by Matt Gibson
Ever seen a dozen or so onions braided together in a natural chain hanging in your grandmother’s kitchen? The practice of braiding (or plaiting) onions for long-term storage dates back to the pioneer days, and is actually a wonderful way to store onions that you are not planning on using immediately. The braiding technique actually promotes increased air circulation, which will keep unused onions fresher than tossing them into a storage bin, and is also aesthetically pleasing.
Similar to french braiding hair, start with three onions and braid them together, working in more as you go along, until you have a braid of around a dozen onions worked together in a natural chain. If you aren’t planning on using the onions for a long time, just store them in a cool dark area until you get around to working the onions into a meal. The same technique can also be used to preserve shallots and garlic too.
Which Onions Are Best For Storing?
Generally, yellow onions are the best onions to grow for long-term storing, as they tend to stay juicy and fresh for much longer than the white or red varieties. The best yellow onions to grow for long-term storage are Stuttgarter Riesens, Copra, and Prince varieties. The best red onion for storing is Stockton reds. Aside from these recommendations, the following lists are the best onions for storing:
Yellow: Bridger, Copra, Cortland, Patterson, Pontiac, Prince, Stuttgarter Riesen, Talon, Yellow Globe (heirloom & hybrids too), Yellow Sweet Spanish
Red: Brunswick (heirloom), Red Bull, Red Creole (heirloom, short-day), Red-Wind, Stockton Reds
White: Southport White Globe, Stuttgarter White (heirloom), White Sweet Spanish
Choose between short day and long day onions depending on the region you live in. Short day onions are perfect for the Southern US, as they need equal time in sunshine and darkness. Long day onions are better suited for the Northern US, as they require more time in the sun to set bulbs. Onion growers in the north should also be sure to get their onions in the ground as early as possible, because once the daylight house gets shorter, the onions stop developing new layers and focus solely on filling out the layers that are already composed. Choose high quality seeds or sets to start with. Questionable looking bulbs will likely produce questionable looking onions, so, take your time and pick out the best ones you can find. If growing from seed, buy your seeds from a reputable source and get the freshest ones you can find.
How & When To Harvest Your Onion Crop
If you enjoy small green baby onions, plant your seedlings everywhere so that you can thin them out during the season, allowing your main crop time to mature while thinning out the bed or container as needed for lots of fresh baby onions. Onions can be harvested for fresh use at any period during the growing season, but the longer you wait to harvest, the more onion you will receive.
To harvest, simply loosen the soil by hand, or using a spade or garden fork, being careful not to damage the stringy roots (as you will use these to braid the onions for storage), brushing off the loose dirt as you go. The onions that you are planning on storing for a while should be harvested at the very end of the growing season as the tops start to flop over or when the first threat of frost is at hand.
There is usually no problem leaving the bulbs in the ground for a while after the season ends, unless you start to get a lot of rain, in which case, you will want to pull them all up before the rain causes rot issues. However, if you leave them in the ground too long, the tops will deteriorate, making braiding impossible, so if you are wanting to store them for a while, you will want to pull them up right as you see the tops start to get lazy.
How To Cure Onions
Right after harvesting your onions, the outside of the bulbs are tender and moist, which can lead to rot and mildew. To get your onions ready for storage, they need to be cured, drying the outermost layers. You could leave them spread out in a shady spot in the garden, or you can move them inside to a greenhouse, patio, garage or shed. Any well ventilated area will suffice. Do not clean them first, just brush off any excess dirt and allow the outermost layers to dry. Once they have dried out, brush off any remaining dirt and remove any very loose layers of skin, but leave some skin intact for protection. Trim the tops to about an inch above the bulb if you don’t plan to braid them, or leave the tops intact if you do.
How To Store Onions
Do not put your cured onions into a sealed bag or airtight container. Avoid high temperatures, direct sunlight, and humidity. Do not store onions with apples or potatoes. If you want to store them in a root cellar, be sure that it is well ventilated. Store cured onions in an open crate or bin with plenty of airflow, or hang them in mesh bags or clean used pantyhose. All these options work fine, but for the optimal onion storage with the best air circulation, braid them like the pioneer women of the American frontier.
How To Braid Onions
Pick the best onions for the braid, setting oddball bulbs aside to use first or to store in bins. Select the most solid, largest onions for the bottom of the braid. Criss-cross the tops of two of them and plop a third down in the middle. Perform a wrap around with the top of the onion who’s stalk was at the bottom and bring the bottom stalk over the top of all three of the bottom layer onions. Wrap the stalk around and back underneath to hold all three of the onions in place, allowing the tail to stick out of the side as it did before. Now you have three strands ready for braiding.
Once the first layer is secure, you can start adding more onions to the braid. Place an onion right in the middle of the first three with the stalk lining up with the middle stalk of the first three, then braid it three times, just like braiding someone’s hair. Add two more onions into the braid, this time placing one to the left and one to the right, making sure the stalks line up with the left and right stalks of the previous set. Then braid each three times to secure them in place. Place another onion in the middle, then two more to the left and right, braiding each three times before adding the next. Repeat this process until you have about 12 onions in your braid. Finish by adding a single onion in the middle row, for a total of 13 onions. Then finish braiding the tops until the end of their length, tying off the braid at the end with a bit of string. The braid should then be hung in a cool, dark location, and your onions should stay fresh for about six months.
Describing the braiding process is rather difficult, so check out this short tutorial video to get a visual aid as well:
Make Onion Powder Out of Excess Onions
This tutorial guide from YouTuber Homesteading Family shows you how to turn your excess onions into onion powder at home in a simple and timely fashion:
Videos About Storing Onions
YouTubers JoeandZachSurvival pack a heap information into this ten minute onion exposé, covering how to grow onions from sets, how and when to harvest them, how to store them, and the life cycle of the infamous multilayered bulb. This is a very well made and thorough onion growing guide. Each part is accompanied by separately filmed clips to really help the inexperienced gardener gain the knowledge of an expert:
Now that you know how to store onions for extended periods, mayhaps you would like to know how to grow more onions at a time. This video provides five helpful tips for how to produce more onions than you ever thought possible in a single container or garden bed:
Another way to keep onions around for future use is to dehydrate them. This helpful video will teach you how to perform the dehydration process: