Learn how to cure onions for storage (I confess, preserving onions using the curing process and root cellar techniques is one of the easiest ways to store a large amount of food). This is part two of my series on how to manage your onion harvest. Check out the first video and post here on How to Harvest Onions
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #194 How to Cure Onions (Part 2), 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. Go to Episode #193 How to Harvest Onions for Long Term Storage (Part 1)
We began this series on onions by discussing how to know when your onions are ready to harvest. In the first video, I walk you through the harvesting season, so be sure to catch that if you haven’t yet. As a reminder, when you are curing your onions for long term storage, the type of onion matters. Sweet onions have a much shorter shelf life even when they've been cured properly, unlike other varieties that store well. The variety that works really well for our homestead, stored right on the pantry shelf, is a copra onion.
Choosing a Place to Cure Onions
Selecting the right spot to cure your onions is really important in your onion drying process. You don't want it to be in direct sunlight, even though we want them to dry. If they're in direct sunlight, then you run the risk of actually sunburning your onion. When curing garlic and onions, choose a warm area that has really good circulation and airflow. Here in the Pacific northwest, finding an area that's warm can sometimes be a challenge even in August. I cure onions in a covered area on my back deck. It’s a spot that gets warm and has great airflow for ventilation but never gets direct sunlight, which is ideal. Ideal onion curing temperature is 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Two Options for the Curing Process
You can position onions in two different ways to cure: hanging wire or on a window screen. In my video, I show you exactly how these are laid out. There are pros and cons to each method, and I’ll walk you through them to help you choose what works for you. You can even use a combination of both to cure a large harvest all at once. I'm showing you two methods today because I use both. Depending on your set up, you can choose how to dry onions in the way that works best for you.
How to Cure Onions on Hanging Wire
This hanging method uses regular fencing wire, which you can buy at almost every hardware, farm supply, or big box store. This is a material we use in many ways around our homestead, and we choose this wire for curing onions because it is sturdy enough to hold the weight. Chicken wire can’t maintain heavy onions and also has holes that are too small for threading stalks through. It's important to remember spacing when you thread the onions through the wire, ensuring that you've spaced them to maintain airflow all the way around.
Pros and Cons of Hanging Onions
Hanging your onions to dry has the advantage of keeping the bulbs upside down, which many people believe draws moisture away from the bulb and cures them more quickly. The natural airflow also provides a great atmosphere for drying. Additionally, this method doesn’t require table or shelf space, allowing you to utilize different areas of your home. A disadvantage to this method is the time it takes to execute. Each onion must be individually hung and threaded through the wire, and if you have a really large crop, this may be something that you just don't have the time for.
Curing Onions on a Wire Screen
The second method for curing onions uses an old window screen or any type of wire shelving with openings for air circulation. When curing this way, I place a window screen on two sawhorses. Make sure wherever you place your screen is stable since the screen gets heavy with a lot of onions on it. Be sure the whole set up is somewhere with good ventilation and air flow, both around the structure and in-between the onions. If your onions are touching or crowded, you can quickly end up with things like decay, mildew, and mold. You also want to be able to regularly inspect your onions, so try to keep them somewhere accessible. In times of high humidity or moisture, check regularly to make sure the onions are curing and not developing moisture issues.
Pros and Cons of Screen-Curing Onions
This method works well for drying a large amount of onions at once. If you set it up well, the screen can support a large harvest and doesn’t require the intensity of threading each stalk on the wire. However, this method does require more flat space and can be more susceptible to moisture-related problems if your ventilation is poor or your crop is crowded.
How Long to Cure Onions
Curing time depends on the weather. If you encounter high humidity or a lot of rainstorms, you need to increase curing time. It's really crucial that onions are totally dry before you move them indoors for long term storage. Here in the Pacific northwest, even in August when I typically harvest my onions, sunny days and warm temperatures are unpredictable. Because of those factors, I have to let mine cure for about three weeks. In other places, it takes about two weeks for onions and garlic to completely cure.
How to Know When Onions are Cured
You will know your onions are cured when the stems are completely dry, brown, and withered. The outside skins will be completely dry as well, and you’ll be able to blow all the dirt away. I always err on the side of a longer curing time if I'm not sure. It's better to have them totally dry than to bring them in too soon and risk moisture breeding bacteria and breaking them down much faster.
I’ll be continuing this series on harvesting onions and preparing them for storage, so make sure that you subscribe to my posts here on the blog, as well as to my YouTube channel so you can see my whole set up. In a few weeks, I will share how we go about braiding and prepping onions, cleaning them before I take them inside, and then storing them long term.
Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed this post and if you have questions. Also, tell me what posts you would like to see about gardening! I want to create content that will help you grow your own organic food. Now you know how to cure onions so tell me what varieties you'll be putting in this next season?
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