Knowing When And How To Harvest Onions And Why Is It Important For Every Gardener

Knowledge of the particular matter is what makes an average man capable of dealing with challenges which will come along. Of course, not all of the knowledge is contained within one man. That is why I’d love to share my insight on this vital matter.

Knowing when and how to harvest onions seems like a trivial thing, but many people lose this from focus, and instead of fresh onions in the salad, they end up with a ton of spoiled vegetables which are only suitable for the trash can.

To amend this, I have made this guide.

When and How To Harvest Onions


Why Planting Onions In The First Place?

When and How To Harvest Onions

First of all, few things can compare to fresh onion plucked straight from the garden. Its taste, aroma as well as health benefits are irreplaceable. They are easy to maintain, can be grown in pots or window sills, and there are but a handful of insects which will dare to attack them.

Here’s a quick check-up on facts about onions:


Humankind grows onions for at least seven millennia


It is a biennial plant, but it is produced as annual


The bulb grows underground, and this is the edible part


The leaves are also edible if harvested when it is green


Onions are usually sown in March or April


Harvest is often in autumn

But, I Don’t Want To Wait Until Fall!

It is known, the Dothraki would say, that onions can be harvested before maturing time, and thus you get fresh leaves which have a mild taste and are better for making salads. Although this is a tasty approach (pun intended), the principal drawback is that onion harvested this way cannot be stored out of the refrigerator for more than a few days. It withers and dries out, and becomes tasteless.

It is important to remember that regular onions are not the same as spring ones because there are slight differences in growing process.

Is There Any Equipment Needed?

Is There Any Equipment Needed.

Luckily for us, harvesting onions do not require any specific set of skills nor any special tools. All which is needed are two hands and some time. Onions are harvested by pulling bulbs out of the ground, and in case that the summer was scorching, and the soil got compressed, it may happen that the process will be a bit difficult.

When this happened to me, I used an ordinary trowel or a hand fork to loosen and lift up the soil under the bulb. I had, however, to stick the tool a bit further from the plant because bulbs can grow large. Damaging the outer layer would mean an onion which still might be used, only it has to be used fast before it spoils. Storing such onion is out of the question because it can ruin more onions around, thus creating quite the damage.

You will need several shallow crates and old newspapers. As for the papers, avoid those shiny-Cosmopolitan-look-like. Those will not absorb the moist from the bulbs, and the whole process of drying will be ruined.

How Can I Know When It Is Ripe For Harvesting?

when should start

There are numerous varieties of onions, and therefore I cannot say precisely how much weeks it will take to be ready. The most secure way to tell if it is ripe is the looks of the leaves. If the leaves are starting to turn yellow and wither, know that the time for harvesting draws near.

Also, great advice is to rip off the wilted leaves and leave the bulbs in the soil for a few days. This way all that is left to take off the nutrients from the earth will be focused into the bulbs; I’m sure that among those dead cells within the leaves there are few more alive which are kicking and biting for nutrients.

So, When Should I Start?

Planning is excellent if it can be done. If you are employed, this usually means that there is not the too much free time you can spare. The weekend is perfect for this, and if you go jogging in the morning, you can freely skip once, because you will spend calories during harvesting; onions might be small, but their harvest includes a lot of bending and squatting, so in a way, you will still get your workout routine.

As for others, whenever suits you, is a perfect time. Only what you should keep a close look is the weather forecast. If it says beautiful weather with the sun for the next five or so days, there is no reason to wait. Grab a trowel, and let’s go!

How To Harvest It, Then?

How To Harvest

The best time during the day to harvest onions is in the morning, and there are several reasons. First, sometimes days are still warm, and the Sun can harden the soil, making the whole process much more difficult. In the morning, the ground is still cold and pulling them out is more comfortable.

Of course, as soon as you remove them from the ground, the onions won’t go into the basement. Instead, I have taken them out of the field and left them for a few days. This way any moist from the soil will evaporate, and won’t be carried over to the container.

A Few Days Passed, Now What?

Process of drying

After few days under the autumn sun, my sweet little onions were ready for the next stage. For this, I had to make room at the terrace. I have chosen the side which is well aerated, so the process of drying out will be faster. It had some sunlight during the day, but this is not a trouble; it wasn’t intense anymore, and in fact, it even quickened the whole process.

Remember those shallow crates I have mentioned before? Now is the time for them. Take one, and pad the interior with the newspaper. 

After removing any dirt and soil residue, align the onion bulbs at the bottom in one layer. It is important not to set one on top of the other, because the less contact between the two, the less chance that the moist will evaporate, and in my book, wet is equal to spoil and wasted effort.

Now, as I was filling crate after crate, I realized that I don’t have enough space to spread them around the terrace. Therefore, I took pieces of wood, and put atop of every crate, to make room for air to circulate. Also, my containers had sides with spaced slats, so the air was flowing freely.

Where To Put Them Now?

Where To Put Them

I didn’t want for my onions to sit an entire winter on the terrace, it doesn’t look nice, and it is counterproductive, so I took a trip to the basement. If your house doesn’t have a basement, any shielded space will do; shed, attic, storage room, as long as the temperature is not below 40 degrees F, and it is dark. Anything below that will freeze the onions, and due to their high amount of water, once they melt out, they will be useless.

So, redeployment was in order again, but this time I knew how much space I need. Of course, if space is an issue, feel free to stack crates one upon the other; in few weeks how much the onions will spend drying out, almost all of the moist will evaporate, so it is unlikely that they will spoil. Also, be aware that the onions shouldn’t be paired or put next to apples or potatoes, first ones will make them rot, and the latter may absorb onions’ smell.

After said few weeks, I took them down, crate by crate, and stacked them vertically, by four in each row. I had a good harvest, so the pile was up to my waist. Pleased, I left them there to wait for their time to come.

How To Look After Onions During Winter?

In general, there is not much to worry about. I was looking into it once a week for three months, just to be sure that there wasn’t any onion flies or other pests throwing parties in my food. Other than that, if you see that any bulbs are becoming soft to the touch, remove them, since those are not edible anymore.

Is There An Alternative To Harvesting?

An Alternative To Harvesting

There is one thing you can do, to experiment a bit. In case that winter in your area is not North-Pole-like, you can leave some onions in the ground. Just remove the top leaves, and leave them during winter. The bulb will rot away, with a new plant appearing next year.

This one, however, will bear seeds which you can collect and use. On the other hand, this is not something you should often do. With each next generation, the onions will be smaller and smaller.

Is That It?

When and how to harvest onions is the matter of good judgment. The weather must be right, as well as the temperature, but I’m sure that you already know the weather terms in your city. Therefore, I hope that this text served its purpose and reminded you of something you perhaps overlooked the next time.

As always, feel free to leave comment, opinion or question in the comment section below.

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