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Harvesting Potato Onions

July 7th, 2010

I blogged earlier this spring about the potato onions I planted last fall. They’re kind of like shallots in that they multiply from a main bulb. I wasn’t sure how well these would do in my soil, I can’t seem to grow a nice sized onion. I had a few of them planted in the raised beds in the back and a few planted in my front foundation border.

According to Southern Exposure:
Heirloom potato onions enjoyed widespread popularity before the turn of the century. Nearly every gardener grew potato onions and they were available in yellow, white, and reddish-brown varieties, the yellow being most common. Potato onions are still a local favorite in some areas of Virginia. Each bulb cluster of potato onions may contain many bulbs, averaging 2 to 2-1/2″ in diameter. When a small bulb (3/4″) is planted, it will usually produce one or two larger bulbs. When a large bulb (3 to 4″) is planted, it will produce approximately 10 to 12 bulbs per cluster. These bulbs of various sizes may be used for eating, storing, or replanting. By replanting a mixture of sizes you will have plenty of sets for next year’s crop and plenty of onions for eating during the year. Potato onions can increase 3- to 8- fold by weight each year depending on growing conditions. Potato onions store better than most seed onions, and individual bulbs can be grown in flower pots to produce a steady supply of green onions during the winter.

The ones I had planted in the back garden didn’t grow as large as on the ones in the front garden. I ended up with a wide variety of sizes, which will be nice for cooking. The ones in the front garden are the largest onions I’ve ever grown here at Chiot’s Run. I’m very impressed with these onions and I’ll definitely be saving a few to plant this fall. These are definitely the nicest onions I’ve ever grown here in my little garden. (I just weighed mine and I planted 8 oz in the fall and harvested almost 3 lbs worth of onions)

I haven’t cooked one yet, but I’ve never met an onion I haven’t liked, so I’m pretty sure these will be great. I’ll be saving a few of the medium sized onions to replant this fall. Once I see how well these store, I may be planting more and more of these each year. They’re quite easy since you overwinter them in the garden; no seed starting or set planting in the spring and they take up a little less space than regular onions since they multiply from the main bulb. One of the things I liked about them was that they were quite beautiful in the garden this spring when they’re growing vigorously. I’ll definitely be trying a few other varieties of shallots and perennials onions in the coming years.

Have you ever grown shallots or potato onions?

42 Comments to “Harvesting Potato Onions”
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mark mile, Susy Morris. Susy Morris said: Harvesting Potato #Onions http://goo.gl/fb/JJktH #edible #perennialonions [...]

    Reply to Tweets that mention growing and harvesting potato onions | Chiot’s Run — Topsy.com's comment

  2. esp on July 7, 2010 at 6:31 am

    This is my first year growing onions. We are also growing the multiplier onions. They are very pretty in the garden — mine are flowering right now and I was just starting to wonder when I should harvest them.

    Lovely pictures!

    Reply to esp's comment

  3. Mike on July 7, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I have never grown potato onions but after seeing yours I want to. I am very surprised at how big they are, it certainly looks as though you have found an onion suited for your gardens.
    Mike´s last post ..Sweet Afilia – Oh what a tangled web you weave

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  4. Turling on July 7, 2010 at 9:46 am

    No shallots or potato onions. Just regular brown onions. I’m guessing these are called potato onions due to how the grow and not how they taste.
    Turling´s last post ..Jerusalem Sage

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  5. risa b on July 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

    I meant to get some this year; they’re not available locally. I could only find them listed 3,000 miles away and they were sold out … :(

    Now that I’ve seen yours, I’ll keep trying! :)
    risa b´s last post ..Goodies- part 4

    Reply to risa b's comment

    • Lee on November 1, 2010 at 8:27 am

      I bought my Potato Onions on e-bay. And a guy from work gave me a handful of the Walking Onions. Just finished planting. In the past I have only grown onions from sets. This summer I built raised beds for my vegetables. I have a smaller separate box for Horse Radish, and Ginger. The Horse Radish plants got very large. The Ginger plants have beautiful leaves. I got the Ginger from the local market.

      Reply to Lee's comment

  6. Amy on July 7, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Last year I bought a little 6″ container of storage onion sets, but I grew so tired of transplanting those little hairlike things that I started planting clumps together. They ended up making lovely green onions, and I got some decent sized onion bulbs out of them, too.

    I had never heard of potato onions before your post. They sound intriguing. I think I’ll try them next year!
    Amy´s last post ..A berry good time

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  7. BRB on July 7, 2010 at 11:36 am

    Do you have any links to places that you can buy these?

    Reply to BRB's comment

  8. Ken Toney on July 7, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for the post. I ordered some potato onions and garlic bulbs from Southern Exposure earlier this summer. They will arrive in time for planting in September. I can’t wait to try them.
    Ken Toney´s last post ..Harvest Meal – June 28- 2010

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  9. Natalie on July 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    These sound interesting! I didn’t have a whole lot of luck with growing onions from seed this year (only 16 survived out of the 144 I planted!). But I like the idea of fall-planting these!
    Natalie´s last post ..Project Runway

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  10. warren on July 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    We can grow those little green onions but we have never been successful in growing anything bigger than that…yours look great!
    warren´s last post ..It’s purple…and huge-

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  11. Miranda on July 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I love my multiplying onions. i planted about 3 handfulls worth last year, and have about 10 times that many now – will have to wait until the end of the year to know the poundage, but i am weighing whenever i harvest. They’re great as greens in the fall, and now bulbs in the late summer. i’l probably plant about a quarter of them and eat the rest.
    Miranda´s last post ..Wholesome Wednesdays- Tomatoes

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  12. MAYBELLINE on July 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    How unusual. I’ve not heard of those. Please follow up with the results of your taste test.
    MAYBELLINE´s last post ..Oh Snap-

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  13. Lynn on July 7, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I have not heard of wintered onions. We grow a lot of onions, garlic, and potatoes here. They do well in our sandy soil and also are not eaten by deer or rabbits. They also store well in our cellar.
    We work our a trade with our neighbor who lives at the bottom of our hill and has a fenced garden in a more moist area. She grows lots of salad stuff. It works out well for us. We have a small fenced area with carrots, beets, chard and a few other things. We planted a lot of peas this year but hardly got any. Last year we had tons of peas. So it goes.
    Lynn´s last post ..Beat the Heat

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  14. Lexa on July 7, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I haven’t ever grown shallots or multiplier onions. Your potato onion look great – and what a bonus to plant them in the Fall and then sit back and forget about them. They must be pretty tough to survive your winters. I am growing a red onion and yellow storage onion this year. They are one of my few crops that really liked our long, wet cool May & June. Thanks for sharing!
    Lexa´s last post ..Tomato Update

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  15. mamaraby on July 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I’ve never heard of potato onions. This is the first year we’ve ever grown any onions at all. The vast majority we’ve just eaten straight from the garden. Boy are they tasty!
    mamaraby´s last post ..So We Begin

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  16. mitch on July 8, 2010 at 3:41 am

    I grow shallots & regular red / brown onions; all store well but I find the shallots store the best for me here in the UK.

    Reply to mitch's comment

  17. fran on January 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    I have been growing potato onions for about 8 years now and they are by far the most successful onion for me to grow. I live at 380 metres in northern Tasmania. What I like best about these onions is so often you only need a small amount of onion, say sandwiches, and a large onion is wasted if not all used. You know the one about an onion absorbing all bad things from the air almost immediately it is cut. The golden potato onion is apparently the original pickling onion, it pickles very well and has a great crunch. I also grow the reddy coloured one. I don’t let them go to seed, harvesting them when they begin to look a bit wilted and the size is right. I plant them mid winter and harvest late december or early january. Good luck. fran

    Reply to fran's comment

    • Jessie - Rabid Little Hippy on May 14, 2013 at 2:17 am

      I’ve just seen these in an Australian plant and seed catalogue and I’m thinking they might be a major goer. :)

      Reply to Jessie – Rabid Little Hippy's comment

  18. The Year of the Allium | Chiot's Run on February 17, 2011 at 4:48 am

    [...] I just purchased a quart of shallots and planted them. I also have Egyptian walking onions and perennial potato onions growing in the garden. Both of them were purchased from Southern Exposure in the fall of 2009. This [...]

    Reply to The Year of the Allium | Chiot’s Run's comment

  19. Jo Levasseur on July 30, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I came upon this site while trying to learn about potato onions. I grow a yellow shallot which keeps successfully til spring, when I replant. The person who gave them to me says they’re better to plant in spring than overwintering in the garden. I also grow Egyptian onions, and a winter-hardy scallion which I got from Johnny’s Seeds of Albion, Maine. The top sets of the Egyptian onions are great whole in some dishes, or smaller ones can be used in soup stock, since you won’t have to peel them for that. The perennial scallions are useful between the time when I thin regular onions and when the regular onions are ready to harvest for storage.
    Are potato onions hardy in zone 4?

    Reply to Jo Levasseur's comment

    • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 9:38 am

      I think potato onions are hardy in zone 4, we live in zone 5 and they do quite well with just a tiny bit of leaf mulch. If you’re worried about them during the winter, mulch well and that will help.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  20. Steven on January 3, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I’ve grown the yellow potato onions for some years now. I’m also a big fan and am looking for more varieties to try out. I have planted them in the fall for overwintering, but typically I plant them in the spring for a somewhat later crop which I store over winter and use mostly in the spring when the leeks are bolting and the scallions are not yet in. I have a fairly extensive blog post about my experience with them here http://turkeysong.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/potato-onions/ If anyone out there has other varieties that they would be willing to trade or something, please contact me. I would like to become a holding bank for potato onion varieties to help insure their survival. I sometimes have enough extra seed that I could be induced to part with a few. The more people growing them the better. I’m always encouraging people to grow them around here.
    Steven´s last post ..How To Grow HUGE ASS LEEKS!!!

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  21. tim miller on July 14, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    I am a Certifieds Organic grower of 2 types of multiplying onion and the Harvey Wilson multiplying leek that because of me is now growing all across the southeast. All 3 have great potentail for small scale farmers and home gardeners. I appreciate SESE for buying them from me and supplying to a wide area of gardeners/farmers.

    Reply to tim miller's comment

  22. Heather K on July 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    This is my first year of growing potato onions. I planted half in the fall and half in the spring. They turned out great. More small than large bulbs, but delicious flavor. We had a mild winter in SC and I harvested the green tops all winter to add to our meals. They also had a flower stalk that came up and I worried it would affect the onions, but it ended up being more like hard-necked garlic, not actually coming out of an onion bulb…but rather, in the middle. I’m not sure if you can eat the flower stalk (like garlic scapes). I saved several to replant this fall. Does anyone know how early they can be planted in SC???

    Reply to Heather K's comment

    • Susy on July 16, 2012 at 8:01 am

      I’d wait and plant them a little later, plant when planting shallots and garlic.

      Reply to Susy's comment

    • Stevene on July 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      Heather: Potato onions are very hardy and have been traditionally fall or winter planted in the South. However, the literature and experience show that they can be planted almost anytime between fall and late spring and still mature a crop. I’m sure that some of this has to do with when you want the crop to mature as early plantings will come in earlier. Providing an early market onion was probably the niche of the potato onion and the increasing industrialization of the food systems may have contributed to its demise by providing larger onions the year round. If you want to know more, I’ve posted a document of historical citations on potato onions mostly from Agricultural publications. It is pretty long, but there is a lot of good stuff in there about growing potato onions in the South. In colder areas the onions were often still fall planted, but they were hilled up to cover them slightly until spring when they were uncovered again which is how they prefer to grow, i.e. on top of the soil. The research I’m talking about can be read here http://turkeysong.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/402/ I would plant some in the fall and some in the winter to see what happens for a few years until you gain more confidence to plant in the fall every year, but I think it will be Ok. Are you planting the Yellow potato onions? Curious that they went to seed. I had overwintered ones go to seed this year, but I’m not sure that was the only factor. You might try planting the seed and making new varieties as Kelly Winterton has done. I grew his Green Mountain Multiplier this year and it seems great! Much larger than the old stock of Yellow Potato Onions.
      Stevene´s last post ..to Some 19th Century References on Biochar Use in Europe and America

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      • Stevene on July 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm

        Oh, and it really does make a difference to plant small onions for larger ones and larger onions to make smaller ones. Various strategies and tweaks are employed to this end, including planting large bulbs close together to produce a crop of small onions for the next year’s seed.
        Stevene´s last post ..to Some 19th Century References on Biochar Use in Europe and America

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      • Heather K on July 25, 2012 at 8:45 pm

        Thanks, Stevene…I appreciate all the info! especially the last comment…I didn’t know that about the small and big ones. I planted a bit in the fall last year and a bit in the spring. the fall ones actually did much better. They were yellow ones. I cut the stalk before it turned into seed, afraid it would ruin the onions (like regular ones) but after harvesting, I realized the stalk came up the middle, not out of an onion (like hardneck garlic scapes do). So these will turn into seeds??? Cool! I’ll let ‘em go next time. My main concern for planting is I harvested early because our weather has been mild and I was afraid they wouldn’t last until the fall. By what I’ve read, I guess they should make it (seems they’re the longest storing onions???). Again, thanks for the help.

        to Heather K's comment

      • Stevene on July 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm

        I ran across the idea of deliberately producing seed onions in my research. I think one source mentioned planting large bulbs at a close spacing and/or in poor soil to make small sets. I sorted the smallest of my sets out carefully last year and they really did make fewer, but larger onions.

        When you say that your Fall planted onions did better, what do you mean?

        If you plant the seed there is no saying what you’ll end up with. Kelly Winterton ended up with different colors and all the onions are larger than the old Yellow Potato Onion stock. I wouldn’t be surprised if some seeds throw back to a more regular type of onion, or one that flowers easily. Mine have only flowered twice in probably 10 years or so. This year I was trying to get them to flower on purpose, but in general, I think their reluctance to flower is an asset that should be retained in breeding. Growing the seed out to see what you get is somewhat of a longer term proposition. They will only grow into one onion the first year and then that can be replanted to see what you get the second year as far as division goes.

        Many old sources say that potato onions do not keep well. Others, like myself, have always noted that they keep very well. I have some on my counter from last summer’s harvest. they are trying to grow, but they are very much intact. They were not store carefully either. I don’t understand the discrepancy between that experience and the older accounts.

        Here is a link to Kelly’s potato onion pages https://sites.google.com/site/kellysgarden/potato-onions
        Stevene´s last post ..to Some 19th Century References on Biochar Use in Europe and America

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      • Heather K on July 27, 2012 at 10:21 pm

        Thanks again for the info…I ordered my potato onions from a catalog and the instructions said plant some in fall and some in spring to safeguard against losing the whole thing if the fall ones failed. (first time planting them so that is what I did). The fall ones are the ones that flowered. The spring-planted ones had the tops die back first and had fewer/smaller onions…the fall-planted ones did much better with more/some larger onions. We had a VERY mild winter in SC don’t know if that had anything to do with it. Also, don’t know if I “encouraged” the flowering since I cut greens all winter to add to our meals. (??) I’m glad they seem to keep a long time. I harvested mine in late May/early June (everything was early here this year) so I was hoping they’d last until fall planting. We already ate the big ones so I’ll just be planting littler ones this time. I appreciate all the help.

        to Heather K's comment

    • Bob on June 15, 2014 at 10:53 am

      I live in Newberry S.C. but a lady in Pikeville KY. gave me some onion bulbs she called Winter onions.They look like Potato Onions that I have found on the internet.
      I will be moving to Ohio when ever my home here sells. Can I store these cluster of bulbs until winter. or should I plant there here at home now.

      Thanks

      Reply to Bob's comment

  23. Ed Tieman on September 14, 2012 at 9:57 am

    My brother planted 6 3 years ago and his bed is not 10 feet by 3 feet and he lived in Eagar Az at 7,000 foot elevation. While I was there this summer I got some starts from him, just the bulbs. After 3 weeks they have growen 10 inches. It will be interesting to see the results this coming spring. I mixed half and half Miricial Grow and soil. I have also prepared a second bed for another bunch that he is sending me.

    Ed

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  24. Ed Tieman on September 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Update

    The 20th of Aug I planted about a half dozen and already most of them are 12 inches tall. We are lucky for them because of our very late summer.

    Right now I am waiting for my Egyptian Onions to arrive I am very intregred in how they grow much like the Potatoes. From what I have read they will grow from 2 to 3 feet tall. That should be interesting.

    Ed Tieman

    I did take the time to rework and loosen the soil for them. I plan on staking a couple of them so they will not break over just to see how the tops grow.

    Reply to Ed Tieman's comment

  25. jim eenigenburg on May 1, 2013 at 9:41 am

    where can I get bulbs for seed. I have grown the (Egyptian) onion that gets the set seeds at the top. they are winter hardy here in north eastern Illinois.

    Reply to jim eenigenburg's comment

    • Susy on May 1, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      Southern Exposure has them.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  26. Ed Tieman on May 6, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Stevene.

    I have several Potato Onions and it appears that they are gowing to flower. This is my first time growing them. Of all the photos I have seen of them I have yet to see any like mine. I got my sets from my brother when I was there last summer and none of his look like mine. The sets I got from him were full grown bulbs about inch and a half to two inches in diamater. That was last August.

    Most of the stems have these buldges about an inch and longer. The diamaters very from stem to stem.

    Reply to Ed Tieman's comment

  27. Ed Tieman on May 6, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    If anyone want photos.

    be188e@yahoo.com

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  28. Ed Tieman on May 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    On my Potato Onions there is a gray dusty mold and black spots. What can I do

    Reply to Ed Tieman's comment

  29. Ed Tieman on May 30, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Question on my Potato Onion. I have one that grew to about 30 inches then a white shell appeared on top then a green shoot came from it. Now the stem is about 36 inches tall. I do have it staked just to see how tall it would grow. Now on some of my others it appears that there is several shoots coming out like the Egyption Onions that I have seen in Photos. I do know they are Potato Onions cause I got them from my brother, they were clumpt together like the ones I have seen in photos.

    I don’t know if I planted them to deep about an inch below the surface or because of the extream wet season. Though they all have an interesting growth which is different from what I have seen in several photos. From what I have read they do get around 24 inches tall.

    Reply to Ed Tieman's comment

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