Harvesting Onions and Garlic: Modern methods v Time-Tested Techniques

Today, we embark on a journey into the aromatic world of onions and garlic. These humble kitchen staples not only add flavour to our dishes but also hold a treasure trove of historical significance and intriguing folklore. Join me as we delve into the art of harvesting and storing these wonderful bulbs, exploring techniques from times past and unravelling captivating old wives' tales about their powers.  

When to Harvest Onions and Garlic

Large onion being pulled out of the ground by a gardeners handTiming is Everything. Knowing the right time to harvest onions and garlic can make a world of difference in their flavour and storage life.

For onions, it's best to wait until the tops have naturally fallen over and turned brown. This indicates that the bulbs have finished growing and are ready for harvest. As for garlic, wait until the lower leaves have turned yellow and the tops begin to dry out and wither.

For spring planted sets this will be in late summer to early autumn. And for winter planted sets this will be early to mid summer. Lift the bulbs as you need them, ideally before the foliage completely dies down. Importantly, don’t let them rot in the ground so harvest and store them before the end of October. 

How to Harvest Onions and Garlic

This is faitrly straightforwrd. Gently loosen the soil around the bulbs with a garden fork or shovel. Carefully lift them from the soil, taking care not to bruise or damage the bulbs. Shake off excess soil and allow them to dry in the sun for a day or two.


How to Store Home grown Onions and Garlic: Preserving Goodness

Preparing for Storage

Before storing, it's crucial to cure the harvested onions and garlic. This process helps to toughen their outer layers, which in turn extends their shelf life. Spread them out in a well-ventilated, dry area, keeping them away from direct sunlight. Allow them to cure for about two to three weeks. They are ready for storage once the foliage is dry and papery, 

Lots of bulbs of garlic drying during curoing process after being pulled from the groundWhere to store onions and garlic

Select a cool, dark, and dry location for storing your onions and garlic. Store them either in natural jute Vegetable Sacks hung up or even in old tights knotting after each onion. They can keep in a well aired room for up to six months.

They need air circulation. Avoid storing them in plastic bags or airtight containers, as this can trap moisture and lead to mould growth.

When you harvest and store onions, inspect each bulb before storing. Any damaged, bruised, or soft bulbs should be used immediately, as they won't store well. The old saying, "One rotten apple spoils the barrel," applies here too. Remove any bulbs showing signs of decay to prevent it from spreading.

Lessons from the Past: Historic Techniques

Red onions and white onions in an onion braidHow to Braid Onions

Our gardening ancestors were masters of resourcefulness. They often used braiding as a technique to preserve onions and garlic. By carefully interweaving the dried tops of these bulbs, they created beautiful and functional braids that could be hung in the kitchen, ensuring a steady supply throughout the winter months.

Cellaring and Potting

In days gone by, people used root cellars to store their harvest. These cool, underground chambers provided an ideal environment for onions and garlic. Additionally, some gardeners potted these bulbs in layers of sand or sawdust, storing them in a cool, dark place. This technique protected them from extreme temperatures and prolonged their shelf life.

If you didn't grow your own this year and are just at the research stage find out how to grow them here. How to grow Onions, Shallots and more

Whispers of the Past: Old Wives' Tales and Folklore

Onions: Protectors Against Illness: Throughout history, onions have been celebrated for their potential health benefits. Folklore often attributed mystical powers to them, with tales of placing sliced onions around a sick person's room to absorb illness. While the science might not entirely support this, onions do contain compounds that have antibacterial and antiviral properties, making them a valuable addition to a balanced diet.

Garlic: Warding off Vampires and More: Garlic's reputation as a protective charm dates back centuries. In various cultures, garlic was believed to ward off evil spirits, vampires, and even the envious gaze of others. While these claims might raise an eyebrow today, garlic does indeed have potent medicinal properties. Allicin, a compound found in garlic, has been studied for its potential to boost the immune system and promote heart health.

In Conclusion: A Blend of Tradition and Wisdom

Garlic bulbs and garlic cloves next to a dark stone pestle and mortarNothing much has changed when it comes to how to harvest and store onions and garlic. All the methods of the past still hold true today only altering as hardly any of us have cellars and there are considerably fewer vampires at large!  So, there's much to be learned from the wisdom of the past. Harvesting and storing onions and garlic is not just a matter of sustenance; it's an art that connects us with generations of gardeners who depended on these essential crops. So, the next time you pluck a bulb of garlic or a vibrant onion from your garden, take a moment to appreciate the centuries of knowledge that have led to that simple, flavoursome pleasure. And who knows, you might just be inspired to braid your onions or hang your garlic to honour the traditions of old.

Happy gardening and happy harvesting!

Sarah Talbot