Onions are an easy crop, one that doesn't require much attention. Water and weed — that's about it. But toward the end of summer, you need to watch them to see whether they've flopped. When the leaves lie down in the row, it means the bulbs have stopped growing and are ready for harvest.
When this happens, check the weather. It's best to pull onions during a sunny spell. Simply lift them and lay the whole plants on the ground in tidy rows to dry out and cure. The idea is to let the tops turn brown, all the way down to the bulbs, so that the necks will tighten and seal the bulb against deterioration. A brief shower is harmless, but if genuine rain is coming, bring them under cover to finish the job. Spread them on a floor, table or screen in a place that's well ventilated and dry.
Soft-neck garlic can be harvested like onions. Hard-neck garlic is pulled when the tops start to brown but there are still about six green leaves on top. Bring both under cover right away to dry and cure.
New onions and garlic can be eaten immediately and are outstanding when fresh, but their main virtue is that they last many months in storage. An ideal space is dark, cold and frost-free, but not moist like a root cellar.
Like many cooks, though, I don't feel secure unless I have a working stash of onions and garlic within easy reach. In the kitchen, there's always a bucket, bin or basket — anything that works, but never the fridge, where too much moisture might make them rot.
You can also treat them as a kitchen display. This concept appeals to anyone who likes rustic kitchen decor, but even if the theme is stainless-steel modern, the sight of onions and garlic in a kitchen gives one a feeling that the cook cares about flavor and that the upcoming meal will not be bland. (You might have already sensed that upon entering, from the pungent aroma of a bubbling pot.)
Hanging food pantries are picturesque, especially if your kitchen ceiling has exposed beams from which to suspend them, but they have limitations. Ristras of dried red chiles look gorgeous at first, before they lose color from too much light. So do bundles of upside-down herbs, which, if too close to the action, crumble from the careless swish of a tea towel. Both gather dust.
But none of that happens to onions and garlic, which are neatly protected by their skins. So you can braid their tops to form a tidy hanging column and snip off one at a time as needed.
Normally you would cut off your onions' dry foliage as soon as the necks have cured, but if you're going to braid them, leave it on. The simplest way to do this is to tie three onions tightly together at the neck with tan-colored jute or sisal twine, which will last as long as the onions will. Then braid the three clumps of leaves just as you would a pigtail, alternately bringing the left and the right one to the center.
After each movement, bring a new onion in, above the center onion, adding its top to that strand. So even as you rise above the tops of the lower onions, the upper ones carry on the work. One way to give the column more strength is to leave a long piece of twine when you make that bottom tie, and braid it into one of the continuing strands.
If you've ever fiddled with long hair, you probably know that braiding in new strands as you go is called making a French braid.
Heads of garlic can be braided the same way, but only if you have grown soft-neck garlic, which has pliable foliage like that of an onion. They're easier to work with than onions because they weigh less. The result is charming.
If you grow hard-neck garlic, which has long, very stiff stalks, you'll see that it doesn't lend itself to braiding. Instead, you might bundle the stalks together at the top and bottom and hang them up, keeping hand pruners at the ready to snip off a head.
But I don't hang them at all. I put them in an upright vase with the heads on top, like a bouquet. Nothing could be simpler than that.
If you have always had short hair, especially if you are male, the idea of the French braid may be a little baffling, but you'll catch on. Who knows? The next big thing, after the ponytail and the "man bun," might be the French braid. And you'll have practiced on onions.
Spend some time perking up annuals by pinching out blooms that have faded, trimming back leggy stems and applying a thin top dressing of potting mix or fine compost. Tall annuals such as zinnias, sunflowers, tithonia and amaranth may need staking or
re-staking to remain upright and attractive through October.
— Adrian Higgins