made of tin to help protect from rain and chicken wire shelving to allow good air flow.
The whole thing is nestled under some nice shade trees to help protect the onions from the sun. The best way to dry your onions is simply, fresh dry air and shade.
After about a week on the drying racks the skins will have begun to dry and protect the juicy onion bulb inside. This is why we must pull them gently and lay them up to dry gently as well. The less damage done during harvesting the nicer the skins will be.
It's at this time I can start going through the harvest and gently brushing dirt off. I usually use a large soft bristled brush and then lay them back down on the racks. You will be able to cull out any undesirable onions at this time as well. Sometimes you will find a few that had tried to go to seed and the bulb will feel hard like a piece of wood. You may also find some that are a bit mushy. Throw them out into the compost pile.
Back to the short day and mid day variety question for just a minute. It is recommended that we grow short day in our growing zone. Mid days will grow here, but take a few more weeks before they are ready to harvest. The reason we grow both types is because mid day varieties are well know to store and keep longer that the short day onions. This is why I like to keep my varieties sorted out when putting them up on the drying racks.
The key to storing onions is cool and dry! That can be hard here in Texas so they must be brought indoors. They can be kept in baskets after cutting the stems off. Burlap sacks work great as well as saved netted bags from purchases made at the farmers market.
We like to braid many of our onions in nice clumps to hang indoors. After we braid we hang them in the potting shed where is is fairly cool and breezy in the shade. But even at that there is no holding back the heat and humidity. So with a nice looped string at the top of the braid we bring them indoors to a room on the northern side of the house where I keep a nice slow ceiling fan blowing.
I try to make sure I make use of the white onions and the short day varieties first. The white onions always seem to want to go bad first. Then the yellows and the reds and bermuda stay best longest.
I hope we've helped this wonderful school garden some with our Texas Onion Harvest and I sure look forward to seeing the children harvesting, storing and cooking up some great meals with them. I really hope that school gardening in Texas can be so grand!! They are setting high standards in Australia and we can all learn from them!!