It is truly satisfying to enjoy the results of gardening when you know what you’re doing.
Having put in the effort and dedication into your garden, the plants are soon ready to harvest.
Planting onions in your garden is rewarding. Onions are fast-growing vegetables and make a delicious addition to most meals. Ask anyone who regularly prepares meals, and they will often confirm that onions are one of the primary ingredients to add flavor to food.
So how can you be sure that your home-grown onions are ready for harvest to use in food preparation? What is the proper way for harvesting onions?
And lastly, what is the best way to store your onions?
Well, stick around and get answers to these questions.
How to know when onions are harvest-ready?
After some time in the garden, your onions will finally be ready for harvest. But how do you tell for sure that they are ready?
It may be a challenge for a beginner to know when harvesting onions is appropriate. Thankfully, many years of experience in growing onions put me in the right position to answer this question.
There are simple signs that you look for to know the right time for harvesting onions. It may look like guesswork to understand when the onions are harvest-ready, especially when buried under the soil, but this is not the case.
An onion offers some hints that it’s harvest-ready. Conventionally, the onions will be ready for harvest 100 to 120 days after planting. Therefore, watching the calendar for this timeline is the first indicator that the time has come for harvesting these onions.
Also, observing the changes in your plants will indicate when they are ready for harvesting.
Firstly, the visible tops of the onions will indicate their maturity. Size matters, so when the onions have grown to the right mature size, it’s a sign of readiness for harvest.
Typically, a mature onion should have a diameter of about 3 to 5 inches when ready to be picked from the soil. However, this size varies depending on the type of onions that you plant.
Another way to check if the onions are harvest-ready is by pressing the top of the onion just below the soil surface.
Check for readiness by gently squeezing 2 or 3 inches of its top to check if you can find a soft spot. A soft spot at the top of an onion is an indicator that it’s ready for harvest.
This soft spot on the top of an onion shows that it’s done growing even though it may seem that it is not yet ready.
In certain varieties of onions, there’s no soft spot on the top. When you encounter such plants, the other sign to check if they are ready for harvesting is that the upper part of the onion bends or starts falling off the plant.
You should notice this sign on the green upper parts of the onions. About 80% of many onion varieties begin withering at the top to show that they are ripe and harvest-ready.
The maximum maturity of onion growth is around two weeks after the 100-120 days are over.
Should I harvest spring onions?
Spring onions take about eight weeks to reach full maturity. If they’ve reached this timeline, you should harvest them.
Spring onions are among the most favorable garden plants for many gardeners. You should begin planting spring onions at the beginning of the year. They take less time to mature and have a milder flavor compared to standard white onions.
Spring onions make a good garden project, especially for small-scale use. They do well if you’re looking for onions that can be eaten raw.
However, don’t confuse green and spring onions. While they appear similar, there are some visible differences. Spring onions have a bulb-like appearance at the base.
Harvesting spring onions is fun and rewarding because they don’t take a lot of time to mature. However, you should learn a few things first to understand the appropriate time for harvesting onions.
After the 8-week period has ended, check if the spring onions have reached a height of around 6 inches and a thickness of ½ an inch. Reaching this stage means they are ready for harvest.
However, some gardeners prefer waiting a little longer before harvesting spring onions. Although it’s completely okay to wait, don’t allow the onions to become larger than 1-inch in diameter. When this happens, they lose their mild flavor.
I recommend a maximum of 9 weeks before harvesting spring onions. This is the most suitable time as they’ll have reached their prime. Waiting any longer may mean the crop spoils.
The proper way of harvesting them
Now that you know the proper time for harvesting onions, should you just go and pluck them from the ground?
No, there’s a proper way of harvesting onions to ensure their quality.
Harvesting onions can either be green onions or bulb onions.
Harvesting green onions
First, let’s explain how to harvest green onions. Harvesting green onions is a straightforward process.
While some people go for the pull and shake method, this method only cuts short the life of a potential bulb onion. Pulling the greens removes the white bulb that could have matured into a ripe onion.
The best method is to use the “cut and come again” technique for harvesting green onions.
Using this method will only harvest the greens and allow the onion to continue growing. Amazingly, the greens will continue growing, and you can come back and gather them again.
This method of harvesting onions allows you to increase the lifespan of your onions while enjoying the greens. The bulb remains intact, and, in the end, you’ll enjoy multiple benefits from harvesting onions in this way.
Harvesting onion bulbs
Always treat onions like eggs because they are delicate!
Tactics and time of harvest are essential in defining the proper way of harvesting onions. Inferior harvesting methods may damage the onion bulbs and ruin the plant.
Before going further, let’s define the aspect of timing for proper harvesting. The appropriate time for harvesting onions is early morning before it becomes too hot. Using the right timing to pick your onions makes it easier and assures you of a good yield.
Another factor to consider is the weather. Summer is the best time for harvesting onions before they spoil.
During the morning hours in dry weather, you can use a garden fork or your hands to dig out the onions from the soil gently.
Most gardeners prefer using their hands to gently pull their onions out of the ground to avoid damaging the bulbs. After harvesting onions, shake off the soil and lay them right next to their hole in the garden.
It’s efficient to pull out onions one row after another to avoid accidentally stepping on the bulbs. Ensure that you lay the onions in a single layer and not very close to each other for proper ventilation.
After pulling the onions out of the ground, you can leave them in the garden for about two days.
How to store them
Although onions are often ready for use immediately after a harvest, they tend to develop a more profound and better taste if you store them properly.
After successfully harvesting onions, proper storage starts with curing them.
What is curing?
Curing is an essential process for preparing your onions for storage. It entails drying the onions on an open shelf outdoors for approximately a month.
First, rub off any soil and cut off any green onions at around 10 inches. After that, an open shelf outdoors is the most efficient place to cure your onions, provided the area is protected from rain.
Always lay the onions in one layer for best curing. For example, an open shelf (mesh-like) or laying the onions on cardboard with holes allows proper ventilation.
Water or accumulated moisture is the greatest enemy of curing, so make sure that your onions will remain dry outdoors.
Remove the onions from the outdoor shelf after two weeks and take them indoors for further curing. Before storing them indoors, ensure that you slice off the withered roots and the upper part to about 2.5 inches. Allow curing indoors for another two weeks.
After proper curing, you can now go ahead and store your onions. A cool and dry place away from any direct sunlight is the best location for storage.
You can use a wire basket, nylon bag with ventilation, or a crate to store the onions. Using crates or wire baskets is convenient because they allow plenty of ventilation to circulate around the onions.
Wherever you’re storing the onions, ensure that the temperature is in the range of 350F to 400F. Damp conditions cause rotting in onions. Always keep the onions in a dry area as humid spaces will cause the onions to rot.
Properly curing and storing onions results in them lasting for up to 7 months while retaining their flavor and quality.
Onions are one of the most used plants in any meal. Therefore, they are always in demand for making tasty meals.
Whether you plant onions for sale or personal use, learning the best methods for harvesting onions is valuable. Learning how to cure and store them is also helpful when you want to enjoy their flavor and nutritional value.
Remember that if you just want to harvest the onions and use them right away, there’s no need to cure them. Curing is only for prolonged storage and preservation for later use.
Harvesting onions properly, curing and storing means that you can enjoy them throughout the year. But if you’re a beginner gardener, none of this information makes a difference unless you plant the onions properly in the first place.
Tyler C Rich is the founder and chief editor at TopsyGardening.com. An experienced gardener and a professionally trained agriculture development expert, Rich has worked in the gardening and landscaping industry for more than a few decades. Although he has retired, his spark for developing the best urban and indoor gardens has not faded a bit. He uses TopsyGardening.com as a platform to come across enthusiastic gardeners and share the unique insights he has acquired through years of experience. Rich is interested in aquaponics and technology apart from conventional gardening techniques.