This year’s onions were bigger than usual. Like most vegetables, onions are about 85% water, so in a wet summer like the one we just had, onions get huge. But cool, wet weather is also ideal for growing fungus and this year the vegetables in our gardens struggled against them all: alternaria, phytophthora, fusarium, pythium, botrytis and more.
I’m not sure which fungus attacked my onions. Some plants were already looking strange by midsummer, with their leaves contorting at odd angles. In late August, I noticed that many of the other onions looked like they’d been frosted: the top 6-10″ of foliage was limp and darkened. I figured it was best to harvest the entire crop early and get it into a dry place as soon as possible.
Though the onions have been drying on the floor of my barn for more than three weeks now, it will still be awhile until they are completely “cured.” I’ll consider them done when the foliage is brittle and the necks are completely dry and tight against the bulb.
This weekend I checked for bulbs that weren’t curing properly. As I suspected, there are more of them than usual. Instead of drying, the necks are softening. This means that the onions won’t keep and it may mean that some of the rot is extending down into the bulb.
Nothing to do but use up those onions fast. So I collected the troubled ones in a basket and headed to the kitchen. On the way, I threw in a couple Ailsa Craig onions, which, like other Spanish onions, are impressively huge but don’t keep well.
Last year I turned whatever onions I thought wouldn’t store well into caramelized onions. I froze about 12 bags of them and by Christmas they were gone. So I’m making more this year. My sons and I sometimes have pizza cook-offs to see who can put together the best combination of toppings. My caramelized onion/pine nut/feta is the reigning champion.
Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply