Don’t Wash Onion, Garlic and Potatoes at Harvest

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Cure onions under dry conditions before you store them. Source: http://www.gardeners.com

Cleanliness is next to godliness, we’re often told. But that doesn’t mean you should wash bulbs and tubers at harvest time, not if you want to store them at least.

Dry Bulbs Out, Don’t Moisten Them

You probably know that you should leave onions and garlic out in the sun for a week or two after you dig them (although do move them to a shed or garage to dry if the weather is rainy). This helps “cure” them (allows them to build up a thicker outer skin so they store better). Then brush off any excess soil with a soft brush and move them to their winter quarters (a cool, dry storage area).

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These onions aren’t spotless. They don’t need to be clean to store well. Source: www.allotment-garden.org

Do not clean them by washing them in water in an effort to get them squeaky clean. The lingering presence of moisture can lead to rot later on, so you want your bulbs to be as dry as possible. It’s better to have a bit of dirt on a healthy bulb (after all, you’ll be peeling them before you serve, them, right?) than a spotless rotting one!

Oops, it’s too late and you’ve already rinsed them off? Well, put them back out in the sun to dry them thoroughly and keep your fingers crossed. Rot doesn’t always set into washed bulbs, but you have just made it that much more likely.

Potatoes

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Don’t worry about a bit of dirt on potatoes when you put them into storage. You can rinse them later, as you prepare them for supper. Source: www.garden.eco

The same applies to potatoes, with the exception that I suggest always curing them indoors (on the floor of a garage or tool shed) in the dark rather than outdoors in the sun, as potato tubers exposed to sun begin to turn green and green potato parts are poisonous. But if you’re worried about dirt, you can carefully brush off any clinging soil rather than washing them. And if they aren’t perfectly clean, don’t worry about it.

Potato tubers too like to be thoroughly dry on the outside before storage, but keep best under more humid conditions that onions and garlic, in a root cellar, for example, where it’s both cool and humid.

Don’t Panic When Your Onions Flop!

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Onion leaves flop over to show they’re mature. Source: blessedbeyondcrazy.com

Onions have a very dramatic way to show that their bulb is mature, one that may be alarming if you’re not forewarned. Their leaves suddenly flop over, lying on the ground, as if the plant had died. But the onion is not dead: this is only one step in the bulb’s maturation process.

Traditionally, when the leaves of about half the onions in a plot had collapsed, gardeners used a garden rake to knock the others over. This was believed to accelerate their maturation, although it’s far from sure this actually speeds things up.

At any rate, after a week or two after most of the onions have flopped and their leaves are really starting to do downhill, dig up the bulbs up and leave them lying exposed, roots and all, to the sun for a few days. (In case of rainy weather, lay them on a sheet of plastic in a garage or shed.) This cures them (hardens then off), causing the outer layer of dried leaves to thicken. That way, they’ll store better later. Since bruised or damaged bulbs won’t store well and will soon start to rot, don’t bother trying to cure them. Just use them fresh over the following few weeks.

The final step is to clean the bulbs lightly with a brush, bring them indoors and store them in a cool, dry place, like a root cellar. You’ll have homegrown onions all winter!