Chronicle Of
An Onion Crop

Dateline: 11 September 2015
(click pictures to see larger views)

If you never saw my garden in person, and judged my gardening abilities solely on the pictures I post to this blog, you might assume I'm one of the best gardeners in the country. That would be an entirely incorrect assumption. I may be among the most avid and enthusiastic of gardeners, but I have my share of crop failures, and the weeds often get ahead of me in some areas. There is a lot of room for improvement in my gardening. Onions are, however, the exception.

I have gotten to the point in my gardening journey (now some 40+ years long) where, in  my soil and climate, I feel like I can dependably grow a good crop of onions.  The following pictures chronicle the development of this year's onion crop.

This next picture shows two of the three beds of onions I planted in the spring. Those are raised beds, made as I explain HERE. The onions are Copra. They are the most dependable storage onions I have ever grown. I buy the sets from Dixondale Farms in Texas. 

This next picture shows the three beds. The onions are growing nicely. I have laid plastic in the walkways to keep weeds down. I have shallow-cultivated the beds a couple of times to keep the weeds from getting established. I also cultivate after a rain to aerate the rain-compacted surface of the soil.

In this next picture, you can see that the onions have progressed nicely. Again, I have cultivated the soil repeatedly to eliminate all weed competition from getting a foothold. I cultivate with a Whizbang Pocket Cultivator, which I tell how to make on page 69 of my Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners. Cultivating three rows gets difficult when the onion tops get bigger. With that in mind, I'm going to plant two-row beds next year. 

Another picture of the growing onion beds...

And yet another....

Most storage onion varieties let you know they are nearing harvest time when the necks weaken and most the tops fall over. But the Copra variety has such thick necks that they rarely fall over. They just start to die back, kind of like a garlic plant does. The trick with garlic is to harvest it while the top is still mostly green. Doing so leaves a good supply of intact paper wrappers around the bulb. I've come to the conclusion that is the same with Copra onions—they need to be harvested when still mostly green and standing tall.

Unfortunately, this year I did not harvest my Copras when I should have. I waited too long. 

Growing and harvesting are two different things. I have my growing system down pat, but there is room for improvement when it comes to my onion harvesting. Nevertheless, the Copra will still cure and store very well, even if, as a result of late harvesting, the cured bulbs do not have as many intact papery skin wrappers on them. I know this because I have late-harvested these onions in the past.

In this next picture I am using my Whizbang garden cart and some drying trays to cure the harvested onions...

The trays are just 2x4 and 2x6 frames with poultry wire stapled to the bottoms. I've used them for many years. I pull the onions, cut the tops off about an inch from the bulb, and layer the bulbs in the trays with the necks facing up. The objective is to get the necks dry. If the necks are dry, the onions will keep a long time. I leave the trays in the sun most of the time. The tarp is secured over the trays when rain threatens, and at night to prevent dew from getting on the bulbs.

Once the necks are dry, I take the bulbs inside and store them in an upstairs bedroom. I have grown larger Copra bulbs in the past. But, large or small, these onions are superior all-purpose onions that will last us well into springtime. The Whizbang garden totes are ideal for holding onions. Instructions for making the totes is in my Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners.


Unknown said...

Great information Mr. Kimball. I shall NOT believe you are anything less than a master gardner! ;0]

I always kinda feel like that entertainer on Ed know, the ones with the plates and dowels...they called them Plate Spinners. I am forever just catching some project or plan from wobbling out of control and constantly running back and forth to do so.

But, what else would I be doing if not that??

Gail said...

That is a crop to be proud of!

Anonymous said...

Just constructed a garden tote by the plans in my Whizbang Idea book as a gift to a seasoned gardener. It was a fun project and looked very nice when finished. The recipient was very pleased with the gift.


Anonymous said...

after a very wet start to the summer and then a dry august, my large onions (the biggest I have ever grown) were all slime.... I buy the red yellow white mix package from the local garden store..never had this happen before and really thought the weather conditions were going to be perfect for a wonderful crop....Never have grown any as large as you have gotten ,I will have to try copra next time.Karen Jones

Ulf said...

On the harvesting of onions, near where I live the farmers roll the onions before they are actually harvested- this serves to bend over and break the tops. They are then left for a week or so in the hot sun to dry. Only then are they actually lifted. The smell is truly eye-watering during that week of drying I can tell you!