The Winter is on its way and no doubt the vegetable gardeners amongst you have onions and shallots that you would like to store for Winter use. I am going to give you a couple of good ways to successfully store both of these crops and therefore ensure a good Winter supply of these healthy and versatile vegetables.
1) Assuming you grew your onions and shallots from sets rather than seed you will notice that towards midsummer the tops have started to die back leaving just the bulbs in the soil, (it is important to let this happen naturally, and not follow the old fashioned practice of deliberately bending over the green tops of onions to encourage them to die back).
2) Wait for a dry spell in the weather and then using a fork gently lift the onions or shallots from the soil and rest them on the surface. Leave them to dry for a few days, (it can help to turn them once or twice during this time to ensure even drying).
3) Gather up your crop and find a comfortable spot to sort through them. I tend to rub off any loose or cracked skins from the outside of the bulbs, and if I find any blemishes on the outer skins I continue to carefully remove layers of skin until I reach an undamaged layer.
4) If the roots have not naturally withered away I either twist or cut them off. I then trim the dried up tops to about four inches in length and discard the tatty ends of the foliage into my compost bin.
5) If during the sorting process you have come across any onions or shallots that have deep holes in or insect damage, then throw these ones into your compost bin also as they will not store and will not be any good for eating, plus they may well rot in storage and cause your healthy bulbs to rot also.
6) Next, check the bulbs and look for any with particularly thick necks. These will not store well either, but can be used immediately, or diced up and frozen.
7) The remainder of your onions and shallots can now be spread out in trays in a dry but airy light place to complete the drying process. This will be necessary in the event you have had to remove a few layers of the skins to get past any blemishes. It will also give the tops a chance to dry out properly.
8 ) The time it takes for them to dry out properly will vary according to the color of the skins when you first sorted the bulbs. This period of time can be anything between three to six weeks. Once your bulbs have turned a healthy golden color (depending on the variety of course), and have nice dry skins with no signs of rot, you can put them into storage.
9) There are several good methods of storing onions and shallots, so depending on your facilities one of the following methods should be suitable for you. The first option I am going to suggest is the simplest. Much like storing potatoes you can place the bulbs in hessian or paper potato sacks and then keep them in a cool, dry, dark place such as a garden shed, a cellar, a garage, or in our case an old brick-lined furze (bread) oven that is built into the walls of our cottage.
10) The second method I am going to suggest is mainly for onions, although it might well work with small clusters of shallots also. Try to get hold of as many pairs of ladies old tights or stockings as you can find. Drop your first onion into the toe of the stocking, then tie a knot above it before repeating the exercise with another onion. Continue to do this, tying knots between each bulb until the stocking is full. These can then be hung from the roof of a garden shed or garage, or even from hooks in the walls. As you need each onion simply cut one free from the stocking, and the knot above will ensure the next onion does not fall through. The other advantage to this method is that if one onion does start to rot for any reason it will not spread to the other onions as they are not in contact with each other.
11) The third method is to put a layer of sand in a number of shallow trays and then spread your onions throughout the trays ensuring they do not touch each other to prevent any rot from spreading. These trays can then be stored on shelves in a cool dark garage, cellar or shed.
12) The final method is an old one that you will probably all have heard about, and that is to make them into a “string of onions”. Of course, this used to be done by plaiting the dried up foliage together to form a string, but I have found a much easier way of achieving the same result. Instead of plaiting the dry foliage together, I use plastic cable ties to hold the stems together forming clusters of onions. These can then be stored in the same conditions as the other methods require. When I need an onion I simply cut the stalk off the selected bulb. With this method, there is an increased risk of any rot spreading to other bulbs, however, but if you have sorted the bulbs thoroughly in the early stages this risk is minimal.