Cutworms

I was admiring how well the onions were swelling the other day, suddenly I noticed some of the leaves had been chewed in a neat circular way. Something had completely sliced open the tips of the leaves (bulbs are fine), so I did a bit of investigating to see what it could be. It didn’t take long to find the culprits way down inside the hollow leaves, complete with lots of green poop. Nice.

After a bit of research it appears the podgy caterpillars I found inside my onion leaves are cutworms. Cutworms are the larvae of several species of night flying moths, they’re not actually worms at all. Apparently, they’re a common visitor to the vegetable garden but I’ve never noticed them before.

They hide in soil or under leaf litter, feeding on crops and other plants at night (more common early in the year), often cutting young plants or seedlings straight down to ground level. I guess that’s how they get their rather cruel name. When alarmed they curl into a C-shape, my personal observation is they have very sticky feet, making them difficult to pick off plants. They’re large and meaty so I didn’t fancy squishing them (I’m useless at killing things anyway), they’d make a heck of a mess. I simply moved on the ones I found and did a bit of hoeing to see if I could spot any lurking in the soil.

Gardening organically and living where I do I’m always going to have the odd ‘pest’ problem here and there, that’s how it goes. I don’t use nasty chemical sprays, my preferred method of natural control will be to keep a close eye for more, picking them off if I see them, digging the onion bed over after harvesting to expose any I may have missed. Cutworms have many natural predators including wild birds, our chickens will scratch in the onion bed later on in the year too.

Cutworms, your days are numbered.

Storing Onions

Having grown onions successfully year after year with good yields, I soon realised I should learn how to store onions properly in order for them to keep for as long as possible. I learnt the hard way that there’s little point putting effort into sowing seeds or planting sets, running around your veg patch like a demented scarecrow, arms-a-flapping while you try desperately to protect your tiny onions from birds and cats that seem determined to dig them up, just to end up throwing out rotting onions by the bucket load come late autumn/early winter.

If like me you grow a lot of onions, then storing is vital to see you through winter and beyond. Below is what I’ve learnt so far, it has helped to keep us in onions for some time but I did make the mistake last year of unwillingly feeding a hungry population of field mice in our garage (a hazard of living so near to farmland and woodland), so a more suitable place has to be found for the trays this year.

Lift onions on a dry day, lay them out on top of the soil for as long as possible if weather permits with bulbs fully exposed to the sun, otherwise put them straight onto racks or greenhouse staging in an unheated greenhouse, conservatory or shed. Leave them for as long as possible to fully dry, the leaves will all but wither away but that’s fine. Once the outer layer of white/yellow skin onions starts to darken to a caramel colour (red onions will darken) and become crispy to the touch, drying is well underway and your onions should store well. Drying is key to storing onions for as long as possible.

Discard any bulbs that have signs of fungal growth or disease (avoid compost heap) and use spongy or sprouting bulbs immediately – they won’t store. Once the bulbs have fully dried store them in nets, trays or tie them in bunches and put in a cool, frost-free place such as a shed or garage. If your unheated greenhouse is guaranteed to be frost-free then this would be suitable also. Red onions tend not to store as well as white/yellow onions, different varieties may vary with storing abilities too so it’s best to check this before purchasing onion sets/seeds.

As I said before, this procedure works for me (apart from mice chomping their way through a lot of my onions in the garage) so hopefully this will work for you also. If you have any other points to add with regards to storing onions successfully please feel free to drop them in the comments box.