Curing and storing onions

It’s midsummer now, and the onions planted in spring have begun to flop over at the neck and lose their bright green colour, signalling that they’ve stopped growing.

If you planted onions that are suitable for storage, you’ll need to ensure that they’re suitably dry before storing them.  This process is called curing.

To cure and store onions

  1. Stop watering your onions once they flop over, and wait for a dry day to harvest them.
  2. Use a garden fork to lift them from the soil, or grasp the greens and gently pull them out.  You don’t want to bruise or damage any part of the onion, as this may lead to rot.
  3. Set them out in the sun for a day or two to dry the roots.  Choose a location that maximizes airflow.  For example, you could place them on a sheet of mesh over an umbrella clothesline, or drape them over a fence.
  4. Carefully remove any clods of dirt clinging to the bulbs or roots.
  5. Bring the onions inside to a warm, dry room in your house or garage.  Spread the onions out on newspaper, in a single layer, making sure they don’t touch each other.
  6. Check them every few days, and remove any rotting or damaged onions right away.
  7. Once the necks of the onions are completely dry, and contain no moisture, cut the roots off the bulb, and trim the stems to about an inch long.  The bulbs should now have a nice papery coating that will protect the moist layers within.  This curing process may take up to a month.
  8. Store onions in baskets, mesh bags, or cardboard boxes with holes in them.  Place them in a cool, dark place.

Enjoy!  Properly cured onions can be kept in storage for well over a year.

 

 

Direct sowing cool season crops

Once the snow has melted, and the soil is workable (that is, it is neither frozen, cold, or very wet), you may direct sow cool season crops.  These plants tolerate overnight temperatures that hover around the freezing mark, and even a touch of frost; they prefer the cool temperatures of spring and fall rather than the heat of summer, during which they may bolt (go to seed too quickly).

Refer to the seed package to see how many weeks prior to the last frost that you may sow the seeds.  The package may also list an ideal soil temperature.  You may choose to place row covers over the area that you are planting to expedite the warming of the soil and protect your plants from occasional cold nights.

The following plants are quite hardy, and can tolerate a soil temperature of around 5°C:

  • Leeks
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach, lettuce, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, and other greens
  • Sunflowers
  • Turnip and rutabaga

The following plants are also quite hardy, though they prefer a slightly warmer soil temperature of around 10°C:

  • Broccoli (shown above), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Kohlrabi
  • Onion sets
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips

Growing vegetables in hot, dry conditions

Following are some tips on how to encourage a productive garden during a hot, dry summer:

  • Choose varieties that mature quickly and produce smaller fruit.
  • Lay your garden out so that plants that need similar amounts of water are grouped together.  Raised beds retain more water than open beds.
  • Plant in groupings or hexagonal offset patterns rather than rows so that the leaves can provide shade.  Space plants 1.5 to 2 times further apart than usually recommended to provide plants with access to a larger area from which to draw moisture.
  • Sow tall plants, such as corn and tomatoes, on the south side of heat-intolerant plants such as leafy greens, to provide them with shade and lower the temperature.
  • Add large amounts of organic compost to the soil; this helps trap moisture and encourages deep roots.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch to the soil to prevent moisture loss and keep the soil cooler.  This will also help prevent the growth of weeds, which compete with your plants for water.  You can use natural materials such as grass clippings, straw, dried leaves, pine needles, or shredded bark.
  • Water plants heavily when they are very young, and producing blossoms or fruit.  During other times, they can do with less water. Use drip hoses, which direct water into the soil, rather than spraying the plants from overhead where it is wasted on the leaves.  Water in late evening and early morning.
  • You can place shade cloth over the south sides of eggplant, pepper, and tomato plants.  This will reduce the temperature by 5-15 degrees and may prevent sunscald.  Plants like peppers and eggplants may produce less during a drought, but they will still produce.

Avoid planting these vegetables

Vegetables like peas, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc.), and leafy greens like cold weather, so they won’t do well in the heat of summer.  You can try planting them in the early spring or late fall, when the heat is less extreme.

Do try these drought-tolerant vegetables

  • Amaranth
  • Artichokes – Jerusalem and globe
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Chickpeas (I made the mistake of overwatering these and they started to germinate in the shell!)
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cowpeas
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Melons
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Oregano
  • Peppers
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Squash
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon, especially the sugar baby variety

Edible perennials

Most edible garden plants are annuals; that is, they must be planted from seed each year.  Perennials are plants that remain productive year after year.  They may go dormant in the winter, and re-emerge in the spring.

Perennials often need a few seasons to mature before they begin to produce.  Once they are established, they may be prone to spread to the point that they become invasive, so be sure to carefully plan their locations.  It’s a good idea to keep perennials together so that you don’t have to cultivate in and around them each year when you sow your annuals.

Here is a list of edible perennials:

  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo roots
  • Berry bushes, such as raspberries and blueberries
  • Bunching / Welsh onions
  • Chives
  • Collard greens
  • Egyptian onions
  • Fruit trees
  • Globe artichokes
  • Horseradish
  • Jerusalem artichoke / sunchokes (flowers shown above)
  • Kale
  • Lemon balm
  • Lovage
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Radicchio (technically a hardy biennial)
  • Rosemary
  • Rhubarb
  • Sage
  • Sorrel
  • Strawberries
  • Wild leeks / ramps

Plant of the week: Onions

Onions are one of the easiest plants to grow.  You can skip the lengthy process of growing them from seed, and buy onion sets from your local hardware or gardening supply store.  Onions can be planted in amongst your flowers, and they don’t look out of place.  If you plant them in stages (for example, plant a dozen every two weeks), you can ensure you have a steady supply of green onions all summer.

Ideal growing conditions

  • Hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9
  • Plant as soon as the ground can be worked, in areas that receive full sun
  • Set in the ground, root side down, no more than 1 inch deep, 4 inches apart, in rows at least a foot apart

Types

Onions are sensitive to the amount of daylight they receive.  There are three types:

  • Long day onions need 14-16 hours of sunlight to grow bulbs
  • Intermediate day onions need 12-14 hours of sunlight to grow bulbs
  • Short day onions need 10-12 hours of sunlight to grow bulbs

Your local supplier will keep onion sets in stock which correspond to the amount of sunlight your area receives.  You can usually choose between onions that grow large bulbs (suitable for storage), and those whose bulbs stay small, for use as green onions in salads and the like.

Friends

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Roses
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

Foes

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Sage

Fun fact

Onions are said to destroy osteoclasts, which are bone cells that resorb bone tissue and weaken bones.  As such, they are said to benefit women undergoing menopause (during which osteoporosis is a concern).