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Archive for July, 2015

Onions at harvest.

Onions at harvest.

Onions have been on my mind lately because I have been sorting my harvest. I make sure to harvest onions when their tops begin to fall over, but while the tops are still green. Each leaf is a covering over the onion, which protects it. When the tops dry, the outer covering can be removed to reveal a clean onion. Trim the roots and that is all there is to cleaning onions.

Before you can get to the cleaning part, you need to have a good way to dry the onions with their tops intact. If you do that, you can braid them. When you leave the onions in the garden for too long, the tops die and disappear. Not only do you not have the tops for braiding, but you may not even be able to find where the onions are.

A shady place is good to dry onions, and if you don’t have too many you could spread them out on your porch to dry. When I was growing a lot of onions to sell I would spread them out on the floor of our barn loft. In June and July it was available space, but in August I would be getting in hay for the cow that we had at the time, so I needed to sort and braid the onions in a timely manner.

Onions hung to dry after harvest.

Onions hung to dry after harvest.

Eventually I needed to come up with a better way. I decided to use some old welded wire fencing with 2”x 4” spaces. I made the fence into a circle and put it on two cement blocks for better air circulation. The onions are loaded onto the fencing with the bulbs in the middle of the circle and the tops on the outside. If the onions are too big to be put through the spaces from the outside, you need to reach the onion down to the inside and pull the top through to the outside. Keep that in mind if you are making such a circle. A good size is about 3’ high and 2’ wide.

Onions dried on this circle of fencing.

Onions dried on this circle of fencing.

Having this rest on the cement blocks works for good air circulation, but I’ve also hung it up by tying baling twine to two sides with loops to hang from nails in the rafters. This frees up floor space in addition to contributing to better air circulation. Once the tops are dry (it will take a few weeks) you can begin to sort. There is no hurry and you could leave them there for quite some time, but it is best to go through them to determine the ones that will keep the longest and the onions that need to be used soon.

I grow storage varieties because I want them to last as long as possible. Some of the sweeter varieties are not for storage and you will need to eat them or dry them soon. Even with the storage varieties, there are always some that need to be used before too long. I determine that by pressing with my thumb where the dry top comes out of the onion bulb. If there is no give, it is a keeper. If there is just a little give, those are the next best keepers. If I detect a softness there, I put those aside to use first.

I would use the onions that I knew were not long term keepers in cooking throughout the summer and in the spaghetti sauce I used to can. Now that I make spaghetti sauce from my solar dried tomatoes, I dry those “use first” onions in my solar food dryers for use later in the sauce. Preparation for that is easy—cut them up and put them on the trays. My solar dehydrators are outside, of course. If you are drying onions in an electric dryer be prepared for the aroma of onions. You might want to set the dehydrator out on your porch when you are doing onions.

red onion on string

String for braiding is attached.

I love braiding the onions that I will be keeping the longest. They will hang in the rafters of my garden shed until fall. Then I will hang the braids from the floor joists in the crawl space of our house, bringing one braid at a time to the kitchen. I usually put about 3 pounds of onions in each braid, although the string of red onions in the photo below only weights 1.25 pounds. To make a braid, I cut a string about 3’ in length, fold it in half to make a loop, and wrap it around one onion top near the bulb. Drawing the two ends of the string through the loop holds the string tight to the onion. The string is braided along with the onion top it is attached to. You need three onions to start the braid. To braid, keep putting one onion top to the middle working from one side, then the next. Add a new onion each time a dried top goes into the middle. The top for that onion will now be braided with the onion top it was paired with in the middle.

onion braid

Onion braid.

It is time to tie things off before you run out of string. There should be two string ends mixed in with your onion tops. I wrap them around the dried tops a couple times, knotting them in the front and the back. Tie the ends together, leaving a loop for hanging. Trim the tops to an attractive length. For a great looking onion braid, pull off the dry outer covering and trim the roots on the onions before braiding. Braids are great. Not only do they look good, but you can see all the onions at once, making it easy to choose what size you want. If one is not looking so good, you will know right away and can use that one before the others. If you are selling onions at a farmers market, the braids hanging from your canopy will attract attention and you can get a premium for them. You can even mix varieties, and if you look closely at the photo of the braid, you will notice a yellow onion in with the red.

If you have harvested onions this year and wondered just how to handle them, I hope this post has given you some good ideas. You might want to make some notes for next year’s harvest. In a previous post about onions I wrote of the health benefits of onions and gave some planting tips. They should be part of everyone’s diet and garden. If you did not grow any onions this year, buy them from local growers now and plan to make onions a part of your 2016 garden plan.Homeplace Earth

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clothesline with clothes-BLOGWe don’t have an electric clothes dryer at our house. We used to have one, but took it out because we never used it. In its place there is room for crocks and for shelves full of jars of dried food. We hang our laundry to dry outside on the clothesline, which is actually a solar clothes dryer. When we moved here in 1984 I stretched three rows of clothesline from the garage to the pumphouse by putting large screw eyes in the eaves of both buildings. In case you are thinking that it must never rain here—it does, regularly. The total rainfall for our area is about 44” annually, more or less spread evenly throughout the year. In June we had 8” of rain, which is a pretty wet month. Nevertheless, we were still able to dry the clothes on the line. I watch the weather and do laundry on the dry days. So far in July we have had 2.2” of rain.

shirts hanging on shower rod-BLOGWe put shirts on hangers and hang them on the shower rod in the bathroom. Give them a good shake before hanging and you get out many of the wrinkles. Another trick to having less wrinkles is to not let the clothes sit in the washer too long after the cycle is finished. Once the shirts are dry they are hung back in the closets.

It is surprising how many good drying days on the clothesline we have in the winter. Sometimes the clothes are freeze-dried, but that’s okay, they still dry. In the winter we make good use of the large wooden drying rack we have. That rack is one of the best investments we made back in the early 1980s. Our previous house was small, making it pretty crowded if I set up the drying rack during the day; so if I was going to use it inside, I would wash clothes in the evening and leave the drying rack up all night in front of a heating vent that was in the wall in the dining room. I could hang a whole load of cloth diapers or other laundry on that rack in the evening and everything would be dry in the morning. You can even put it in a room without direct heat from a vent and the clothes will still dry. If the air in your house is too dry, your wet laundry can be a natural humidifier. This rack folds to 6″ wide and slides into a space beside the refrigerator in the kitchen between uses.

drying rack with herbs and seeds-BLOGIn the photo you can see that a drying rack is good for drying more than laundry. Here it is in use to dry herbs, beans, and roselle. The beans were harvested as dried beans, but I felt they needed a bit more drying before I packed them away. I usually dry the Red Thai Roselle calyxes in my solar dryer outside, but they dried well on these racks inside. There was no fire in the woodstove that day. That is a handy spot to put the rack year round. In the winter the heat from the woodstove speeds the drying. The drying screens are from my solar dryer that was not being used that day. It is nice that the dowels on the rack align so that the screens fit across them like that.

Basements are a good place to put up clotheslines since you don’t have to worry about the weather. If you feel you don’t have time for all this, let me tell you about the year I went back to school to finish college. My husband and I lived in Columbus, Ohio with our firstborn when I was finishing the requirements for my degree in Home Economics Education from Ohio State University. During the quarter I was doing student teaching I didn’t get to bed until at least midnight. If not then, it was 2am—then up at 6am to do it all again. We used cloth diapers on our toddler. In the evening I would put laundry through the washer and we would hang it to dry, including the diapers, on lines in the basement. The laundry we hung the previous evening would be dry. I realize that was 40 years ago, but it would work the same today.

A couple years later we moved to Richmond, Virginia. There are not so many basements in the houses here. The frost line is not so deep, so the building foundations don’t have to be as deep. The house we bought was usual for the area—a small cape cod style house with no basement. In these houses, what would be the attic was usually finished into two bedrooms. We used one of the two upstairs rooms as a catchall room and put clotheslines there. You don’t need a woodstove to dry clothes inside.

My husband and I are pleased to not have to depend on electricity and fossil fuel to dry our laundry. If you are looking for a way to lessen your dependence on such things, seriously consider hanging your clothes to dry. If you look around your house and property you will certainly find a place suitable to dry your laundry. With just a little adjustment in your schedule, I’m sure you can also find a way to ditch your dryer.Homeplace Earth

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