- Author: Jan Hambleton
Onions compete as one of the most versatile vegetables on earth, and are found in basically every cuisine. Growing onions and choosing the correct varieties is an art. Harvesting and storing onions also has its own challenges.
Several members of our Inyo-Mono Master Food Preservers recently planted and harvested a plot of onions. The onions had reached a large size and looked quite nice, so we just pulled them up…. THEN we read about how to harvest onions correctly!
You may harvest and eat onions at any phase of growth. However, they will be larger if left until they have finished growing, and they will store better. Generally it takes approximately 100 to 120 days for onions to reach maturity in our area.
Pull up any onions that send up flower stalks as they have stopped growing and will not store well. Use these onions in 3-4 days. You do not need to cure them.
Harvesting onions is simple, but there is more to the process than yanking them out of the ground.
Stop watering and fertilizing onions 7-14 days before harvesting to allow the onions to mature. When onions begin to mature, the tops will fall over. When the tops are yellow and approximately 70-80 % have fallen over, your onions are ready to be harvested.
You may bend the others over to hasten maturation of the rest.
Pick a day that is dry and harvest early in the morning when temperatures are more mild. If harvested in wet conditions, they will not cure properly and may rot in storage. Picking the right day to harvest can determine how well your onions will keep. Loosen the soil carefully around the onion bulb, then gently pull out the onion. Gently shake the soil from around the bulb. Any slight bruise may encourage your onion to rot. If you accidentally cut an onion, it will cause the onion to rot prematurely, so use it quickly. Place the onion outside in the sun for 1-2 days until the roots dry, they should be like brittle wires. If you are in a sunny, dry climate, such as Bishop, your onions may dry in a few hours.
Now you are ready to cure them.
Curing and Storing Onions
Generally long-day onion varieties store longer than short day varieties. Whether you grow long day, intermediate or short-day varieties, depends on where you live and which are more likely to grow the best in your area. Inyo-Mono counties are in the middle of the intermediate day variety growing area, and we also are on the cusp of the short day variety area. Past experience in gardens has been very positive with intermediate types.
Separate the softer, smaller onions and the thick necked onions and use these first.
Let onions cure on dry ground, out of the sun, or in a protected place like your garage or barn for 2-3 weeks. Do not cover with plastic or canvas. If they must be covered (i.e. for a short rain storm, etc.), use a light cotton sheet. Don't crowd the onions, keep them from touching if possible. The drier the air, the less time needed for curing. When the onions are dry, clip roots and cut tops back to 1-2 inches unless you are braiding the tops. This allows you to better see which onions should be used first and helps prevent them from rotting. When the onions look like the ones in the market, with dry, papery, thin, skins, you may store them. The ideal temperature is 40-60F.
To store them you may either braid the tops together, wrap them individually in newspaper, or hang them in a mesh bag or old nylon stockings. You may also put them in up to 2 layers in a cool, dark, well ventilated area.
Do not refrigerate your onions. Check periodically for sprouting or rotting onions, and remove them immediately. Rotten onions can be incredibly stinky!
Do not store onions with apples, pears or potatoes, as they may pick up the onion flavor. Pungent onions—those that make you cry the most—store longer, so use your sweet onion varieties first.
For More Information
Preserving Onions and Garlic (Clemson University)/h2>/h2>/h2>
Do you like Owens Valley's native plants? Do you like reading blog posts? (You must since you're reading this!)
If that's you then we have some good news: we have a second blog that focuses on our native plant garden at the Lone Pine visitors' center.
It has an exciting name: Native Garden at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Vistor Center. We like catchy titles!
Just like this blog, you can subscribe to keep up with all the latest happenings in the project.
If you happen to be passing through Lone Pine, make a stop at the visitor center and check out the garden. It's located southwest of the restroom building. You'll see there has been a lot of work done on the project during the past year.
Since the Eastern Sierra is very dry, we don't usually get fungal or bacterial diseases in the garden. Normally viral diseases affect our tomatoes and peppers instead. This year that trend continues. I've already encountered beet curly top virus, tomato spotted wilt virus, and at least one other unidentified virus on tomatoes.
We may be in for a spell of fungal diseases, however.
Due to high temperatures, we've been getting afternoon bouts of elevated humidity and sometimes even rain. This creates excellent conditions for the growth of fungal pathogens.
Who knows what—or if—we'll end up getting in terms of diseases as a result of the recent weather!
Here's what to look for: most of our usually fungal pathogens tend to create leaf spots of some sort. I find that all plants of a variety may be affected and have the same symptoms. It could be all your tomatoes will be affected. :-(
Viruses on the other hand tend to hit individual plants at random without respect to their variety. Growth will look weird, probably stunted, perhaps with weird fruit. There is no treatment for viruses. You need to remove the plant.
There are treatments for fungal pathogens, but it's best to try to avoid diseases altogether. Here are some tips to prevent diseases.
- Water in the morning, not evening
- Prune out suckers on tomatoes to improve airflow
- Remove infected tissues (usually leaves) or dead plants as soon as you see them
- Keep the garden free of weeds to improve airflow
- Check plants often for early symptoms
If you decide to use a fungicide, know that most work to prevent new infections. They don't really cure existing problems.
- Author: Alison Collin
Even in the best managed gardens, as soon as the soil warms up weed erupt and need to be controlled before they get the upper hand. Different soils and conditions produce differing unwanted species and it pays to be able to identify them in order to know what is growing in your garden and how to manage them.
It is best to deal with weeds as they germinate and before their roots get a hold, and certainly before they flower and seed or there will be an even worse problem the following year. The most efficient and least labor intensive way is to use a hoe.
I keep a hoe in readiness close to the vegetable plot and use it almost daily during the growing season as soon as I spot an invader. My personal favorite is the Hula hoe which is stirrup shaped with a blade sharpened on both sides so it can be used to cut through young weeds just below soil level on both the push and pull strokes. It is very efficient on cultivated soil so long as the plants are small. It will not work to remove weeds from turf, neither will it cope with thick clumps of established Bermuda grass or any woody plant that has a thickened base. It is not wise to hoe plants that increase by rhizomes such as nut sedge or bindweed since the hoe is liable to chop the roots into pieces that readily form new plants making the problem worse. Those plants are best dug out individually, getting as much of the root removed as possible.
A hoe will not remove a dandelion root in entirety but at least regular removal of leaves will prevent flowering and seeding until such time as it can be dug out.
For areas where the Hula hoe cannot reach, my favorite tool is a Japanese hand hoe which has a sharp triangular blade and very useful sharp corners. Plants with long tap roots such as dandelion and salsify can be removed with a forked device, the prongs of which are placed at the neck of the plant, while an angle in the handle increases leverage. However, for weeds growing very close to plant stems or in places where there are surface roots that may be damaged by hoeing one just has to get down on ones knees and hand weed.
Reduce the possible spread of seeds by immediately discarding any weeds that may have already set seeds. Spotted spurge is able to produce seeds on quite tiny plants and a mature specimen can shed thousands of them so it is important to put any removed plants directly into a container or bag, and don't be tempted to shake the soil from the roots since this will result in seeds being scattered far and wide! Don't leave piles of weeds in heaps waiting to be collected later, since dandelion seeds will quite cheerfully manage to blow off into other areas. The bottoms of lawnmowers can deposit grass seeds onto surfaces as they are moved from place to place and these can then be blown back onto the garden.
If you are not sure of the identification of a particular weed in your garden the following link should help you. Once you have identified the culprit select the page for a description of that particular plant and then go to the bottom of that page and select “Pest Management Guidelines” http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/weeds_intro.html
These are some common weeds in our area and links on how to identify and manage them:
Spotted spurge: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7445.html
Field bindweed: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7462.html
Russian Thistle (Tumbleweed): http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7486.html
I always like to grow some flowers in my garden. I usually grow cosmos, zinnias, or marigolds, all of which do great in the Owens Valley.
This year I had a great plan to try to have my garden mostly done by July. It didn't work out, but before I abandoned that goal, I planted bachelor's buttons. These annual plants flower quickly, and I had hoped they would be ready in time for graduation day in June. And they were. Sort of.
Bachelor's buttons—also called cornflowers—are in the same genus (Centuarea) as many thistles that do great in California. Some in fact are terrible weeds like yellow star-thistle: C. solstitialis.
I've never grown them here myself, but bachelor's buttons are about the world's easiest thing to grow. Just maybe not in the desert when it's blazing hot. (In my defense, I suspected they wouldn't like our summer. I was trying to finish up the garden before the heat was unbearable in my back yard.)
Some Centaureas do like our climate. Centuarea montana, a similar looking perennial plant, looks nice in the Owens Valley. Centuarea cyanus, at least when direct sown in the garden, was a disappointment for me.
Here is what the flowers look like in the seed catalog:
In my past experience growing them, that's a fairly accurate representation of what to expect.
Here is what I ended up with:
As you can see in the picture, the flowers don't look so good. What's happening? Well, my garden is too hot. As soon as the blossoms open, they immediately desiccate. I suppose if I wanted to dry them that would be fine.
Bachelor's buttons like cool weather, and I planted these in early March. I had no issues with germination. They quickly popped up just like the weeds they're related to. Everything worked as planned, and my first blooms began Memorial Day weekend. (Hooray for planning ahead!) But then they just fried on the stems.
It could just be this particular mix. I'm sure it did fine in Oregon where the seeds came from. In my garden every day, even with ample water, these plants get a bit wilted in the afternoon. Other cultivars may do better, but I don't think I'll experiment again to find out which those may be. (If you have good luck with one, post in comments.)
From this experience, I'd recommend one of these strategies if you want to grow bachelor's buttons:
- Plant the perennial relative C. montana
- Start the seeds indoors in February and transplant to finish sooner
- Pick a cooler part of the yard and not in a hot corner like I have, or use a light shade cloth to lower the temperature
Higher elevation gardeners would probably be much happier with bachelor's buttons than I was. For my part, rather than moving up the grade and trying again, I think I'll stick with zinnias next year.