So, you decided to plant onions in your home garden. They’re growing perfectly and look healthy. But do you know when to harvest onions?
Since these vegetables grow below the soil, knowing when to pull them up can be challenging. You’ll primarily need to focus on the look of the stalks to help determine harvesting time. These subtle, outward signs are vital, as leaving the bulbs underground too long can lead to rotting.
Keep reading to learn about these signs to help you determine when to harvest onions!
How Long Does it Usually Take for Onions to Grow?
Onion planting time is typically in early spring in either March or April. This is because they need a lot of time to grow. Most onion varieties need up to four months to grow to their full potential, with three months being the minimum.
Since the majority of their growing time is in the summer, factors like drought can drag out their growth period. This can make the process of learning when to harvest onions more challenging to grasp. Be sure you’re watering your onions correctly so they finish growing within the 3-4 month mark.
When Can You Start Harvesting Onions?
There are no designated dates and times for when to harvest onions. As a general rule, you can start harvesting onions by the middle of summer. This is typically around July. At this point, your onions should be through with the majority of their growing. And you can pluck them out as needed for your summer recipes.
Don’t harvest them all immediately, as fresh onions don’t last as long as the cured ones in stores.
But by the end of August and the beginning of September, you should harvest them all and begin storing them. You don’t want them to rot away or get eaten by animals.
Signs That Onions Are Ready to Get Harvested
Learning when to harvest onions starts with recognizing changes in the onion stalks. As your onions grow, the stalks will be upright and bright green. But when they’re nearing the end of their growth period, you’ll notice either one or both of the following signs.
The Stalks Will Flop Over and Turn Brown
One of the easiest ways of knowing when to harvest onions is when the stalks begin browning and flopping over. This essentially lets you know that the onion stopped growing and it’s at the biggest size it will get. When you see this happening, you should harvest them within a maximum of a few days. Don’t wait too long, as the onions can get squishy, rotted, and moldy.
If you don’t plan on using the onions sometime soon, storing them is the best option to help them last. A cool, dark place like your basement is a good spot for them.
The Onion Will Flower
Another way of knowing when to harvest onions is if you see flowers forming. Your onions will typically sprout flowering stalks when onion season is coming to an end. The plants are preparing to release their seeds to promote new onion growth.
At this point, you can cut off the flowers and save the seeds for next year. And then you can use the onion in your next meal. Again, if you’re not using the onion soon, store it somewhere safe.
Keep in mind that onions can bolt earlier in the season if they get exposed to stress. Vegetable bolting is when the plant grows flowers and tries to seed too early in the season. This can come from extreme heat or cold and incorrect watering.
If this happens, the onion typically won’t grow anymore and will be very small. You can attempt to use the onion, but sometimes it’s so small that it might not be worth using.
How to Harvest Onions
Now that you know when to harvest onions, you must know the proper way. You can’t just yank the onions from the ground, as this will rip the stalk right off.
Try to be gentle so you don’t bruise or ruin the onions. Bruising makes the onions prone to rotting and molding faster. With this in mind, now that you know when to harvest onions, here is how to harvest your onions correctly.
Dig Them Up or Pull Them Gently By the Stalk Base
As a home gardener, you generally have two options when harvesting your onions. You can dig them up or gently pull them out of the ground.
You don’t necessarily need special tools for extraction after learning when to harvest onions. All you’ll need to dig out your onions is some gardening gloves or a gardening trowel. You can also use your bare hands if you don’t have these things available.
But be sure to wash your hands well afterward if you choose not to use gloves. And never do this if you have open wounds on your hands, as dirt can hold plenty of bugs and bacteria.
You’ll use your hands or trowel to gently move dirt away from your onions. Don’t roughly stick the trowel into the ground, as you can pierce the onion. After uncovering the onions, you can easily pick them up out of the hole and continue harvesting the rest.
If you’d rather pull the onions out of the ground, you need to be especially cautious with the stalks. You’ll hold the bases of the stalks and gently wiggle and pull the onion out.
Cut the Stalks if Using Soon and Leave the Stalks if You’re Storing Them
After harvesting your onions, you have the choice of cutting or leaving the stalks on. If you plan to use your onions within the next week or two, you can cut the stalks off.
But if you want to store your onions for later use, it’s best to leave the stalks attached. Doing this will prevent bacteria or fungi from getting to the onion bulb. Bacteria and fungi tend to attack damaged tissue.
Storing Your Onions
After learning how and when to harvest onions, your next gardening adventure should be to learn how to store them. Without proper storage, your onions can decay and leave you feeling like your gardening went to waste. Use the following ideas to prevent this from happening.
How to Store Fresh Onions
Fresh onions need to almost immediately go in a dark, cool, and dry place. The darkness will keep any sunlight out, which is something that can promote mold growth. And the coolness and dryness of the environment will ward off any moisture from collecting and causing mold. Many people use their basements, dark cabinets, and sometimes their garages. These places will help the onions last.
Baskets and bowls are perfect for holding fresh onions. They allow airflow and prevent moisture from collecting.
As an extra note, you shouldn’t put your onions in the fridge unless you cut them open. The fridge has plenty of moisture, which can cause spoilage quickly.
How to Store Onions Long-Term With Curing
For long-term onion storage, curing them is your best option. Curing essentially helps dry the onions out, which in return, extends their shelf life. All grocery stores sell cured onions. That’s why they last so long once you bring them home.
When you begin the curing process, you should leave the roots and stalks intact. Then you’ll spread them out on a flat, perforated surface in a warm and dry place. You can also braid the onion stalks together and hang them. Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to leave them that way for about a month so they can dry out.
The onions are ready when the stems are brown and dried out. They should have a papery look and feel like the ones you buy at the store. After the drying is complete, you can store them in a cool, dark, dry place inside mesh bags or baskets. You still need proper airflow even after curing!
FAQs on When to Harvest Onions
What happens if I harvest my onions early?
Nothing terrible will happen if you harvest your onions early. You’ll just have small onions, which you can still eat without any issues. But nobody wants small onions! So, to ensure you get mature onions, you should look for harvesting signs so you know when to harvest onions.
Should I clean my onions after harvesting them?
You don’t need to clean your onions after harvesting them because the edible part is inside an outer protective skin. Dirt usually doesn’t make its way under the skin of the onion, so there’s no need to worry about it. Cleaning onions with water will encourage rotting and mold, which nobody wants.
What is the best material to store onions in?
After learning how and when to harvest onions and their storage methods, you should know about the needed storage materials. Wire baskets or mesh sacks are by far the best materials to put your onions in. Neither of these materials retain moisture, and they allow plenty of airflow.
Wrapping Up When to Harvest Onions
Onion harvesting doesn’t need to be difficult. You can easily know when to harvest onions with a few simple signals from your onion stalks!
Pay attention to the coloring and stature of the stalks to help you gauge when to pluck your onions. Try to memorize that flopped-over, brown stalks, or the presence of flowers mean harvesting time!
Are you on the hunt for more information on these pungent vegetables? Check out our Onion page for more!