Garden Docs: What's the best way to store onions?

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Jim L. of Windsor asks: This is my first year growing onions. I grew 3 different kinds. The tops are dying back now, and before I pull them out, I would like advice on how to store them so they last a few months.

Certainly! When the tops of the onions start dying back, turn brown and fall over, it’s harvest time. Stop watering them and let the soil dry out a bit before picking. The onions will be drier; you don’t want to store wet onions.

If the onions come out easy enough with just a yank on the foliage, then fine. But if you have to pull hard, and are playing tug of war with the onion, then use a small trowel to gently pry the onion out of the ground.

Leave the onions lying out in the sun for a couple days. Cover them a little with some of the foliage to prevent them from getting sunscald or sunburn. If it’s going to be hot for the next few days, put them where they’ll get some late afternoon shade. Spreading them out on the ground is fine, or on a table.

How long your onions will keep will depend on how you treat them after harvest, and also, the variety. You must make sure they have been dried thoroughly to prevent them from rotting.

If you leave the onions outside to cure, when the weather is warm and dry, they’ll be cured within a few days. The entire neck (the part where the leaves meet the bulb) should be dry, all the way to the surface of the onion, and shouldn’t give or move around when you pinch it. The whole onion will take on a uniform texture and color. If you prefer to cure them indoors, spread them out in a well-ventilated area on a table. Drying indoors may take longer than outdoors, especially if there isn’t much cross breeze.

Once the onions are thoroughly dry, clip the roots and cut the tops off, leaving about an inch of foliage. You can now eat them anytime.

Store your onions in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place, such as a garage or pantry. Place them in mesh bags to help keep them dry. Every so often, check for any that are getting soft and remove them. As a general rule, the sweeter onion varieties don’t store as long as the pungent ones, so eat the sweeter onions first.

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Hayley H. of Santa Rosa asks: Can you give me some vegetable harvesting tips for a first-time harvester? I am growing beets, carrots, corn, and summer squash.

You can harvest your beets when they are about 2 inches in diameter and save the greens for a salad.

Pick beans when they are thin like a pencil and before the seeds start bulging out and are visible under the pods. Carrots can be harvested at any time as long as they have some size to them. If you let them get too big they’ll start to get tough and woody. Watch the color of the foliage. When it’s really dark and green, they’re ready to pick.

Corn is ready about three weeks after the silks appear or when they have turned brown.

Summer squashes are good when they’re about 4-5 inches long. For the rounded varieties, pick at 2-3 inches in length for the best flavor.

Happy Harvesting!

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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