Storage Onions: You Can Grow Onions That Keep All Winter Long

Learn how to grow and harvest onions and find out which varieties make the best storage onions.

  • Harvested onions
    You can use these tasty veggies in your kitchen all year when you follow our advice about growing storage onions.

  • Harvested onions

Think of winter cooking — stew simmering richly on the back of the stove, maybe, or a pot of hearty split pea soup, or scalloped potatoes bubbling in the oven — and then imagine making any of these cold-weather favorites without onions. Especially home-grown onions.

A dull prospect, isn’t it ... and one that can be avoided quite easily once you know the twin secrets of, first, growing firm, robust onions and, second, storing onion bulbs properly so that they’ll remain sound for months to come.

Storage Onions: Varieties and Growing Tips

If you want your onions to keep over the winter, raise the varieties that have been bred to store well. I’ve been successful with ‘White Sweet Spanish,’ ‘Downing Yellow Globe’ and ‘Southport Red Globe.’ Unfortunately, the outstanding ‘White Bermuda’ isn’t suitable for long-term storage.

Set plants out early. The single most important factor in producing storage onions is a steady, regular rate of growth. Early planting is essential, therefore, because the bulbs do their best even-paced growing under cool conditions when they’re less likely to be shocked by abrupt weather changes. Since this vegetable can take a lot of cold, I plant here in southeast Nebraska in late February or during March.

You needn’t worry that snow will harm your onion bed ... a few light coverings make sturdier plants and condition the soil around the roots. Spring rains, too, help keep the earth loose — the way these bulbs like it — so don’t hesitate to plant even though the soil is still too wet for most crops. Deep cultivation isn’t required for setting out onions. The bulbs are planted shallow, with only half an inch or so of very moist soil over the roots.

Plant in full sun. Unlike most cool-weather crops — which do quite well in spots where shade creeps in part of each day — onions demand full sun for proper development. In my experience, even partial shade encourages onions to “go to stalk,” thereby cutting both the quantity and quality of their production.

The Herbangardener
11/12/2009 1:55:25 PM

Oh wow! I'm so glad I read this. I have been waiting until the tops die back completely for both my onions and garlic -- and so far I've had good luck with that -- but next year I'll definitely try out the ideas here. Here's my own "Onion & Garlic Harvesting 101": When the leaves (”tops”) have mostly died back (turned brown…no longer green and growing…though there may still be some green in a few of the leaves), pull (or dig) the onions or garlic out of the garden. Wash off the soil. Put them into baskets in one layer — so that air can circulate around them — and leave them in a shed, garage, or on a covered porch for 2-3 weeks. Make sure neither water nor animals can get to them. After 2-3 weeks, cut off the dead leaves and inspect each onion for softness or mold. Expect to lose about 10-20% of your harvest to softness or mold. Transfer the rest into a bag in the fridge (or wherever you store your onions & garlic). ~The Herbangardener~ Kitchen/Garden/Sanctuary - Urban Homesteading to Nourish Body + Spirit

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