It’s possible to grow enough garlic and onions to last the full year, as long as you store them properly. The onion family isn’t suitable for freezing and instead prefers a cool, dark place. Dry and store them correctly and you’ll have a stash of these essential veg for year-round use.
Good Varieties for Storing
Onion varieties ‘Hercules’, ‘Setton’, ‘Marco’ and ‘Jetset’ have the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit, having performed consistently well in trials (so they’re good for beginners). Other popular varieties include ‘Red Baron’ (a ruby-coloured onion with good storage qualities) and Ailsa Craig.
Garlic varieties ‘Spring Wight’, ‘Wight Cristo’, ‘Ivory’ and ‘Cristo’ also have the RHS Award of Garden Merit, which is a useful indicator of quality when you’re stumped for choice. Other popular varieties include ‘Marco’ and ‘Elephant Garlic’.
How to Tell When They’re Ready
If you want your onions to be ready within 6 months, use onion sets. Grown from seeds, onions are actually biennial – they take two years to reach the size we typically cook with. If you plant sets in autumn, you can interplant with a spring onion such as White Lisbon to get a quick crop while you wait.
Onions planted in autumn (from overwintering sets) and spring (from heat-treated sets) will be ready to harvest in July, while garlic bulbs may be ready a bit sooner. You can tell when your onions and garlic are ready because the tips of the leaves will turn yellow and then, start to topple over. Left in the ground, your onions will start to form a brown skin, now’s the time to speed up this process by harvesting and drying.
How to Dry and Hang Onions and Garlic
Both onions and garlic are prone to sprouting if the storage conditions are wrong, resulting in seed-heads at the top of the bulb stem and softening of the bulb. The first step to avoiding this is to ensure that the onions and garlic are thoroughly dried before you put them away. Choose a warm, dry day to lift your crops. Brush off the mud, trim onion roots and stems to about 1”, and spread them on a patio or wire rack to start drying in the sunshine. Make sure they don’t get rained on. Your onions and garlic will take a few days to dry in good weather.
Storing Garlic and Onions
Once dry, your garlic and onions can be fully trimmed and they’re ready to put into storage. If you have any onions which are soft at the neck, or any onions or garlic that had flowering shoots, keep these back – you will have to eat them first, as they will not store very well. Have too many of these? Instead of freezing (which results in onion mush), try making Caramelised Onion Chutney – chop and sauté the onions gently, add equal measures of vinegar and sugar (100ml of each to 8 onions) and salt, pepper and chopped rosemary, then simmer until it’s as thick as jam. Taste for seasoning. Pour into sterilised jars and refrigerate after opening.
You can store the remainder of your onion and garlic bulbs by putting them into string or net bags, which are available from gardening retailers, or – for the eco-friendly – into old tights! Cut each pair of tights into two legs, then drop an onion into the foot of the first leg. Put an elastic band around the leg (or tie a knot) to keep the onion separate from the next one; drop in another onion, and fasten with another band, and so on. Hang your ‘onion legs’ in a cool shed (not the kitchen, which is too humid) and just snip off an onion when you need one!