28 February 2008

umm, onions?

Considering that our previous attempts at onions resulted in bulbs roughly the size of superballs, we don't consider ourselves experts on this particular aspect of the garden.

So when, in the comments of some recent posts (here and here), Frances and Mia both asked whether we cut the tops of our onions off and El said, "Don't forget to cut them," we became totally confused.

Cut what? The flowers? The green parts? Not while they're still growing, though, right? Cut the green parts off before we store the onions? Cut the flowers off, cut them into bits, and feed them to the chickens? It's clear that we should be cutting something, but we're not sure what.

Onion growers, help!

Edited to add: We got answers! El wrote, "You need to get the roots to grow, so, when they get to be about 3-4" tall, you cut an inch off. Otherwise you'll have the things devote all their energy to producing its leaves. You'll be doing this a couple of times before you plant them." And Mike added, "At the other end, when you're harvesting to store 'em for a while, you should cut them quite high up, 2-3", in that part where it naturally dies out and flops down. Then when they cure, the neck can dry out and seal, so bacteria doesn't get into the onion and spoil it. So your storage onions have a dry neck sticking out. I leave 'em like that, but maybe you can trim more later on."

11 comments:

Katie said...

Meg,

Huh? I = confused as well.

I've heard not to cut the onion tops back or knock them over near harvest time specifically, because it shortens their storage life.

Perhaps in my neck of the woods, cutting is unnecessary? Unless you have a flower stalk (which presumably would only show up in the second year since onions are biennials) would you cut the green growth.

I understand the logic that taking away the foliage might force the bulb to spend energy getting larger, but might that not kill the plant entirely seeing that it is a plant that uses photosynthesis to grow?

I dunno. My $.02 from NorCal.

Katie

El said...

Hah! Sorry for the confusion. You need to get the roots to grow, so, when they get to be about 3-4" tall, you cut an inch off. Otherwise you'll have the things devote all their energy to producing its leaves. You'll be doing this a couple of times before you plant them.

tech_samaritan said...

Excellent little tidbit to know! Thanks Meg for asking, and thank you El for the answer!

Patrick said...

I learned something new too. I've never heard of or thought of doing that.

I don't grow normal onions from seed, because they are too ordinary and it's too much work. I grow leeks sometimes, and I grow lots of garlic as well as other unusual alliums.

What I've been working on is perennial onions. They take a while to get going, and multiply out from the initial few you start with, but I think they are really worth while.

Since a perennial onion will keep growing if you don't dig it up and eat the bulb, it's common to eat the greens on this kind of onion. Some greens taste better than others.

While you are growing the onions, you might sample the tops and if you decide you like them you could harvest a few from time to time. Perhaps this will help the bulbs grow bigger too, I don't know.

I have heard of bending over the tops of onions to help them grow bigger, but I think this is a disputed idea and most people believe if it does help at all it's not very important.

Meg said...

Hooray, thanks El! That makes sense.

Katie, I had the exact same confused thought process as you.

Daniel, who knew, right? I guess we'll all be trimming up our onions now.

Meg said...

Patrick, we haven't gotten any for this year, but we're really interested in trying perennial onions in the future. Maybe we'll try to get some established next year, depending where we're at.

El said...

Patrick, yes, an excellent point. We've got Egyptian walking/multiplier onions too, as well as a large patch of perennial shallots (they're onions which never form heads) that we raid, too. The walking onions are reliably the first things I harvest in the spring out of the regular garden: earlier, even, than asparagus. Anyway, you're quite right, the regular onions are a lot of fuss for something readily available in your store. But they ARE worth the effort in terms of storage! Even in my greenhouse the scallions just couldn't keep up with my demand on them.

Good luck, all!

Mike (tfb) said...

At the other end, when you're harvesting to store 'em for a while, you should cut them quite high up, 2-3", in that part where it naturally dies out and flops down. Then when they cure, the neck can dry out and seal, so bacteria doesn't get into the onion and spoil it. So your storage onions have a dry neck sticking out. I leave 'em like that, but maybe you can trim more later on.

Meg said...

Mike, thanks! We didn't know to do that, either.

Melinda said...

Wow, thanks for this post. I had no idea!! And Patrick has me thinking about walking onions... I've never had one, so I don't know what they taste like. But I *love* the idea of a perennial onion!

Melinda said...

Meg, did you happen to see Mike's post today? The things you learn!