We use a lot of onions around here. When we don’t have our own on hand it’s not unusual for me to burn through a three-pound bag of medium yellow onions in a week. But our own are better. We grow just one kind called ‘Copra’. ‘Copra’ has two great characteristics that have won me over forever: 1) They taste great. Not too sweet not too pungent — they caramelize well but they also hold their own when they need to. 2) Under the right conditions they keep for a year. A year. Really. When I have a large harvest of these bad boys I am sometimes still pulling and cooking seemingly fresh-from-the-garden onions off the braid in the back room on the same day I am digging up the new crop.
Last year, however, I didn’t get them dry enough before I braided them. I dried them, as usual, in the woodshed on my home-built compost sifter. But the ambient moisture must have been too high or I didn’t rotate them often enough or they weren’t out there long enough or (argh!) something. One of the gajillion variables of gardening turned on me and my pretty plaits molded and withered within a few weeks of moving inside and I didn’t get to use but a handful of my crop.
So this year I am trying something a little different. Inspired by the way that the professional growers at Heartsong Farm dry their garlic, I decided I would make a rack out of scrap wood (which, given the state of my pile, we increasingly refer to as “crap” wood) and leftover turkey netting (same as chicken wire but with 2″ holes). But that would have been a heck of a lot of work on a hot day for a great big rack that will just take up a lot of space when it’s not in use. So I made it up to fit the third raised bed in the front yard. Two of the beds have been planted with perennial crops (Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus) but one is currently empty, awaiting garlic planting time. I have learned the hard way that the Boll Weevil (our half-wild barnless barn cat) loves nothing like a freshly tilled and planted raised bed. So I make “cat proofers”: chicken-wire screens that fit snugly over the top of the raised bed and allow whatever’s been planted to grow up through the screen without letting Ms. B’s filthy little paws get purchase on my lovely compost and seeds. When the crop looks big enough to hold its own against our tiny tortoiseshell terror I remove the screen so that I can weed and cultivate as necessary.
Turns out that the really tricky part wasn’t making the screen but single-handedly hanging it from the rafters of the woodshed! One last thing: turkey netting has 2″ diameter holes and ‘Copra’ is a medium-sized onion averaging 3″ in diameter. Naturally, not all the bulbs got that big. But turkey netting also has half-sized holes along its edges and down the middle on either side of the reinforcing wire so I was able to put all but the very puniest onions up to cure.
P.S. The wood I used was originally part of our old box spring, which means I dismantled our bed to help make a garden bed. The rest of it has found its way into the garden, too: the wire grid is now a pleasantly rusty trellis for an espaliered rose, the “springs” themselves (actually just heavy-gauge wire trapezoids) have been repurposed into landscape staples, and the wood ribs were just put to use in the root cellar yesterday as a floor rack to elevate my produce off the plastic bottom. Only the grody-ass fabricy bits got sent to the dump. (I’m patiently awaiting that phone call from Amy Dacyczyn (author of the Tightwad Gazette) asking me tearfully to be her adopted daughter.)