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How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Posted by ilene_in_neok (My Page) on
Sat, Jun 7, 08 at 16:16

Well so far I've been pretty durn successful with onions this year, which is a complete turnaround for me. I found Candy onion at Atwoods and planted the little "sets", or whatever they're called. (Dawn I know we had that conversation about what to call them but I can't remember) So now, several of them are starting to have fat stems, maybe as big around as a 50-cent piece. (Do they still make those? I haven't had one in a long, long time) I don't want to pull them too soon. I want a nice big bulb. Do the tops start dying back or something, to signal that they're done? I've never been able to get this far with onions before so I don't know what to do.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Ilene,

Yea! Glad you're having a great onion year. We are too since it has been perfect spring onion weather (until lately) as in cool and moist. (OK, moist at our end of the state and soaking wet at your end of the state.)

There will be a couple of signs. First, the growth of the onions, which should have been pretty obvious lately, will begin to slow down until it almost halts. Once the growth slows down, withhold water (not that you have had to water your onions since the sky keeps watering them for you). This helps them dry up a little and reduces the chance they'll rot from excess moisture after being pulled. Once you notice they are no longer enlarging, watch the necks. The necks will begin to soften and eventually fall over while they are still green. Once this happens, you can pull them and cure them for a few days in a sheltered location. Then, process as desired. I always put some of the shorter-keeping types in the pantry to use in the next couple of months, and put some of the long-keeping types in the tornado shelter where they will keep for many months. The rest of the onions I either chop or slice and freeze in ziplock bags for future use in cooking.

And I do remember the discussion--the little bulb-like things are called "sets" and the bundles of little onion plants are called "seedlings" or "onion plants". : )

I think they still make 50-cent-pieces because I still see one every now and then, although I never look at them to see if they are newer dates or just older coins that are still in circulation.

My onion necks are not softening yet, but I do think the growth is slowing down, so it won't be long now. There ARE a few whose necks were snapped by the wicked wind and I have gone ahead and pulled them because they will not mature any more once the neck is broken.

Oh, and once they are cured, you can clip off the roots and all but about an inch of the neck if you want. It helps keep rot from infiltrating the onions. Or, some people braid them the way you braid garlic and hang them in their kitchen or pantry, snipping one off when they want it.

Dawn


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Thanks Dawn, I'll keep watching them! Although I don't know how I'm going to withhold the water, we have more rain coming tomorrow, according to the weather report.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

I know. It sounded silly to say withhold water, because I know your rainfall situation this year, but I had to say it for others who might be reading the reply. If it keeps raining right up until you harvest, you'll have to really keep an eye on them while they cure....maybe have an oscillating fan blowing on them to help them dry out some. Onions that are excessively wet at harvest often rot prematurely, so curing them down to a fairly dry state before storage is extra important.

I wish we were getting half the rainfall y'all are getting, and I'm sure you're wishing you could unload some of that excess moisture on us, too, so your soil could dry out a little.

Dawn


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

The saving grace is that they're planted in the raised beds, along the edge. I had to water there early on, but of course I haven't had to do that for the past several weeks now. I looked at them today and some of them are exposing shoulders in the soil, so maybe it won't be long now. I was planning on chopping most of them and putting them in the freezer, since I know sweet onions don't keep very well, but I know that the freezer gets kind of odorific that way. I wish I had a root cellar -- or any kind of cellar, actually! When we moved here there was one, but it was metal lined and full of water. The steps down into it had all corroded away and it hadn't been pumped out in years. Our grandsons were in 5th grade and it seemed pretty dangerous to have it, so we filled it in. I kinda wish now we had it, as it was a good free source of garden water in the summer, but I was raising grandkids at the time, not gardens.

I have about 60 onion plants. I want to try to make some pickle relish this year, or maybe follow Scott's lead and make some salsa. But I'll be having to wait till the other ingredients ripen. If I cure them first, how long do you suppose they will hold before they start to spoil? I had been considering leaving a couple in the ground to go to seed, but that means I can't till the dirt in that raised bed till they do that, which probably won't be till next spring. Atwood's only charged a dollar and something for about 60 and I thought that was actually pretty darn reasonable. Plus, I really don't seem to have a lot of luck with onion seed. I don't know if the birds eat it or what! The first year, Pearl got in the raised bed and there was mass execution by digging. Now during the spring I lay a stock-wire panel down on top of the raised bed and she doesn't like to step around in all the squares so she stays out.

Photobucket


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Ilene,

Your onions looked so good, I got curious about mine and went and pulled one up. The stem broke off, so I had to dig it out. It was only about 1 1/2 inches wide. :( guess I need to water them more and maybe pile on some of those alfalfa pellets. Sheri


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

What do you do if the onion tops never soften? The tops of my onions are hard, and now have some nice pretty flowers on them. Leave them there until next season? I planted them in early spring 2007, and just left them to see what would happen.

I know you can't eat the green onions when they are that hard...


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Ilene,

They say that well-cured sweet onions will store for at least 2 months and I have had them last up to twice that long.

I have about 200 to 240 onions, several varieties, including Superstar, Candy, Texas 1015Y Supersweet and Stockton Red. I may have one more kind, but I can't remember. LOL Most are quite large, and some (either Candy or Superstar or both) are very large. I am going to have a huge harvest this year and will be able to fill up the freezer easily. Mine should have about another month or so to go.

Sheri,

Water, water, water. The more water, the bigger the onions. In most cases, though, it is the water early on in the growing cycle that determines the ultimate size of the onions. The size of your onions is determined by the number of green leaves on the plant BEFORE bulbing begins, as well as the size of those leaves. So, to get large onions, you have to have a lot of water and a good amount of nitrogen from the time they are planted until they begin to bulb up. In our part of the state (and it varies from onion to onion), short-day onions usually begin to bulb up in early to mid-May, and intermediate-day and day-neutral onions begin to bulb up in mid- to late-May or earliest June. Since you are in a colder zone, I assume your onions start bulbing a little later than ours.

Ssimon2007,

Onions grown from seedling plants or sets should be harvested the same season they are planted, except for the perennial types like Egyptian Onions or Walking Onions, which you can harvest for years and years. Once your onions flower, their quality really isn't good enough for eating.

Here in southern Oklahoma, if I plant my onions seedlings somewhere between mid-Feburary and mid-March, I will harvest full-sized onions in late June to mid July of most years. In a good year, I can start harvesting green onions in April. I do always leave some in the garden to flower the following year. They are pretty and the tiny beneficial insects and bees love to visit their flowers.

Your planting times and harvesting times should run only 2 to 4 weeks later than mine most years. In a really mild winter, you could plant about the same time I do. (This year, I think I planted a little late because it was too cold at our usual planting time.)

Dawn


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

OK, I'm just confused now, Dawn.

You said in the last post that you plant your onion seedlings in late February. With us being about 2 weeks later than you, that'd make us mid-March. Is late February your normal last freeze date then? Because my normal last freeze date is April 15. Theirs might be a week or two sooner, I don't know.

In the past, I've bought my little onion seedlings as soon as Atwood's has them, and put them in the ground usually in early March. But they have always bolted to seed and not been good for anything but green onions.

Someone told me, not sure now if it was you or someone else, that onions will go to seed their second year, and they recognize freezing as the passing of a "year". So because my plants froze, probably more than twice having been planted in early March, that was the explanation for why they never made anything and went right to seed.

This year, I tried very hard to catch that "window of opportunity", not planting them out till April 15, and then running out and covering them whenever there was a frost warning for the night. I don't know if that's what made the difference, but as you know, this is the first year I've had "real" onions.

Did I get misinformed about the freezes? Straighten me out, you know how "onion challenged" I am.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

I try to get mine planted very early because the spring cold never bothers them, but the day-length does. I learned a lot from the Dixondale Farms website.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dixondale Farms Onion Guide


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Ilene,

I agree with Carol that daylength is often the problem, but sometimes temperatures below 45 degrees (more on that below) can cause problems at certain points in the onion's growth cycle. And the Dixondale Farm Onion info is the best resource available for onion information--there's nothing they don't know about onions. They also have recipes!

It really isn't freezing temperatures so much as it is temperatures below 45 degrees (for a prolonged period once the onion plants are larger than 1/4" in diameter) that causes onions to bolt.

When I buy onion plants in the spring, I try to buy the smallest ones I can find and I simply don't buy them if every onion plant in the bunch is larger than 1/4" in diameter. You can plant the small onion plants in quite cold weather and they will survive. (Plant shallowly and in loose soil in a raised bed, though, 'cause they can rot in the ground if you have heavy soil that is slow-draining plus a prolonged cold spell.)

Onions need a LOT of water and a lot of nitrogen early in the growth period so they can create a lot of leaves. The more foliage you have, the bigger your onion bulb will be. Cold weather doesn't bother them too much. I might lose them to a very, very hard and prolonged freeze or to a late snowstorm maybe 1 or 2 years out of 10.

They make all that green leafy growth all spring long, and then they begin to bulb when the daily sunlight reaches a certain number of hours: approximately 10-11 hours of sunlight per day for short-day types and 12-13 hours of sunlight per day for intermediate day-length types. (The long day-length types need even more sunlight--14 to 16 hours of sunlight per day, so they never bulb in our part of the country.) The newer daylength-neutral onions will produce a large bulb anywhere and in almost any conditions, though, so it pays to pick your variety carefully.

So, daylength is ultimately why early planting is so important. Let's say I plant my onions on February 20th and our day-length hits the number of daylight hours they need on May 20th. They will, then, have had roughly 90 days to produce lots and lots of big green leaves, and I will get great big onions when bulbing occurs. If I had waited until March 20th to plant, I'd probably only get medium-sized onions. And, if I had waited until May 20th, I'd only get smallish onions. That's a generalization, but it is a pretty accurate one.

There are a ton of variables, though. Rainfall is one. If you planted "late", you could still get huge onions if you have lots and lots and lots of rainfall which causes the onions to grow more quickly. You also can compensate for late planting by feeding your onions a big dose of nitrogen early on, something like ammonium nitrate (33-0-0)or ammonium sulfate (21-0-0). OR you can plant them in beds to which you have added tons of manure and compost instead.

As far as when to plant, it really is not engraved in stone. In a very cold year I will often plant really late. In a very warm year, I may plant as early as January 1st, but then I have to be prepared to cover them with floating row covers or blankets if it snows or if a severe cold spell hits. And, interestingly, planting on January 1st did not necessariy give me bigger onions in the long run than when I planted on March 1st. (I experiment with planting dates a lot to see if they make a real difference. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don't.)

In zone 7, you can plant your onions approximately 4 to 6 weeks prior to the average date of your last winter freeze. Our average date here is March 27th (they say, but I don't believe it--it seems later than that to me), so I can plant from mid-February to early March and expect good results. I would think the same timing would work in zone 6 EXCEPT that......if you often have very cold weather right up until your last average freeze date, then 2 to 4 weeks before the average last freeze date might work better for you. For what it is worth, OSU Oklahoma Garden Planning Guide gives February 15th through March 10th as the spring onion planting dates, with the earliest date being for southern Oklahoma and the latest date being for northern Oklahoma. People who live in central Oklahoma should plant roughly in the middle of that range of dates.

If March 10th seems early to you, don't plant them then. YOU know your own climate conditions better than anyone else. You will be the one watching the weather and knowing how much cold is still expected where you live. If this planting date works for you this year, then try it again next year. Or, better yet, next year plant 1/2 of your onions on the recommended date, and the other half on the date of your choice. Watch them grow and see if the earlier ones produce better than the later ones, or vice versa. That's the way you'll learn what works best for you.

And, to make it even more complicated, some people plant onions from seed instead of plants and still get a good crop in the same year. So, obviously, "the rules" aren't the same for everyone, every location, every variety. That is one of the most fascinating things about gardening.....there are many paths to take us all to the same destination!

Dawn


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Dawn,

Well, most of my onions are interplanted with my tomato plants, I was trying to companion plant. How can I give them the water that they need when I am only suppose to water the tomato plants twice/week? I guess I coulde drag the hose and individually water them?

I ended up just using the the onions that have the green stalks already on them. The kind bundled up, and tied with a rubberband. I don't know what you call them. I had the plain little bulbs that were being sold earlier in the season, but didn't get them planted early enough. Sheri


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Sheri,

There's probably no way you can give the onions the water they need without the tomatoes getting some of it. However, I'd go ahead and water the onions occasionally. Onions need most of their water before bulbing begins, which means mostly prior to mid-May to late-May. A lot of water that early in the season won't hurt the tomatoes too much. Excess water is worst for tomatoes when the fruit are enlarging and about to break color and begin to ripen. Prior to that, a lot of water may give you more foliar growth, but it won't affect the tomato flavor. With companion planting, I sometimes use "extra" onions as a border along the beds the tomatoes are in, but don't worry about whether those onions make a good crop--they are important as companions and secondary as a crop where used as companions. Those onions are smaller, but just as good as onions grown in their "own" bed (which, as you'll learn in a minute, isn't really their "own" bed at all).

In the main onion bed, I planted my onions in an alternating grid pattern this year with every onion 6" away from every other onion. Those onions got all the water they wanted (for the first two months, about an inch or two a week from the hose if rain didn't fall that week), and two feedings with Vegetable-Tone organic plant food. I had enriched their bed with a lot of compost and some manure before planting. This is the bed where I have the huge onions.....maybe the best onion crop I've had since we moved here. Everything was growing so well in this bed that I couldn't let well enough alone, so.....

In early May, right after our last freezing night here, I interplanted three kinds of bush beans, placing plants started in tiny bathroom-sized paper cups in between each onion plant. It was an attempt to get better use of the space AND to keep the rabbits from getting the beans if the snuck into the garden. (Last year I had a lot of trouble with everything....rabbits, pillbugs and sowbugs, deer, etc. getting the bean plants.) I had to water the beans several times in May to get them growing, so the onions benefitted from that.

Bordering that bed was a row of chamomile plants on the south side of the bed and an alternating row of parsley and basil plants on the north side of the bed. At the far east end there's a big catmint "Six Hills Giant". Then a few Texas Hummingbird Salvia plants that came up in the bed and also some "Alamo Fire" red bluebonnets, which are actually pink because they bloomed late and the heat affected their color. So, the bed looks like a crazy mish-mash. Still, the onions are huge, the beans are doing great, the chamomile got to a monstrous size before I cut it back, and I haven't watered lately because the onions are about to mature. The beans are in bloom now....they stalled out and didn't do anything doing the hard winds we had for 2 or 3 weeks, but since the winds died down, they are now exploding with blossoms. About the time I am on the second picking of the beans, the onions probably will be getting close to maturity. I may leave the onions in the ground until the beans finish which will be OK as long as it is not excessively wet, and I don't think it will be wet.

I always buy extra onions, so the ones bordering the tomato beds are expendable. Some of them I harvest in late June or July and I leave others all year, and even into next year for blooms. My fall onions don't get a companion planting of onions. They usually get flowers because the flowers attract the beneficials that are around in summer and fall.

Companion planting is an inexact science and every plant will not give ideal growth if it is used as a companion plant for something else. For example, the radishes I plant with squash never get harvested. I just leave them there. There are planted for the squash, not for us.

Hope this info helps.

Dawn


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Hi, all, and greetings from the urban Arizona desert. I just wanted to thank you for the good read here. I have a small bed in which I planted both flowers and onions in, here in the desert. Yeah, I know. :) But just grabbed one set at the store on a whim, and stuck them in with the flower seeds, anyway, and am enjoying learning about them, and watching them grow. The necks began to turn just a couple of days ago, which was a bit of a surprise to me.

The whole "long day" / "short day" onion thing is way over my head at this point, but these are Texas sweet onions, and While I have only about ten, I've enjoyed them since they first shot their lovely slender shoots up.

Since they're in with the flowers, and since I live in the desert, and flowers DIE if you don't water them AT LEAST once a day, I'll be pulling "moist" onions, I'm pretty sure.

I was thinking about braiding some of them, and maybe using one right away, chopping up the stems, and maybe freeze drying them for a poor-woman's chive. :)

I'm the ultimate novice, but am getting a tremendous amount of pleasure out of my dinky little bed. :)I didn't do anything "right" according to the directions (didn't plant them on a "hill" or anything, but I got them in the soil, and have watered them! :)

Here's one of them as of this morning:

Oh. Guess I don't know how to post pics directly from my PC here. LOL. Well, just wanted to let you know I appreciated be able to listen in to your conversation. Thanks!


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Hey Nightowl, you have a little different climate than ours, so I'll leave it to Dawn to help you out here. The main thing is, you're enjoying your garden!

I just wanted to say that I might be slipping back in the "onion challenged" category. All my onions that you sent me, Dawn, have sent up a flower spike. I dug down a little in the soil on one and the bulb was about golfball size. The green part is full and tall, like I would expect for right now, with good-sized necks.

What should I do now? Will breaking off the flower stalk help?

I guess I should've held them longer. As it was I waited a couple of weeks, then I got concerned that they wouldn't hold all the way to April, so I went ahead and planted them.

Atwood's sold out of Candy Onion really fast this year, and I didn't get there in time. I bought a couple bunches of Sweet Red Southern Belle and planted them on March 7, same day I planted the Candies. Where I planted the Southern Belle's, the soil is not quite as good as it is where I planted the Candies, and it's at ground level rather than in a raised bed. They are still rather smallish and appear to be struggling a little. I don't think they're going to get big enough to make a real onion. I kind of hesitated to add water because that spot got so waterlogged with all the rain we had, but I was gonna water this evening. Except that before it was time, we got enough rain to give them a little drink. One of those raining while the sun's still shining things. We're expecting a fairly high probability of rain tomorrow, coming up from Florida, so I won't water until I see what's going to happen tomorrow.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

hi on ? or so
my red onions steams are getting taller but not thiker is that ok.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

I have a question about when to pull onions. I live in central florida and started my onions back in November. Until about 2 months ago we had the green top part of the onions growing great, but weren't seeing any bulbs. Then I learned that you have to pull the soil away from the bulb, so it's like sitting on top of the soil. Now the bulbs are getting as big as softballs. Even the ones we started from seed. Now I just read that the onions should be dry before harvesting, Which is hard since I have a small area where the tomato and okra and onion grow. So make sure that they are dry before pulling, and then what is needed to be done once they are harvested? Do you hang them? put them in a dry dark place? and for how long? I plan on freezing some of them, but want to keep some for everyday use.
Thanks, this forum has been very useful in my trials and triumphs growing a garden in this florida weather.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

The reason you stop watering them as they bulb up is that it is harder for them to cure and dry well if they are too wet internally when harvested. The fact that yours are getting huge and sitting on top of the soil means they are nearing maturity. I found some yesterday that had popped completely up out of the ground themselves and are sitting on top of the soil.

In the future, just plant them shallowly and you won't have to pull the soil back in order to see the bulb. I plant them just deeply enough that they don't fall over when I let go of the plant that I've just planted. As they grow and enlarge the bulbs emerge above ground on their own. This works best with proper spacing so the shade from the green onion tops shades the bulbs so they don't sunburn in strong sunlight.

If the green leaves on your onions are still strongly upright, they aren't ready to harvest yet. If you check and the neck of the onion, right where the green leaves come out of the bulb, is softening up and the green tops are falling over and lying on the ground, then they are beginning to mature. What you want to do, then, is wait and watch. The necks thin out as the carbohydrates from the leaves move into the bulbs. Once you think the necks have thinned out enough (which is to say "a lot"), check the leaves. Look at the youngest, smallest leaf. If it is dry and dessicated, the onions are ready to pull. It is best to leave them in the ground until they reach this point because during the time the necks are softening and the carbs are moving into the bulb, the onions also are developing a thicker skin that will help them to store well long-term. Then, you harvest them, leave the leaves on them, and lay them out someplace in the shade to dry out more and to cure. I have cured them in many places....on a bookshelf placed on the house's wraparound porch, on tables on the covered patio, on tables on the screened in porch, and on the large potting table/shelf in my potting shed. This is a very important time for them. You want them to dry adequately so they won't mold or rot in storage. I usually cure mine for a couple of weeks, or even longer if they were really wet when harvested. It is important to cure them in the shade. You also can place them in multiple single rows on the flat surface where you're curing them, with the leaves of each onion covering the onion on the row next to it. That keeps the sunshine from sunburning and ruining the onions.

I store them several ways. My favorite way is to store them in mesh onion tubes I bought from Dixondale Farms, but I've also stored them in nylon stocking legs. You put an onion in the stocking, then use a rubber band, zip tie or bread bag twisty to tie the stocking above that onion, then put in another onion and repeat the process. By having some separation between each onion, you keep them from touching each other. They are prone to rot where they touch, especially if they were high in water content when harvested. I store some of mine in the darkest back corner of our walk-in pantry, which is underneath the staircase. I store the rest of them in the tornado shelter. Some years, if it is a very dry year, I've stored them in a cool, dark corner of the garage.

There are times I break the rules (all garden rules are meant to be broken at times, I think) and pull them out of the ground before the necks are completely limp and before the youngest leaf is dry. Sometimes in the past when my garden was smaller, I did it just because I was in such a hurry to plant a succession crop in their spot that I just wanted them out of there. Other years, I have done it because we were having nonstop rain here (rare for us, but probably a common problem for you) and I was worried they'd rot right there in the ground. Don't be afraid to experiment in order to figure out what works best for you. It took me 6 or 7 years of trying different things here in the area where I now live before I felt comfortable that I'd found the best way to harvest and store them in any given year in any given weather situation.

Your climate undoubtedly is a lot more humid than ours, so you'll have to experiment to see what type of storage works for you. If you harvest a bumper crop and think that you cannot use them all before they go bad, you can chop them up or slice them up and freeze them in quantities you'll use later in cooking.

Different varieties store for different lengths of time. Here in OK, we mostly grow either short day-length or intermediate day-length onions that are sweet. Sweet onions only store reliably for 2-4 months, but I've had some last 6 months or more if I cured them really well and stored them well. The long day-length type onions that are grown farther north often are the more pungent onions instead of the sweet types and store much longer I assume the varieties of onions you grow there in Florida are also short day or intermediate day types, but I'm just guessing since I've never lived or gardened that far south.

I'm going to link the website of Dixondale Farms, which is my favorite onion plant supplier. They have wonderful growing guides that will teach you everything you need to know about growing onions. They have an archive of their past monthly newsletters. I love the newsletters. The one I am going to link discusses how to know when they are ready to harvest. They also have lots of great photos and recipes in the newsletters.

Hope this helps,

Dawn

Here is a link that might be useful: Dixondale Farms


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

Thank you for your helpful information, We do have a lot of humidity here in florida and I picked about 4 onions yesterday and letting them cure in the garage, We planted the sweet onions, and they are doing great, The necks are still strong and the bulbs are getting huge. But no sign of them getting soft. So we will wait and see what happens in the next week or so. Thanks again


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

You're welcome.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

I bought this shoe rack today, to store onions , I think it will work well ... if not, my Wife will get a nice place to put her shoes :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Shoe Rack


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

That would be awesome to dry onions on.

I still have a dozen onions (candy and superstar) that are standing, although their leaves are starting to turn.


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RE: How do you know when onions are ready to pull?

My wife is ready to run me off. I ran out of curing space in the shop and started piling them on the front porch. The last 50 were pulled yesterday. All my garlic was small, and most of the onions, but I still got a good harvest.

Larry

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