Tip of the Week – Week 19 in the Zone 9 Garden

Yesterday I heard a meteorologist say that we have a two thirds greater chance of having a cooler and wetter summer than normal.  While that is great news it is still Texas and it is still going to get HOT out there.  I bring this up because even though May is the beginning of harvest time, it is also the first month where high temps begin to be a problem.  Each year I pay hundreds of dollars to have pre-cancerous spots burned off and I always manage to dehydrate myself.  Patty Leander has a great article full of tips that will help you stay cool and safe in the garden this year.  Click here to read her tips.

blog6 Vegetables

While there is still time to plant lima (butter) beans, southern peas, gourds, winter squash and sweet potatoes, May is really the beginning of harvest time.

I am excited to say that we will soon be harvesting artichokes for the first time.  We will also start picking green beans soon.  If you don’t already have green beans you will in the next week or so.  Your green beans should produce until temps start to stay in the 90s.  Harvest often for best yields.  Summer squash should soon be on your plate as well.  Again, pick it early and pick often.

In my opinion, the big harvests of the month are potatoes and onions.  My potatoes still have a couple of weeks to go but my onion tops are beginning to fall over.  My onions have been in the ground since December and I am ready to get them up.  Not only do I need the space for my purple hulls, I truly love onions.   If you have a large harvest, be sure to cure, or dry them before you store them.  Patty and I both have articles on how to properly harvest and care for your bulbs.  Check them both out.

Patty’s article – Harvesting and Curing Onions

My article:  How to Harvest and Cure Onions

poppies-potager Ornamentals

Last week I wrote about how much joy I get from my daylilies.  While that is true, they are not the only thing blooming right now.  All of my salvias have started blooming.  I also have datura, dianthus, crinums, yarrow and petunias that are in full bloom.  All of these flowers are filling my yard with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Keep flowering plants well watered to extend bloom time.  Also dead head often to encourage re-bloom.

If you grew poppies this spring, they should just about be ready for you to harvest the seeds.  I collect my poppy seeds each year.  Because of this I have been able to spread them all over my property.  Read more about collecting your own poppy seeds by clicking this link: Remembering our Veterans with Poppies.

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!






Harvesting and Curing Onions (Part 2) By Patty Leander

Onions ready for harvest.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Onions ready for harvest. Photo by Bruce Leander

Onions will let you know they are finished growing when their necks soften and topple over; this is a natural occurrence and it’s a myth that they need our help doing this. Some gardeners think that knocking the tops over prematurely will encourage larger bulbs but actually it’s the tops that manufacture the sugars and energy that cause the bulbs to enlarge and when the necks are broken prematurely that process slows to a halt.  As I learned from long-time farmer’s market gardener June Russell, of Midland, Texas, “onions have the sense to lay over on their own”. 

Wait till the tops fall over before  harvesting onions.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Wait till the tops fall over before harvesting onions. Photo by Bruce Leander

Onions also bulb in response to day length and in Central Texas where I live the short day onion varieties that we plant in the winter begin bulb formation in springtime as the day length reaches 11-12 hours. In the northern half of the state gardeners grow intermediate day onions which require 12-14 hours of daylight and in colder parts of the country where onions mature during the longer days of summer gardeners grow long day onion varieties that require at least 14 hours of daylight. If you have onions that don’t bulb properly then chances are pretty good that you are growing the wrong type of onions for your region.

Onions and garlic drying on a bench in the shade.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Onions and garlic drying on a bench in the shade. Photo by Bruce Leander

My short day onions are usually ready to harvest in late May or early June. Once the necks start to fall over it’s a good idea to cut back on water for a few days and let the soil dry out before harvesting. After the soil has dried out for a few days hold onto the stem of each onion and coax them gently from the soil then spread them out in a dry, shady spot to cure for at least 5-7 days.  Go ahead and harvest any onions that send up a flower stalk – they are perfectly edible but they will not store very well so eat them first. Prepare dry onions for storage by trimming the roots and cutting off the dried leaves then drop them, one at a time, into a mesh bag or a length of nylon pantyhose. Tie a knot or a twist tie between each onion, then when you need an onion for cooking just snip off the lowest onion just below the knot, leaving the others for later. I hang my onions on a hook inside the pantry so they are always at the ready. They can also be stored in a flat box or crate in a cool, dry place with good air circulation (in other words do not store them in a closed bin or box). An alternative method that works especially well with smaller onions is to leave the tops intact and braid them together. Short day onions do not store as long as long day varieties, but if properly cured they will last about 3 months.

After drying, onions tops and roots are trimmed in preparation for storage.  Photo by Bruce Leander

After drying, onions tops and roots are trimmed in preparation for storage. Photo by Bruce Leander

The organosulfides that give onions their pungent taste and smell also have powerful cancer-fighting properties. Since heat can destroy these compounds raw onion will have the highest concentration, but eating lots of raw onions can be hard on those with sensitive digestive systems so a quick sauté is the next best thing. It will lessen the pungency of the onions while retaining most of the organosulfide compounds.

Don't through out those old panty house.  the make great storage for your onions!  Photo by Bruce Leander

Don’t throw out those old panty hose. They make great storage for your onions! Photo by Bruce Leander

How to Harvest and Cure Onions

This past weekend, I pulled up 52 pounds of 10/15 onions.  Definitely my best onion harvest ever.  Now the question is, “What do I do with 52 lbs of onions”?  Since my wife and I are empty nesters, it is going to take us a while to eat all of those onions.  Especially when you take into account the fact that I just harvested an apple box full of shallots and I am still growing Egyptian Walking Onions.  I am sure we will be sharing with our kids and neighbors, but we are still going to have to preserve a large number of these onions.  Here’s how we preserve our onion crop:

10/15 onions in the potager two weeks ago

First, if you are new to gardening, you may wonder when to harvest or pull your onions.  The general rule is “Pull when the tops fall over”.  Below is a picture of what that looks like.  I believe in letting nature take its course.  I do not pull until 75% or more of the tops have fallen.  Once they fall, you can leave them in the ground for a week to ten days.  This starts the natural curing process.  However, do not leave them in the ground much more than ten days as that makes them susceptible to soil borne pathogens that can cause mold and rot in storage.  Just a little note,  I have heard several people say you have to cure onions before you can eat them.  This is not true.  Onions can be eaten at any time in their growth cycle (tops and all).  You only have to cure onions that you want to preserve.

The same onions from the first photo after their tops have fallen over

Once you have pulled your onions, spread them out in the sun.  Make sure they have room between them for air circulation.  I put mine on an old screen door up on saw horses.  The length of time varies.  If you pull them on a dry, hot day in Texas, then a few hours should be sufficient.  If it has rained recently, the onions moisture content will be higher and you will need to leave them out until the roots become noticeably harder than when they were harvested. 

Once they have completed this initial drying period, place them in a dry, shady place to allow them to complete the curing process.  Many people put them on their porch.  If you do not have room on your porch or in your garage, put them outside on a board or screen door to keep them off of the ground.  Place a sheet over them for shade.  Do not use plastic or canvas as this traps moisture.  You can cut the tops off at this time if you wish but if you do, leave about one inch of top on the onion.

Placing the onions on an old screen door. Allow plenty of space around them so they will cure properly.

While they are drying, turn them every few days to make sure they are drying evenly.  This part of the process can take two or three weeks.  You will know they are ready when the outer skins are papery and the roots are dry and brittle. 

Once your onion’s have cured, you can place them in mesh bags (or braid their tops together) and hang them in the garage for a little more drying.  If you are going to put them in a root cellar where humidity is high, you want to make sure they are as dry as possible.  Properly cured onions can keep for several months.  Check them often and discard any that are becoming soft.  If you see any sign of sprouting, eat them immediately, replant, or discard.