Thursday, September 25, 2008

Curing Squash & Onions

The harvest continues. When the first onions started to flop over, I pulled the soaker hose off them and bent the rest of them down. After about a week, I dug the plants and set them out in the sun for a day to kill off the roots, then moved them onto screens under the shade of the trees until the tops dried out too. I picked through and brought the thick-necked ones, the damaged ones and the ones that didn't form a nice bulb into the house to use now. The rest need to cure, the longer the better, in a warm airy spot so they'll keep in storage. Onions can be braided, the same as garlic when the stems are still flexible, but I've found the stem often won't hold the weight of the bulb and an onion falls and bruises. They can also be stored in net bags, like I do my shallots, but it's harder to pull out ones that are starting to soften early enough to prevent them from spoiling the others. I prefer storing cured onions in open baskets in the cellar.

The winter squash are ready to harvest when a fingernail can't penetrate the skin (be gentle when testing them this way - if you do puncture one, use it first as it won't keep as long). I cut each off the vine, leaving at least an inch of stem (if the stem breaks off, those will be the first used; and don't carry winter squash by their stems - they're not strong enough to bear the weight). Rolled over and left out in the sun for the rest of the afternoon, the underside dries out and the cut stem starts to callus over. I also remove any bits of blossom still clinging to the end. Winter storage squash, too, need to cure in a warm, airy place - to harden their shells completely before storing for the winter. I load up the mesh wagon, and put the whole bunch into the garage, bringing in a screen-full of onions I want to cure as well (I bunched the onions up to make them easier to move, but then spread them out - they cure best if not crowded). The dark garage warms up during the day, and then holds the heat quite well overnight. After curing, winter squash store best in a cool, but not cold, environment. Into the winter, the cellar will get too cold for squash. A couple of crates on the floor, in the far corner of our bedroom in our wood-stove heated house, works best. Next: time to tackle the grapevine!

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