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Staple = Steady Demand

September 4, 2013

We grow a lot of staples.  And the definition of staple can vary depending on your kitchen and how much you cook.  Almost all of our meals are eaten here from food we grow, the exception being my husband’s work lunch which also comes from here.  My food system post the other day didn’t really delve into the nuts and bolts of each type of food we grow, so I thought a few in depth posts might be helpful.

Stuttgart onions from sets

Stuttgart onions from sets

Staples often get short shrift too because you can certainly purchase them much cheaper without all the anxiety of growing them.  As the name implies too, staples are used probably every day so to grow enough to keep you over the year, or to the next growing season takes a lot of space in the garden for growing and then equally you have to come up with a storage space.  Onions are something we love in everything, and are a necessary part of the pantry if you’re cooking from scratch.  Hence onions are the single thing we grow that we use Every. Single. Day. Times two at least.  Potatoes are probably second but that will be post for another day.

Stuttgart sets

Stuttgart sets in stations

I try to ward off pantry blindness by broadening my allium offerings for the kitchen.  Garden blindness is the other affliction.  What is pantry and garden blindness you ask?  They are the co-diseases of farm blindness…basically where you think what you’re doing is normal and like everyone else.  Since no one, and I mean no one has ever accused me of being normal I think I’ve been infected, maybe a little chronic but have not exhibited full-blown blindness.

Growing an array of alliums for the kitchen is also a big help in the garden too, crop failures can always loom but if you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, you are at least going to have something to show for your efforts.  Of course, this means bending the rules a bit.  You may be using a different type of onion than you’re used to buying at the store, but that is truly what a home kitchen garden and scratch cooking is about.  You use what you have on hand at the moment.  There is nothing wrong with using a shallot in place of an onion or a sweet onion in place of a cooking onion.  Flavor is flavor.

Copra onions from seed

Copra onions from seed

If you find it easier to grow just one thing, storage onions are probably the ticket for you.  Onions like cool and dry storage after curing, so if you can provide that, then long keeping storage onions are a good choice.  The bulk of my storage onions are grown from sets, and this year I branched out with starting keeping onions from seed.  The jury is still out, but the sets are less of a pain for me, I have the same amount and size of onion from each but the sets are a lot less work.  I would be rich if I told you how many gardeners have scoffed at my growing onions from sets instead of onions from seed.  Cue Thurston Howell III voice please – “Oh Lovey, how could you possibly think onions from sets would compare to onions from seed?”  Well, sorry, they do.

Walla Walla Sweets from plants

Walla Walla Sweets from plants

To fill in the gaps in my storage onions, which are usually gone or done by June, I grow sweet onions.  Scallions are good too, but for cooking I like a good-sized onion.  All the preserving I am doing now is with my sweet onion harvest that is coming to a close.  They keep in situ until I need them or the garden space, and are the perfect addition to my tomato roasting and pickling projects, plus they lessen my burden of growing enough storage onions for an entire year.  Another thing too, if they aren’t watered frequently they have plenty of bite, so don’t worry about there not being enough onion flavor in your foods.

Leeks top left

Leeks top left – Blau Gruener and Bandit

Easing my storage onion burden too are ancillary alliums, shallots and leeks.  My shallots are curing right now in the hoophouse with my storage onions and the leeks will overwinter in the garden.

Music garlic

Music garlic

Last but definitely not least is garlic, while not a substitute for onions in a dish it is another staple we use daily and is easy to store with a minimum of processing.

By focusing on different types of “onions” for the kitchen, and combining long-term storage with garden storage, I can truly make onions a staple in our pantry and broaden my gardening skills and palate at the same time.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2013 9:24 am

    Do you store them in trays or in braids?

    • September 4, 2013 9:33 am

      Onion bags, same with garlic, I’ve quit growing softnecks. Who has time to braid? I keep my garlic and onions in the fruit room which is a separate room in the basement…50 degrees and about 50% humidity tops. Or actually it’s colder depending on outside temperature. I just fed the last of my garlic from last year to the sheep, it was a little weird but definitely edible if you were hungry and didn’t have a current crop curing…

  2. September 4, 2013 9:53 am

    Nothing better than the smell of onions and garlic!

  3. September 4, 2013 3:08 pm

    Hey Nita, I just saw your comment on my blog, I didn’t know you followed it (*blushing*), you are my farming hero! Anyway, I wondered if you’d like to join in my series of interviews, you have so much to share about homestead dairy! I didn’t want to ask before, because you seem to busy at the moment. Please send me an email if you’re interested eight.acres.liz at gmail dot com. Cheers, Liz PS I need to focus on more staples, they seem to be the trickiest things for me to grow, onions, garlic, potatoes and carrots have been a challenge so far, but maybe I need to look for different staples that match our growing conditions, spring onions and sweet potato grow well here. I’ve got to keep trying with garlic though, there is no substitute and I put it in everything!

    • September 4, 2013 4:03 pm

      Liz, the wonder of the interwebs, I saw it on a friends FB page, and had to check it out 🙂 Bella is sooo pretty. Re staples, I think you hit the nail on the head, matching what does well in your particular climate, and with your garden skillset is the key. I am seriously jealous of your sweet potatoes, I love them and no one else does…which means I wouldn’t have to share 😉

  4. Linda permalink
    September 4, 2013 5:55 pm

    Hi I am Linda from Australia and just started reading your blog, just wondering what are onion sets


  5. jackie permalink
    September 4, 2013 7:30 pm

    The other day you wrote about your mentor never thinking about blogging about canning, well I am glad you are blogging about canning. My gramma canned a LOT, my mom not as much – although she always helped my gramma during canning season. Gramma had an old fashioned pressure canner that she said was cantankerous, so I was delegated to the front porch to snap beans, peal fruit, shell peas, etc. Now they both are gone and I am just learning to can. Gramma never used any written recipes, and if she did it was just notes to help her remember…not enough to use if you have never canned. I have learned so much from your blog about gardening and preserving!
    Could you expand more about how to cure, store your onions, leeks, etc. Next year I want to grow enough to get me through till next season, but don’t know the first thing about how to make that happen…I mean how to store them so they will last. The onions from the grocery usually only last a month if I am lucky in the kitchen. And how and what can you over winter veg. in the ground. What are the freezing limits…I am in the midwest and things can get really cold here.
    Anyway I ramble, but really thanks for sharing your wisdom with us ‘yungins’.

    • September 5, 2013 4:43 am

      Jackie, thank you! The first thing to do is to study seed catalogs and read about the vegetable varieties of what you want to grow, some onions are keepers and some are not. If you grow keeping onions once the tops start to tip over after the bulbs have sized up, you can bring them in to a cool dry place or a shady spot in your yard and let them dry further. Before storing they need to be dry. I store mine in mesh onion bags, in the dark in the basement, onions like it cool and dry. If it is too warm in your storage area the onions will break dormancy and try to sprout. Your best bet may be to buy onion plants to set out. Here is a good place:

      I’m thinking your location may be too cold to store root vegetables in the ground. Our soil doesn’t freeze very deep here in my part of the Pacific Northwest, so a root cellar may be your best bet.

  6. Mich permalink
    September 5, 2013 5:01 am

    I try and grow enough onions to last from one harvest to another…nearly did it this year! I grow 2 types of white onion & 1 red onion all good keepers and I also grow autumn onions to harvest for use in June.
    I always use sets so much easier.
    I also grow shallots, leeks & spring onions. Garlic never does well for me 😦

    • September 5, 2013 5:05 am

      Mich, wow that’s pretty impressive! It’s hard to run the kitchen without onions 🙂 It took my garlic a few years to get acclimated to my soils, I just kept the best for seed and each year it got larger and more robust, it does like a good side dressing in April though for that last push of growing and bulbing.

  7. Racquel permalink
    September 5, 2013 2:04 pm

    As always tons of great info. Onions are one of those crops I have struggled to master. This year I tried a few new things and had good results but did not cure them correctly (I guess) and then did not have a good place to store them. Now my efforts have mostly gone sprouting. I wonder if I can use the centers and replant for a spring crop. Always so much to learn but hey, that’s why we try new things. PS, thanks for the info a few months back about Joi Choi. It’s growing great.

    • September 5, 2013 3:42 pm

      R., you should probably just plant the sprouting ones now for green onion tops, they will just try to bolt now and make seed, you may as well get some green onions out of the deal 🙂

  8. September 11, 2013 6:50 pm

    If you haven’t tried them, I found shallots to keep just incredibly well. A lot longer than both Copra and Stuttgart which I tried (and still grow). I got the French Red variety at Peaceful Valley Seed at They are delicious sliced thinly and strewn on a pizza before you bake it!!

    • September 11, 2013 7:03 pm

      Paula, I do grow shallots too, and they keep like the potato onions, 18 months or more. I got mine from a neighbor so they were already acclimated to the mountain. 🙂

  9. JackieH. permalink
    September 12, 2013 11:13 am

    Where do you buy your storage onion sets? I’ve only grown onions for storage from seed & it’s starting to get old. Thank you.

    • September 12, 2013 3:26 pm

      I sometimes get them from Fedco seeds, but any place that sells them is about the same. This year I purchased them at the local feed store, and they did great.

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