Knowing your onions

by Jane Moore

After a good few years of vegetable growing I would go so far as to say that I know a thing or two about onions and their cultivation.

OnionsAfter a good few years of vegetable growing I would go so far as to say that I know a thing or two about onions and their cultivation. For instance I know that onions are prone to a nasty fungal disease called 'white rot' and I know exactly what it looks like. (We've had it where I work - very nasty - have to avoid growing onions and all alliums for years!

I know that onion beds need to be kept weeded in summer or the onions become stressed and bolt, producing a flower spike that saps all the strength of the onion bulb. I know a bit about varieties and have had excellent results planting autumn onion sets such as 'Shakespeare'. So, although I have more to learn, you might think I'd grasped the basics. But no! I recently discovered a gaping hole in my knowledge, a veritable chasm which I'm a bit ashamed to admit. Here we go...

I'm not sure how to store onions correctly. Previously I've grown them at work and the chefs have used them as if they're going out of fashion. On the plot I've tended towards the shallots and garlic, only growing a few onions which we've used pretty quickly. This year, having realised - finally - that I find shallots a bit of a faff, I grew more onions than ever. I dried them diligently on the patio, dodging the rain, and stored them in those blue mushroom boxes in the garage. And now some of them are blooming well sprouting and I'm not sure where I've gone wrong! A bit of research (namely Gavin Keir's website) and I think it's partly due to the lack of drying out due to the inclement summer. Also the general web consensus seems to be that over-wintering types don't keep as well as the spring planted varieties. Oh well, it seems I still have a lot to learn!

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Gardeners' World Web User 22/11/2007 at 15:11

I have grown and successfully stored onions for about five years now, usually managing to grow enough to last up until the next years crop is ready for lifting. I always buy 'Setton' as sets to plant out in late winter/early spring and after lifting them in late summer, i leave them on my greenhouse staging for about a month. I make sure the greenhouse is well ventilated, but is still warmed by the late summer sun to dry the onions well. This i believe has been key to my success. I then store them in the house under the stairs in onion sacks haggled from a market stall.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/11/2007 at 15:13

having grown the onion family on an allotment for several years, i have come to the conclusion that my onions (shallots and garlic too) store best in strings in the garden shed which has few windows but is normally frost free though well ventilated at all other times. After bringing some strings into the kitchen for interesting xmas decorations i noticed they started to sprout into growth, becoming soft and unusable, although the same crop stored in the shed was fine.

The answer... try to store them as above, and chop, sweat and freeze some for use in soups/stews etc. Use all the onion family in season, i.e. onions from august to xmas, then shallots (which seem to keep better) followed by leeks straight from the ground till spring. Spring onions can be used till the summer crops, and don't forget chives, which can be cut and frozen as they are or chopped into ice cubes. it makes for interesting cooking, i like French onion soup in early autumn, roast shallots with sunday dinners in winter and cock a leekie in january, but Bolognese made with leeks is surprisingly good.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/12/2007 at 10:23

I have grown onions from sets with good results for 30yrs and from seed with varying results. This year being very wet during June/July the onions were large weighing around 3/4 lb each with thick necks. I managed to dry them out and prevent neck rot by splitting the necks and pulling the leaves apart down to the tops of the bulbs.

I have previously stored them in an unheated greenhouse in trays over a few, relatively frost free winters. Can anyone advise on whether they will withstand a period of below freezing weather.

Gardeners' World Web User 23/01/2008 at 11:30

We live in Leeds and have recently taken on a very overgrown weedy neglected allotment. We have cleared this, applied weedkiller (no choice in view of the neglect) and have made 4' wide by 15' beds for vegetables. I planted onions, garlic and shallots in the autumn. I have keept thes weed free and protected from birds with netting. Have I done the right thing? Will the frosts damage the sets, and will they survive all the wet weather? I see that the garlic should have been planted in modules for planting out in March/April - should I rebuy and try again? Advice please!

Gardeners' World Web User 18/03/2008 at 18:48

I have overestimated the amount of onions I needed for my allotment can I store them for next year kind regards D Duff

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