How to Harvest Onions for Long Term Storage - Melissa K. Norris

How to Harvest Onions for Long Term Storage

By Melissa Norris | Food Preservation

Aug 28

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How to harvest onions, especially if you plan on storing them long term. I’ll cover the proper time to harvest and the proper steps that will ensure you’ll be able to store them long-term. How to harvest onions for long term storage

This is another quick tip episode. If you have a question you’d like answered you can email me and put in the subject line: ask Melissa for the Podcast and I hope to be able to get your question answered and featured.

Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #193 How to Harvest Onions, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.


If you’re newer to growing  your own food then you might not know when it is the best time to harvest your fruits and vegetables. That’s why I’ve created a chart with this information as well as included information on how to store them. It’s not available yet but I’ll be sharing the pre-order information on my upcoming book, The Family Garden Plan – a Year’s Worth of Sustainable and Healthy Food, soon.

I’m going to walk you through how to know when you’re onions are ready to harvest and what it means if they have already flowered, what to do. Especially when it comes to storage and curing of onions so that you have them available to eat all year round…or as long as possible. This tips that I’m going to share with you are in the chart that is in The Family Garden Plan – which won’t be available until January 7, 2020.

Knowing the optimal time to harvest can be really crucial, especially when we are looking at the longevity of having that crop. This is most important when it comes to using root cellaring techniques like we do with onions and garlic as well as winter squash. Harvesting crops at the best time so that it will stay good on the shelf for the longest period of time is our goal.

 Are you planting the right variety?

One of the things you want to know, especially if you plan to store the food long-term is that you’re planing the right kind of onion. Sweet onions don’t have as long as storage life as onions that are considered storage onions. The variety that we put in this year, and that we’ve planted in past years, and that stores well is call Copra. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow sweet onions, like Walla Walla sweets, just make sure that you grow a storage variety as well. I plant the majority of my onion crop as Copra onion because I’ll be storing them long-term.

When are onions ready to harvest

Onions vary a little bit on what time of year they’re actually ready to harvest, but it doesn’t really matter because you’re going to use the visual signs.

They’re ready to harvest when the tops fall over. You’re looking for at least 50% of the stalks having fallen over. That is your sign that the onion has finished going through the bulbing process and that you should be harvesting them and getting them cured if you plan on storing them.

That’s not to say that you can’t go out at anytime, as long as they’re large enough, and harvest one to use in a recipe that you’re making for dinner. But if the crop that you plan on storing has at least 50% of the stalks falling over, you should harvest them. One thing to note is that once they’ve gone through the bulbing process and the tops are falling over, you want to get them out of the ground as soon as possible, especially if you have a lot of moisture or rain coming in because after they have bulbs you don’t want them to stay in the ground.

What if they have bolted? (aka what if my onions are flowering)

But what if your onions have bolted due to stress or whatever? Meaning that they’ve formed a blossom on the stalk which will eventually become seed. Bolting is the way in which the plant ensures that it reproduces and keeps it’s species, so to speak, going. The problem is when it bolts and goes to flower it puts all of it’s energy into producing and growing this flower and developing the seeds.

If you see them beginning to bolt, you want to cut off the blossom as soon as possible. Then harvest them because often times what will happen if not harvested the onion bulb will split in the ground. Once it splits it opens itself to moisture and bugs and won’t be ideal for storing…or even eating. So if you see the blossoms begin to form, and you’re not saving them for seed, then you want to cut the blossoms off and pull them up right away.

A lot of times people think that if they’ve bolted then they’ve lost the onion and they’re not any good anymore but that’s not necessarily always the case. That’s why I always recommend cutting off the blossom and pulling the onions out right away. They won’t be candidates for long-term storage but oftentimes still usable in the short-term. These are great to use in salsa or your cooking, using them right away.

You can use scissors, gardening sheers, or pruners. Even if it’s a smaller bulb I can use these onions that have bolted but not split as a shorter term onion. I’ll still cure it for a small amount of time and then it will be one of the onions we’ll use up first in our cooking over the next few weeks.

What if not all the onions are ready at the same time?

If you have a row of onions where the entire row has not fallen over you’ll need to determine approximately how many. In one row, only a few hadn’t fallen over, which meant I had about 98% had so that entire row was harvested. In another row, some had but not all, but it was still about half – within the 50% range – so they were harvested as well.

What to do if they show signs of rot

Now, two onions can grow side by side, one can have bolted and the other not. The one that bolted will be smaller because it didn’t go through the bulbing process. And sometimes, the ones that bolted may show a bit of rot, meaning a bit of mold on the outside but not through the entire bulb.

This is where I”ll make an exception and pull the outer layers off because it still has some usable onion on it since the rot is just on the surface. Normally I don’t clean my onions before starting the curing process but this is where I don’t follow that rule, especially when it’s starting to get a bit slimy on the stalk. I remove all the layers that are icky and showing any bit of mildew and mold and decay. Then I make sure these don’t go anywhere near my other onions as they’re curing so that it doesn’t spread to them.  Obviously I’ll take these into the house and use immediately in the short-term.

The next step of your onion harvest is knowing how to cure onions for long term storage and I’ve got 8 Tips on How to Cure Onions for Winter Storage here

Register Now for Organic Gardening Workshops

If you want more information on growing your own fruits and vegetables, subscribe to my YouTube channel and be sure to register for my upcoming organic gardening workshops. We are going to be covering every aspect of organically and naturally growing your own fruits and vegetables at home, including ways to save time and increase your yield. Registration is totally free, and by joining the early bird wait list you will have access to exclusive, amazing things. Enter your email here to register today!

Now you know how to harvest onions and up next I’ll show you how to cure onions! Have you grown onions at home before? If so, what are your favorite storage varieties?


About the Author

Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.