Harvesting Onions & Potatoes

It might not be the legendary summer of ’76 but we’re getting some nice days and Thursday afternoon was superb. The clouds only served to show off the blue in the sky.

Checking Potatoes in Store

Val took the opportunity to empty out the stored potatoes onto an old shower curtain and check them over. They were a little damp so the sunshine made sure they were thoroughly dry as well.

Lucky she did as one potato was starting to rot and it would have spread to the whole sack. When you’ve gone to the trouble of growing something, you’re a bit silly not to look after it properly.

I’ve got the Mayan Gold and Lady Balfour maincrops waiting to harvest. The haulm has been cut off so the skins should be hardening (setting) as growth has stopped. The Sarpo Mira are still going strong and I doubt they’ll be coming out much before October.

Building a Food Store

I’m building a food store in the old cowshed. It’s ideal as it tends to keep cool in there and there is power so I can make sure the temperature keeps above freezing in there. If it drops to just below freezing then the root crops and onions etc. can be ruined. The water in them forms ice crystals that damage the cells so the moment the temperature rises they’re mush and vulnerable to moulds and disease.

Building an Onion Drying Frame

Onion Drying Frame

Onion Drying Frame

Building the food store is a wet-weather job, for this sunny day I wanted to build a drying frame for the onions. I’d a long length of 2×1 wood hanging around and a  length of 2×3 that had come out of a stud wall we took down.

I pulled out a few nails from the 3×2 and then cut it into 4 pieces, the legs of my frame. Cut the 2×1 to lengths, 2 long sides, 2 shorts. Few nails and screws fixed it all together. Then a bit of chicken wire I had hanging around was stretched over the rectangle and stapled on. Roughly one hour, including a tea break.

Incidentally, if I was buying in the wood I’d have used 2×2 for the legs. I expect you could get away with less but saving only a few pennies. Best off is to keep an eye out for skips. Always ask the owner, it’s technically theft to just take out of a skip even though they’re throwing it away and some people get really cross you’re pinching from their skip that which they are chucking away. Why? I don’t know!

Onions Drying

Onions Drying on the Frame

Once I asked a builder about having the scrap wood from a skip and he helped me by delivering a load of old decking and a dog run. He was happy as he saved a skip and I was over the moon with my haul.

Having built the frame, it was just a matter of lifting the onion and shallot crop and laying them on the netting. If the weather goes towards monsoon then we’ll take the frame under cover but the odd shower won’t make much difference to the drying process..

Garlic in Oil

We’d still got a lot of last year’s garlic hanging in the shed. It was right on the edge, some sprouting and going soft. To avoid wasting it Val stripped it and just popped it in a jar of olive oil.

Now before any comments about the risk of botulism, yes we know and we have researched it properly, not just a search on the net finding the same story re-hashed a number of times. We consulted food scientists.

Storing garlic or peppers in cold oil does present a very small, minute, teeny-weeny risk of giving you botulism poisoning which can be fatal. Store as we recommend using a hot oil method and you are safe. Note, do as I say not as I do – and that’s my back legally covered!

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
6 comments on “Harvesting Onions & Potatoes
  1. Pauline McLeggan says:

    Hi John.
    Just read your diary entry and ran to check on my red onions. We’ve been using quite a few of them lately. Was upset to find some of the remaining crop had gone mouldy 🙁 This and my tomatoes and my kale are the only things that have done well this year.

    Quote “do as I say not as I do” I had to laugh when I read this, my dad says this all the time. He used to like to garden but now he has dementia he can’t remember a thing about it!!

    I wish he could he could advise me. I’m starting out as this dreaded recession takes hold more and more.

    I was going to ask you for some advice. I know through your newsletter that you are planning to rewrite your book VEGETABLE GROWING MONTH BY MONTH which I can’t wait to buy. You have another book growing in small spaces, containers. I have a small patch of my garden that I’m trying to grow veg in; do you think this book is for me or is it mainly about containers/

    Also the book about storing your produce does this require a lot of special equipment.

    Thanks in advance for your help Pauline

    • John Harrison says:

      @Pauline McLeggan:
      Hi Pauline, the re-write won’t be for a year or so -you’d be surprised how much time and research goes in to a book.
      Growing in small spaces is not just about container growing, I suggest ways to better use a small garden for growing produce and still be attractive or give somewhere for youngsters to play.
      Storing your produce doesn’t require lots of expensive special equipment. You’ll probably find it worth it for freezing foods and the jams and chutney making alone. Drying does really need a dehydrator but you can store onions to root crops with no equipment. Pressure bottling is easiest with the right equipment and they are fairly dear.
      Really so sorry to hear of your father’s dementia – I understand how you feel and how painful it is for those of us who have to cope with it.

  2. Andy Allen says:

    Hi John.I have also made 4 onion drying frames but with a slight modification.
    I have covered 3 sides with netting on all of them and one end on two.
    The idea being that I can also use them to keep our little feathered fiends from pulling up my onion sets as soon as they are planted.
    They can also be used to keep the birds off most seedlings as well.

  3. Hi, I have been readinging your website and it’s great (why I haven’t found it before I will never know). I dry my onions in my mini plastic greenhouses, which drys them well. It’s funny how we all use different methods isn’t it.

  4. Colin says:

    The problem with garden apparatus is what to do with it when it is not being used! Consequently I like Andy’s suggestion because it extends the gadget’s utilisation.
    This year my onion drying was done on a self-standing slatted ‘staging’ that started the season supporting seed trays in my glasshouse but was moved out before the tomatoes went in.
    It was then used for hardening-off plants in trays and pots (keeping them above slug-lunch level), with a corner for a mug of tea or coffee.
    What I wish that I had made is a set of Andy’s frames covered with cabbage-butterfly proof netting. My broccoli and cauliflower plants were riddled with caterpillars and had to be pulled up for compost.

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