Now is the time to pick your own onions and buy a lot of them!

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Have you ever picked your own onions? One of my favourite places to go on a weekend is Roundstone Farm. It is a pick your own fruit and veg farm and it is massive. There is a tractor that goes round the farm. It’s great if you pick lots of heavy fruit and veg because you don’t have to walk back to the entrance to pay for it. It is a fun and educational day out with the kids and even better it doesn’t cost anything to go in the farm or to go on the tractor! We go there every year to pick various things, but especially to buy onions in bulk!

When is it best to go and buy onions in bulk?

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Between July and September is the best time to pick onions. We usually wait until the last weekend in September though to and go and get enough to last us most of the year!

What are the advantages if you buy onions in bulk?

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I think the advantages of buying onions in bulk when they are in season from a local PYO farm are many:

  1. You are supporting a local business
  2. Onions are cheaper when they are in season
  3. You can take your own reusable bags to carry them home, so there is no packaging waste at all. The bags will just need a quick wash when you get home.
  4. You (and your kids if you have any) get to learn more about different types of fruit and vegetables, how they grow and what they look like before they have been processed to be sold in a supermarket!
  5. Learning how to store onions to make them last for months is a useful skill to have
  6. Throughout the year, every time you use an onion it is a lovely reminder of the day you spent picking onions!

How many should you buy?

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Think about what you will use your onions for throughout the year and how many you usually buy a week before you buy onions in bulk. Remember to take into account different needs at different times of year – I use more in the winter because I make a lot of soup. If this is your first time buying onions, you might want to just buy a few months worth to start off with and to see how you get on with it. Then you can work out whether buying onions in bulk works for you.

However many you buy though, it shouldn’t break the bank. On a recent trip (2019) to my local pick your own farm, I spent £15 on about 300 onions (quite a lot were very small and I will use them for roasting), a kohlrabi, a marrow, 2 festival squashes, 6 beetroots, some carrots and a cabbage.

How do you store freshly picked onions?

1. Dry them out

  1. DO NOT wash them, clean them, take them out of their skin or trim them. Doing any of those things will shorten their shelf life. Leave the mud on!
  2. Make sure that the stems have died.  If they haven’t (i.e. they are still green) then bend the stems over – this apparently signals to the onion to stop growing.  
  3. You then need to leave them out to dry for a 2 to 3 weeks.  If the weather is sunny you can do this outside, if you don’t want to risk it spread them out on some old cardboard boxes inside.
  4. Once they are dried out store them in a cool dry airy place.  
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2. Put them in a cool dry airy place

Option 1: Put them in a cold frame outside

The first time we bought bulk onions, we stored them in a cold frame lined with stones in our garden after they had dried out. We spread the onions out in the cold frame to make sure they weren’t touching and we stacked them up in layers with flattened out cardboard boxes separating the layers.

The onions stayed dry and cool and we were eating them from the end of September all the way until March at which point we ran out of onions.  We didn’t have a very cold winter that year though and it didn’t snow, but if it did snow we would have needed to make sure the onions didn’t start to freeze by protecting them with fleece or moving them inside.

Option 2: Keep them in a bucket in a cool room or hallway in your home

Although the cold frame worked well for us one year, another year it didn’t work out. The cold frame developed a leak and some onions started going mouldy

After that I started storing the onions in a bucket in our hallway. It is a cool part of the house and the onions last surprisingly well in the bucket. One of the advantages is that it is easy to remember to check on them to see if any are starting to go mouldy or sprout and which ones need dealing with.

What to do when the onions start sprouting

If the onions start sprouting take them out of the bucket or cold frame and choose from one of these options:

  1. Use the onion including the sprout – the sprout part is just like a spring onion (just with a much bigger onion at the bottom of the sprout!)
  2. Plant the onion in your garden if you have one. I like planting a few out as they sprout because it is a really easy way to turn them into new onions. When we run out of onions in our bucket we can go and dig the planted ones back up!

What to do if an onion starts going mouldy

  1. Take it out of the bucket or cold frame and check to see if any other onions have been affected by the mould and take them out too.
  2. Check to see how far the mould has gone through the onion, if the whole onion has gone soft and mouldy then it needs to be composted
  3. If the mould is only superficial, you will need to use your judgement if you are happy to eat the onion or not after you have peeled off the layers of mould. Do not eat an onion that you have found mould on if you have a mould allergy, a compromised immune system, if you are pregnant or if you are at all unsure as to whether the onion is safe to eat.

What if you go off the onions that you bought in bulk?

There is a risk that if you buy onions in bulk (or anything in bulk for that matter) that you will go off it over time. Or perhaps a member of your family that you bought some of them for, will stop eating so many. So what can you do if that happens?

  1. Get experimental – find new ways to use up onions if you are bored of eating them in the same old ways.
  2. Give them away through sites like Freecycle, Freegle and Olio, or just give them to someone you know who can make use of them!
  3. Do a food swap – similar to point 2, but ask a friend or family member if they would be up for swapping your excess onions for something they don’t need.

I love our annual ritual of buying onions in bulk and I am constantly amazed at how well they last. I also like the fact that I don’t have to worry about buying onions while I have them in stock at home!

NOTE: This post was updated on 29/9/19. We started buying onions in bulk for the first time 2013 and have done it every year since (except one year, when we didn’t manage to make it to the farm at the right time).