Saturday, August 13, 2011

Preserving the Harvest: Onions

I wanted to grow more onions this year. Last year, I grew enough for making and preserving salsa and tomato sauce for a year but didn't have many for storage. My seeds were old and I didn't expect them to be viable another year. I also didn't expect them to all germinate because of the seeds age, so I sprinkled all the seeds into repurposed berry trays. I think each and every seed was viable and germinated after all.

Copra and Patterson Onion Seedlings (Jan 22, 2011)

I had to adjust my garden plan to accommodate the onion seedling overflow, but each seedling was planted. About half were planted in the SFGs.

Copra Onion Seedlings in SFG (April 22, 2011)

Patterson Onion Seedlings (April 22, 2011)

The others were planted in the regular in ground gardens. One batch was planted at the end of April but I ran out of room before I planted them all. The final tray sat outside for quite some time before more space was available in the new garden dug this year. The final onion seedlings were planted almost a month later then the others.

Although the onions were still small, most of the onion tops in the SFGs began to fall over a few weeks ago. I pulled them all this weekend. These are all disappointingly quite small. The largest are about 3-inches wide, but most are 1-2-inches wide. Absolutely pitiful.

Small Copra and Patterson Onions Harvested from SFGs

I decided to freeze these. The really small ones will be frozen whole. The larger ones will be chopped, spread out on cookie trays, frozen, then placed into freezer bags. This will make it easy to scoop out whatever is necessary for soups, stews, sauces, etc.

It will be quite labor intensive to peel, trim and/or chop these tiny onions. The photo above shows about half. So I will be working on it a little at a time over the next week or so.

The onions in the regular garden are growing much better. The ones pictured below are quite a bit larger and will be cured and used for storage onions over the winter.  The tops flopped over just this week. The largest is about 5-inches and the rest are all at least 3-inches.

Onions Growing in In-Ground Garden
Onions Growing in In-Ground Garden

The late-planted onions in the new garden are healthy but have some growing to do to catch up with the others. If they don't size up by the end of the growing season, I may try overwintering them.


  1. wow, how do you separate the seedlings without accidentally breaking them?

  2. I wonder what the deal is with the SFG onions? Moisture? Nutrients? Mine did well this year, but my raised bed is made from regular garden soil. I noticed the onions on the edges were smaller, making me believe they needed more moisture.

    For the small onions, can you peel them as you would boiling onions? Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, then ice bath, and the skins slip off?

  3. Looks like you're going to have a great harvest!

  4. Gosh, I'd just like to commend you on growing such nice onions from seed.... I can't do it!

  5. Onions have always been a hit or miss crop for me. I never know why they fail or do well.

  6. I tried onions in my SFG last year. They hated it and were also very small. We expanded this year with an "in-ground" patch and everything did well, SVB's aside. I didn't plant onions though but I think I'll try again based on your observations. The IG onions look great.

  7. Meemsnyc: The onion seedlings are easily teased apart and planted individually.

    Henbogle: I think it may be a lack of moisture. The soil in the SFGs dries out quicker than the regular garden even with mulching. The in ground gardens are watered with soaker hoses. I use a low sprinkler in the SFGs. I also saw a difference with other plants as well. The plants in the in ground gardens overall are healthier and producing more than the ones in the SFGs. I probably should do a soil test to be sure.

    Thanks for the tip on boiling the smaller onions. I will definitely give that a try.

    Sue: I think I will have plenty of onions this year.

    EG: I don't think I will grow so many in the future.

    Daphne: It was interesting to see how the onions grew in different parts of the gardens. It's funny though; the ones that grew the largest were the most abused. They were accidentally stepped on days after transplanting, suffered from grass invasion and had to be weeded often, and only had one soaker hose to water the 2-foot bed.

  8. Tami: I am thinking about doing away with the SFGs in the future. I began SFGing because my in-ground gardens were infested with weeds. Now these are controlled with mulching. It would be easy to convert each strip of SFGs into 4-foot wide in ground beds instead.

  9. That is quite an experiment with the SFG and the in ground planted onions. I suspicion you are correct that the SFG soil dries out too much. I also suspect it does not have all the minerals available that regular garden soil provides. I like using the grid planting style of square foot gardening but I prefer to use double dug well amended beds that incorporate the native soil.

  10. Rookie Gardener ChuckAugust 14, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    Question 1- how do you overwinter a vegetable? if it's not too complicated to explain...

    Question 2- what is the purpose of doing so?


  11. Laura: SFGs are useful for some situations, but I don't think 6-inches of "Mel's Mix" is enough for some plants. I may keep the raised beds next year if the wood holds up, but I will till down and mix in my native soil beneath the SFGs.

    Rookie Gardener Chuck: 1. Overwintering is an attempt to see if the plant will survive the winter and begin growing again in the spring.

    2. If the plant survives the winter, they can provide an early harvest. Sometimes even before you begin hardening off your seedlings for spring plantings.

    I have overwintered spinach, onions, and parsley in the past by covering them heavily with a mulch (such as straw or shredded leaves) to protect them from freezes and frost. Then snow cover insulates them further from the cold. A cold frame can also be used for overwintering plants. It is fun to see what survives.

  12. We also have problems growing onions of the size you can buy at the supermarket (although some of ours are the size of what some farmers ar selling at the farmers market). I don't know if it's the soil or length of time they're planted out before the tops fall over, or what. But we're going to try again next year with seeds that we'll start inside in December (of this year) to be planted out in mid-March.

    It *is* disappointing, but then again, small is better than crop failure...