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Ask Gardenerd: How to Harvest and Store Red Onions

A timely question came in to Ask Gardenerd this week: “How do you harvest and store red onions? – Pete”

Hi Pete, great question. It’s that time of year, if you planted bulb onions in the fall, to harvest them for storage. If you’re just planting them now, you’ll harvest in late summer or fall. Red, yellow and white bulb onions all follow the same rules when it comes to harvesting and storing. Let’s look at how to harvest them first.

Nature gives us answers if you know where to look.
Nature gives us answers if you know where to look.

When onions are done, they’ll tell you. The neck breaks and they flop over. Above is a yellow onion that is ready to harvest. Here’s a red onion doing the same thing:

Time to harvest red onions

On occasion, depending on weather and other stress factors, onions will send up a flower stalk instead of breaking at the neck. Pick those onions right away if that happens.

A yellow onion that started to flower instead of flopping over.
A yellow onion that started to flower instead of flopping over.

Onions that flower need to be used soon. They generally won’t store well. So you may want to chop them up and freeze them for later use if you have a lot of onions that flowered.

Once onions that didn’t flower are ready to pick, pull the onion and leave it in the sun for a few days to cure. Farmers often pull the onions and set them right back down on the soil for a few days. This dries the outer layers and encourages development of that papery sheath you see on onions. We usually set ours on a table to dry out in the sun.

Next, we cure them for storage. Some onions store better than others. It depends on the variety. Here’s a previous blog post that will help guide you toward onion storage success. Essentially, you want to cure them until the point where the roots and stems are brown and dry, out of direct sunlight. Then you can trim the ends and store them as long as your variety allows. Some need to be used in a few weeks, others store for months.

We just harvested some onions ourselves and they are drying out in the sun still. Next we’ll move them indoors on newspaper to cure.

One onion flopped, the other flowered. We pulled them both to dry down for curing.
One onion flopped (top), the other flowered (bottom). We pulled them both to dry down for curing. We’ll use the larger onion first.

Thanks for writing in, Pete. We hope this helps you enjoy your onion harvest to the fullest.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Lydia Ntai

    My onions have flowered and formed a hard core in the middle where the flower originated. Is there any chance that the hard part will soften and become juicy?

    1. Christy

      Those central stalks are very fibrous and don’t soften over time. I imagine there is some culture out there that uses them in a dish and knows how to prepare them. But generally speaking, those stalks are discarded before cooking the onions.

  2. betty

    how do I store red onions for one month ?

    1. Christy

      Betty, you can use the techniques mentioned in this blog post to store onions. Keep them away from potatoes to prevent sprouting, and store them in a dark location. Onions are usually good for several months using the techniques mentioned here.

  3. Jen

    If I want to use a red onion before the stalk has topped over is that ok. It’s mid June in Oregon and I want to put them in a salad.

    1. Christy

      Hi Jen, You can pick onions anytime and use them “green”. They just won’t store well if you pick them before the necks break. But they can be used pretty much at any stage along the way.

  4. Tim Panther

    Will the veins or rings of my red onions turn red after curing. The tops have fallen over but when I cut one in half only half the rings were red. I’m having trouble with thieves and would like to get them in safer place.

    1. Christy

      Hi Tim, From what I’ve read, bulb color deepens around 15-20 days after curing. If you can leave them out in the sun (or inside somewhere in direct sunlight) for a few days before bringing them in to cure, that will help solidify the curing process. Then dry them completely on screens or newspaper out of direct sunlight before removing roots and stems.

  5. Edimin bejumula

    Thanks for your educating us so my adivace is only one things due to how to harvest onions
    1.after mature onion fruit the neck breaks and they flop over ground. After that you can pick those onions right away if that happen (means harvesting) after that situation we can chopped all grass so that the grass to be away with bulb so that to be prepared for stored well

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