Onions 2014 - The Results

Back in mid-to-late August I pulled the onions from the ground.  I left them as they were, removing only large clods of soil, and placed them on the drying rack to cure.  About two weeks ago I started to clean them up and, as I was doing so, I started to notice damage like this:

Damage on Copra Onion

This was the same type of damage that was evident on the golden shallots a couple of months ago.  And, just as with the shallots, I didn’t recall seeing any damage when I had pulled the onions.  Mind you, the soil that still clung to them likely concealed some of it and I wasn’t actively looking for damage – after all, alliums are one of the most carefree crops to grow & are rarely bothered by pests, right?

My first thought with the shallots was that perhaps some type of bug had attacked them when they were curing.  But I have since come to realize that leek moths* were the culprit and that both the shallots and onions were already infected when I pulled them…I just didn’t know it.  Since I had not run across leek moths* before, it never occurred to me to check.

I cleaned up the onions in two batches.  When I did the first batch, I sorted the damaged onions (for freezing) from those with no apparent damage (which I braided).  When I started on the second batch of onions, about a week and a half later, I gave the previously braided onions a cursory glance…..and I saw that a few had NEW damage that looked like this:

Evidence of leek moth* tunneling out of onions

This is when I realized that a tiny hole in the stem – which I wouldn’t have noticed when I cleaned up the onions – likely meant a larva in the onion.  The larva then bores its way out and makes itself at home on the onion itself:

Leek moth larva cocoons*

Several Larva Pupated on the Roots

At this point I basically threw up my hands and decided not to even bother checking the next batch for anything other than the most severe damage (so that I could use those first).  I would just clean them all up & leave them on the drying rack to continue curing so that any hidden larva had time to come to the surface.   Last thing I wanted was to chop up a “good” onion with a surprise inside…yuck.  Then I would chop them all up & freeze them.

On last week’s Harvest Monday, I gave a brief description of what happened with the onions and Daphne, who has had onion maggot issues in the past, suggested that I try storing the onions anyhow as fresh onions are better than frozen and even a few months of fresh onions would be better than none.  I decided to take her suggestion.

Since I have so many onions and it’s unlikely I will be able to use them all up before they start to soften, even if they were perfect, I have decided to freeze about half of them, picking those with the most damage.  The rest will be hung in the basement, either braided or in mesh bags.  The Rossa di Milano variety will make up about 3/4 of the onions that I will be storing as these showed significantly less damage than the Copras or Ailsa Craigs.

Once I realized what was really happening with the alliums, I gave the Camelot shallots (grown from seed) a good once over as well.  These were cured and braided back in late August.  Surprisingly, they didn’t have any holes in them at all.

A lot of the actual damage seems to be relatively small and easy to remove.  This is what the onion in the 2nd photo looked like once it had been peeled:

Damage on the inside of the Ailsa Craig onion
from the 2nd photo

Not too much has to be cut off to remove the damaged section

As Daphne pointed out, the main issue is not so much the damage that the larva does, but the fact that it lets in bacteria which leads to rot.

Now to the fun bit – for me, anyhow.  I love comparing year to year results on what I am growing so that I can tweak (or in some cases drastically change) my growing methods.  As this is my first year growing onions, I don’t have anything to compare my numbers to so they will serve as a starting point for future years.

I divided out unusually small onions, what I call runts, from the “normal” onions.  This way, I can see how many of these runts each variety produced and the average weight is not skewed by a bunch of abnormally tiny onions.

Copra (Yellow Storage Onion)


          ·         Total Weight – 11,562 grams (25.49 lbs)
          ·         Total # of bulbs – 110

          ·         Regular bulbs - 11,232 grams (24.76 lbs) - 95 bulbs
          ·         Average bulb size - 118 grams (4.2 oz)
          ·         Largest bulb - 262 grams (9.2 oz)

          ·         Runts - 330 grams (11.6 oz) - 15 bulbs

Rossa di Milano (Red Storage Onion)

Rossa di Milano

          ·         Total Weight – 12,284 grams (27.08 lbs)
          ·         Total # of bulbs – 119

          ·         Regular bulbs - 11,856 grams (26.14 lbs) - 108 bulbs
          ·         Average bulb size - 110 grams (3.9 oz)
          ·         Largest bulb - 258 grams (9.1 oz)

          ·         Runts - 428 grams (15.1 oz) - 11 bulbs

Ailsa Craig (Sweet Yellow Onion)

Ailsa Craig

          ·         Total Weight – 12,520 grams (27.60 lbs)
          ·         Total # of bulbs – 42

          ·         Average bulb size - 298 grams (10.5 oz)
          ·         Largest bulb - 756 grams (1.67 lbs)!!

There were no runts here – all of the Ailsa Craig’s were “normal”, if you could call ¾ pound+ onions normal!

And last but not least are the potato onions.

Potato Onions

These were grown from seed but the intent is not to eat them but to use them as planting stock - they are a type of multiplier onion and divide in the same way as shallots.  They seem to be damage free (so far!), so hopefully they will be ok to plant.  I harvested 18 bulbs weighting a total of 2,400 grams (5.29 lbs).

Total Onion Harvest

          ·         Total Weight – 38,766 grams (85.46 lbs)!
          ·         Total # of bulbs - 289

That is a LOT of onions.  Too many maybe?  I do use them practically every day so there is the possibility that they may in fact not be enough…we shall see.

Lessons for Next Year

Overall I was very happy with the my first attempt at growing onions, but I do plan to do a bit of tweaking next year.

Firstly, I will be transplanting the onion seedlings sooner - I transplanted them late this year as the new bed wasn’t ready yet.  I'm hoping this will give me either larger onions or an earlier harvest.

I may also adjust the spacing on the Copra’s (I used 4” this year) to see if I get bigger onions or fewer runts.  I did a mini-experiment on the Rossa di Milano’s, using 5” spacing for some & the recommended 4” spacing on others, and didn’t really see too much of a difference between them (although I didn't exactly weight/measure them), so I think I will stick with 4” for next year.  The Ailsa Craig’s did fantastic with their 6” spacing - no tweaking is necessary there.

And, of course, the most important change - netting the beds.  The beds will be covered as soon as the transplants go into the ground next spring in an effort to avoid those darn leek moths*.

Till next time…

*I originally thought that the alliums were being attacked by onion maggots but have subsequently realized that, in fact, I was dealing with leek moths so have adjusted this post accordingly.


  1. Hi Margaret, Everything seems to be changing weather wise. Maybe that is why the care-free onions had a problem. Thanks for your views on the zucchini. I am going to try it because of needing room in the freezer. I have some made ahead for hubby so when that is gone will try the other and let you know the results if you have not beat me to it! Nancy

    1. Sounds good - can't wait to hear how it turns out!

  2. I hope the onions store at least a little while for you. I always have trouble storing onions as I don't have a cool spot in the house when they come out of the ground. But I'm guessing between me and my townhouse mates, we will eat them all up before they start to really rot. At least I hope so.

    1. Our basement is not really cold, but on the coolish side during the winter. The garlic and shallots have stored very well down there, so I'm hoping that the onions (those that have escaped maggot damage anyhow) will keep at least moderately well...fingers crossed.

  3. In my basement, the Copra and Red Bull onions from last year stored right into early summer. Fortunately, no maggots to deal with. I will have to keep that in mind, along with thrips and fungal diseases. Seems like everything needs to be covered these days.

    1. That is amazing in terms of storage - Hopefully my basement is as good at storing onions as yours is!


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