26 Sept 2011

Stringing out your onions

Ah, the synchronicity of blogging!  Several of my favourite bloggers are writing about the storage of their onion harvests and, at the risk of driving people away through subject repetition, I need to do the same.  A quick look back at last year's post on this subject highlights how I've done things differently this year.

Last year the onions were lifted earlier and left to dry in a wire basket in Leigh's greenhouse.  I've since read that hot weather can start to 'cook' or soften the onions on the inner layers whilst crisping up the outside.  Certainly, many of my red onions needed to be used quickly last year and didn't store well, although the same method seemed to work well for garlic as I'm still using those stored bulbs. (And let's not talk about this year's garlic.)

This year I lifted the reds at the beginning of August (quite late) and the whites soon after, although I'd been pulling them both as needed for the kitchen since late June.

Last onions drying on upturned basket
I constructed a small drying igloo out of reclaimed plastic piping, some chicken wire and a roll of plastic sheeting. (I was lucky to find the pipes; they were clean offcuts from a local redevelopment project.) The onions were laid out in a single layer on top of upturned wire baskets (salvaged from an abandoned Ikea wardrobe) - this keeps them above the soil so that air can circulate all around. The pipes were bent across the bed and pushed into the soil at the corners, chicken wire was wrapped round the pipes and held up the plastic cover, the cover was then tied firmly to the piping struts at the sides and the ends gathered and tied to form a nice airy tunnel.  Ventilation and a moisture free environment is key for proper drying.

Certainly not a thing of beauty, the igloo was very effective and it held together (just) even in the strong winds we've suffered.  The onions had air circulating all around them but stayed dry and there they stayed for a few weeks until the bulb skins were papery but the leaves still had some flexibility.  In hindsight, the whites should have been lifted earlier as they suffered in the heavy rain we had end of July;  I thought they would be okay if left in the ground, I was wrong. In my defense, the leaves had only just started to yellow but the bulbs were beginning to rot as I lifted them.  (The good bits were swiftly chopped, blanched and frozen for future stews and soups, making sure any soft layers were cut out.)

Initially I brought them home in a big old rice sack but I needed to get them out of the way (my flat's not big) so I've strung them up using a combination of Matron's method (link below) and finishing off with a nice plait. I prefer to tie a double length of string to one of the first onions and then weave that in as I go, I think it gives the string greater strength.  Matron's method is to take the stem of the second onion round the back of the first stem, then over and round it's own stem.  Here's an illustration but check out Matron's wonderfully clear instructions:

Start with 3 onions, string tied round one.

Loop stem and string of onion 2 under the back of stem of onion , coming round above stem of onion 2. Then take it over and round the stem of onion 2.

Add in a 3rd onion and repeat: over and round back of 1st two stems ...
... then over and round itself.

Keep repeating with added onions.

As the string of onions starts to get heavy, split the stems into three and start to plait. (Bring outside stem into middle of other two and so on.)

Split double lengths of string and wrap - going in opposite directions - around plait to secure. Tie off and join string lengths at the top for hanging up.

Ta dah! 
However tempting and visually pleasing, it's not a good idea to store onions in your kitchen as this room can get steamy and hot and your onions won't store well!  As I don't have a garage, and my shed is a step too far when cooking, I've hung mine high up in the hallway where it's cool and airy - as in top pic.


  1. My onions go in a bread basket in the spare room under the bed! Your's look better plaited and hung up like that.
    That's very inventive of you the way that you dried them! Flighty xx

  2. A work of art Caro - I do mine slightly differently with a piece of string tied in a loop, threading the tops through, add another onion and twist round the string etc. it ends up looking much the same except for the plaiting. Sometimes I just put them in nets. At the moment my reds are still on the drying rack in an old stable (I keep forgetting about them) I hope they are still ok.

  3. Great stringing job Caro :) Mine are still drying off in the (dry and airy) garage but I'll be on top of this job soon too!

  4. They look brilliant. I didn't grow any red onions but they look super. I'm not confident enough to string mine so they're tidied up and left in string bags or vegetable racks until needed. What a great way to dry them off too, very inventive.

  5. Flighty, thank you! I knew if I saved those bits of pipe they might come in handy! My friend keeps her onions in a bread basket under her kitchen units. There's a method to suit us all! xx

    Elaine, gosh I wish I'd got an old stable to keep my onions in - sound idyllic, but perhaps not so handy for the kitchen! If I had room for nets, I'd probably just do that but plaiting keeps them tidier for me.

    Tanya, Thanks! The list of jobs to be done is endless, isn't it!

    Jo, Give Matron's method a go - it's a lot easier than it looks and, if you have enough to give away, a plait makes a lovely present. I only grow reds and whites as they're expensive to buy and have a lovely flavour. Yellows always seem to be quite cheap! Thanks for complimenting my drying method - I'm a great believer in creative reusage! The wire baskets also double as protection for newly sown seeds.


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