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The Year of the Allium

February 17th, 2011

Every time I purchase onions at the farmer’s market I think about how I need to grow more in my garden. I do grow onions, they’re usually small in size because our soil is very lean and I don’t grow near enough to fulfill our love of onions. This winter I’ve been spending some time reading about other options to regular bulbing onions to fill my onion needs throughout the year. The key will be coming up with a variety of alliums that would be ready for harvest at various times throughout the year. I need to learn to think outside the bulb onion box if I want to grow most of the onions we eat.

Of course there are leeks, I planted some last fall, but they weren’t big enough going in to winter. Leeks are a great fall and winter source of onion flavor if you can get the timing right and grow the right cold tolerant variety. These are some lovely leeks I saw in Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Garden last October when I visited. (since people are always asking about the varieties I grow and where I get my seeds from I’ll be listing them below).

These are the different leeks that I’m going to try growing this year. Some of them are seeded in my basement seed starting area already, some will be seeded this summer for fall harvest.

Tadorna Leek – A vigorous grower producing a medium-length white shaft and contrasting, upright, very dark blue-green foliage. Holds in the field for fall into winter harvest, and overwinters where winter cold is moderate. Resistant to leaf diseases. This variety is recommended by Eliot Coleman. Source: Johnny’s Selected

Bleu of Solaise – A 19th century French leek with deep blue-green leaves that have a violet cast in cool weather; in cool weather they excel, being very cold hardy. This good-sized variety is finely flavored and a favorite of European gourmet gardeners and chefs, but hard to find in this country. Source: Baker Creek

Carentan Leek – Long, thick (2 inches across); vigorous and fast growing; delicate, deliciously mild flavor; great fresh or cooked. The Carentan leek was mentioned by Vilmorin in 1885. An old European favorite that is becoming rare. Very adaptable and yields are good. Source: Baker Creek

Primor French Baby Leeks – First quality French hybrid especially developed for sweetness and tender texture to use as babies. Fast maturing for summer harvests. Superior flavor to domestic varieties. Source: Renee’s Garden

In the spring I’m planning for scallions and bunching onions, these should help fill the space between the end of the leeks and bulb onions until shallots and spring leeks are ready to harvest. I’m actually growing one kind of scallion and two different varieties of bunching onions:

‘Evergreen Hardy White Bunching‘ onions – Sow in spring for summer use or sow in fall for overwintering. Little or no bulbing. If your winters are severe, this is the one to grow. May be handled as a perennial by dividing the clumps the second summer to produce a new crop. Source: Johnny’s Selected

‘Red Welch’ – (Allium fistulosum) Super-hardy bunching onion that originated in northern China or Siberia, despite its name. Grown for its thick green stems and hollow leaves which possess a sharp onion flavor. This perennial never forms a bulb in the garden; once established, new plants can be raised by replanting the abundant side-shoots. May be blanched like leeks by earthing up the thick stems as the plants grow. Widely employed in the cuisines of Japan, Taiwan, and China. This crop is also grown among the Welsh, hence its name. Easy to grow and productive once established. Source:Baker Creek

Delicious Duo Salad Scallions – Our unique and handsome blend of Red Robin and Green Feast scallions bred for color, quality, heat tolerance and disease resistance. Source: Renee’s Garden

I planted ‘Evergreen Hardy White’ onions late last fall in my plastic covered raised bed. They seem to be doing well and should provide a nice early onion for cooking. They’re exceptionally cold hardy, of course you’ll hear about it when I harvest them and get a full report of how they did growing throughout the winter.

Shallots are also a great source, they’re planted in the fall like garlic and harvested the following summer. I planted some shallots this past fall, I can’t wait see how they produce. I’ve never grown them before so I’m interested in their size and length of storage. I sourced my shallots from Local Roots market, 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 fall I’m expecting to get some of their perennial leeks to add to my allium collection. The egyptian walking onions are just getting established so I haven’t harvested any of them yet, but I’m looking forward to eating a few to see what they’re like. The potato onions are really great, I really like them. They grow well for me in my lean soil, it’s nice that you plant sets in the fall and harvest in spring. They don’t store as long as other onions, but they fill the gap between green and bulbing onions.

Of course I have a few varieties of bulbing onions as well that will be growing in my garden this year:

Yellow Sweet Spanish Onion – These golden onions produce fruit up to 1 lb (16 oz.) and their great flavor lasts longer than most other varieties. Yellow Sweet Spanish onions are gardeners’ favorites because they grow quickly without much effort. You will be able to harvest your onions less than four months after planting. Source: Sand Hill Preservation

Borettana Cipollini – Gourmet Italian. Small, flat yellow onions. Shaped much like a button. A long day type with average storage ability of around 4 months. Mild well developed flavor. These flattened little onions are sought after for their distinct sweet taste. They command a high price at specialty markets. Small size 1-3 inches in diameter by 1 inch depth. For pickling, grilling and in salads. A good onion for colder climates. Comes out firm, stores well. Fills the gap between winter-stored onions and the early new ones. Source: Sand Hill Preservation

Yellow of Parma – Large, golden onions are oblong-globe shaped. This late onion makes an excellent keeper; a rare and hard-to-find Italian variety. Source: Baker Creek

Stuttgarter Onion – A tasty old favorite that sets medium-large, yellow onions with a good, pungent flavor. This variety is among the best keepers and produces well. Plant some of these for winter eating and store them clear through to next spring. Source: Baker Creek

Juane Paille des Vertes – Introduced about 1793, this old onion is now hard to find. It is also called Brown Spanish by French seed house Vilmorin; in 1885 they said, “The winter supply of Paris and of a great part of Europe consists chiefly of this variety, which may be often seen hanging up in dwelling-houses in long hanks formed by interlacing and plaiting the withered leaves together.” The roots are flattened and 3-4 inches across; the skin is a brownish yellow and the flesh is flavorful. This antique is known for its keeping qualities that made it a standard in Europe for over 200 years. Source: Baker Creek

All of these bulbing onions are currently seeded and growing nicely in the basement seed starting area. No doubt some of these will not do well, others will thrive, I’ll keep you posted on the how they all do. The only thing I’m worried about is finding enough space in the garden for all of these lovely alliums. WHEW – hope that’s not too much information for you!

Do you grow onions? How many different kinds of alliums do you grow?

23 Comments to “The Year of the Allium”
  1. Mich on February 17, 2011 at 6:19 am

    I’m afraid I take a easier route and buy onion sets to plant in spring, usually a white onion such as ‘Sturton’ which stores well and a red onion ‘Red Baron’.
    I also grow shallots ‘Golden Gourmet’, red and white spring onions; also try to grow at least 2 types of leeks one to use early on and then a good long standing variety.

    I never grow enough onions, seems to be the more I grow the more I use! :)

    Reply to Mich's comment

  2. Ken Toney on February 17, 2011 at 7:46 am

    I also started my onions from seed, although I don’t believe I could ever grow enough onions for our use. I have Bronze d’Amposta, Red of Florence, Tropeana Lunga, and Yellow of Parma onions, as well as Carentan Leeks under lights right now. I plan to move them outside next week under a cold frame. The spring is turning out to be nice and mild here in West Virginia, so I think they will grow better in the cold frame than inside.

    I also started perennial leeks, potato onions and Egyptian walking onions last fall. I purchased them from Southern Exposure. I can’t wait to try them. I forgot to buy shallots last fall. They’ll be missed.

    Reply to Ken Toney's comment

  3. Sense of Home on February 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

    We grow onions, but space is limited so we haven’t tried leeks or shallots. We go through so many onions in a year that the ones I grow only last about a month. I would need the whole garden planted in onions to satisfy out need.


    Reply to Sense of Home's comment

  4. louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife on February 17, 2011 at 9:07 am

    We use a lot of bulbing onions too – but I don’t grow them. We have very limited bed space and can source good (local and/or organic) onions relatively easily so I prefer to use our small space for other things.

    I do though have a couple of pots of spring onions (scallions to you guys) because they don’t take up a lot of time or space, and I have some leeks on the go too, as well as chives for salads.

    We also forage a lot of wild garlic – Allium ursinum – aka Ramsons/bear garlic/wood garlic. If that wasn’t so prolific in the woodland around here, we’d grow it because it’s so yummy!

    Reply to louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife's comment

  5. Andrea on February 17, 2011 at 9:16 am

    I grow some. I’ll buy some plants this spring from Berlin seed. I’ve also got a good sized patch of egyptian walking onions. They’re already coming up. I’ve also started some bunching onions under the lights. This will be my first time trying them.

    Reply to Andrea's comment

  6. Daedre Craig on February 17, 2011 at 9:49 am

    I haven’t gotten in to growing onions much. They are so incredibly cheap to buy at the grocery store (and I don’t use that many of them), that I can’t justify taking up precious garden space for them.

    However, I have grown green onions from sets for the last decade. They have to be one of the easiest things to grow! I also tried shallots a couple years ago, but the never sized-up. I’ve added garlic to my garden the last two years and it has been great. Garlic is yet another thing that is super cheap to purchase at the grocery store, but I’m about 100% sure that it’s shipped in from clear across the country.

    Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

  7. Dave on February 17, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Lots of great information! My onion crops will be much more modest than yours but I’m interested in seeing how all of your varieties will do. I’m a big fan of shallots and I purchased about 80 small red onion seed bulbs the other day. I need to get those started in the garden soon!

    Reply to Dave's comment

  8. Anne on February 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I’ve never of potato onions, but they sound really cool. I’ve wanted the walking onions for awhile now. I’ll be waiting to see how this project goes for you. As for my onions, I’ve tried to grow onions and didn’t get far. One year I forgot to dig them back up and last I think the tiny sprouts got munched.

    Reply to Anne's comment

  9. Kelly on February 17, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I tried last year for the first time to abject failure. This year I’m a bit smarter and trying harder so hopefully I’ll get *some*thing. I’ve got Yellow of Parma, Flat of Italy, Giant Musselburgh leeks, Tokyo Long and He Shi Ko bunching onions. I’ll be seeding them next week. From last year’s failure I did get a few tiny starts that I’ll plant when the seedlings go out, just to see if they do anything interesting. I don’t have a lot of space, and like you we eat a lot of onions, so I don’t think I’ll ever grow enough to supply all our needs, but it’s an interesting new thing to try. I’ve thought about perennial onions for a while. Maybe this fall I’ll find a spot to put them.

    Reply to Kelly's comment

  10. MAYBELLINE on February 17, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Flat of Italy, He-Shi-Ko Bunching, Jaune Pailles Des Vertus,White Lisbon Bunching,Yellow of Parma

    How can you go wrong? A packet of seeds is so very inexpensive so you pretty much risk nothing.

    I’ve never thought of starting onions indoors. I only start tomatoes that way (and a little lettuce this winter). Everything else is sown in place with excellent results.

    Good luck. How about sharing a recipe for onion bread?

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

    • Susy on February 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      I agree, a pack of seeds is so inexpensive, why not give it a go?

      Reply to Susy's comment

  11. Angela on February 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    We frequently cook with onions but have never grown them. We’re going to try this year, though. My husband just brought home a small bag of bulbs, not sure what variety.

    Good luck with your leeks! It’s fun to try growing new things. I hope they do well. I love that last picture of your onion bulbs. It’s so exciting to see those green sprouts coming out of the soil!

    Reply to Angela's comment

  12. Sarah on February 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I love the taste of home grown leeks, so much sweeter than the ones from the supermarket and much cheaper.
    My daughter lives in Switzerland and sent me some Swiss onion seeds. The onions are red and yellow, small and flat and great keepers. In early winter decorative, bi-colour braids of them are available in all the Swiss supermarkets.
    BTW I am of Welsh extraction and know the Welsh love their leeks but often when a plant has the word Welsh in the name it means foreign rather than from Wales. I am guessing Welsh onions are foreign onions.

    Reply to Sarah's comment

  13. Lynda on February 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    I’m very lucky…my husband is a commercial onion seed grower…but I do grow leeks, shallots, Yellow of Parma and 50 sets of an unk yellow and 50 sets of an unk red in my garden.

    Reply to Lynda's comment

  14. Louise on February 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I started my Allium seeds weeks ago in our garage under growing lights. 150 Yellow of Parma, 150 Brunswick Red Onion, Garlic Chives, and a 150 Bunching Onions.

    The Yellow and Reds have been hardening off outside in one of our hoop-houses for the last 2 weeks and were transplanted into our raised beds yesterday (covered with a hoop-house and blanket at night.) I checked the transplants this morning and they are doing wonderful.

    The Garlic Chives and Bunching Onions are not established enough to transplant yet. I love Bunching Onions. I harvest the tops throughout the whole year and dry them in the oven and use the dried version in soups and sauces. It really works as an alternative to the regular onion.

    Garlic had been planted mid/late October before the Winter Solstice. This allows the tops to grow before the real WInter weather moves in, and when covered with a hoop-house the tops can be harvested throughout the WInter. Great in salads, soups, and sauces.

    Reply to Louise's comment

  15. KimP on February 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I do grow onions and almost enough for our family of 4. I have grown Purplette onions for earlier in the year. My favorite, though, is Copra onions from Territorial seed. They store a very long time so I rarely buy onions (which we use almost every day).

    Reply to KimP's comment

    • Susy on February 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      I’ve heard lots of good things about ‘Copra’ and was considering buying some sets from Johnny’s. I’ll have to grow them next year if I don’t this year.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  16. goatpod2 on February 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    We’ve never grown onions here before. We use dried leeks in a lot of stuff.


    Reply to goatpod2's comment

  17. Andrea on February 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I always plant a 100 or so spring onion bulbs and also plant a variety called Candy. Like you, my onions don’t get really big, but these have done well for me. I get them from Dixondale as plants.

    Reply to Andrea's comment

    • Susy on February 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm

      I know a few farmer’s locally that grow ‘Candy’ onions, they’re quite popular from what I hear. I’ll have to add them to my list.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  18. leanne on February 19, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I too am trying to grow as many onions as possible this year. Unfortunately I am away from my garden a lot in the summer (work related travel) and it gets a bit neglected, so my goal this year was to plant crops that need less maintenance (sorry tomatoes!). I’m planting a lot of onions, dry beans and potatoes so that I can have a good portion of those supplied for our winter use, and so that I won’t cry every time I come home to find tomatoes rotting on the vine!

    So far I’ve started the following onions: Red Globe, Bedfordshire, Walla Walla and Sweet Spanish, as well as Durabel Leeks. I plan on ordering Copra onions and another leek (whose name escapes me at the moment) and a type of Shallot which I’ve never attempted before. I’ll also be planting some green bunching onions for fresh use. I’ve started 48 plants so far but am trying to stagger the plantings and keep them well documented so I know when the optimum seed starting time will be for the future. We’re also expanding our tiny yard garden (my lot is 25′ x 15′ of yard!) into my brother’s ranch yard so I’ll be trying some there, although I think the soil will need a lot of work the first few seasons. I look forward to hearing about your results!

    Reply to leanne's comment

  19. Denise on March 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I was inspired to try growing onions from seed last year after reading your blog and also the reference made to it in my “Lasagna Gardening” book. However, I lost almost all of my seedlings to damping off last year. But I believe I’ve learned some good things to prevent that now.

    My question is how you sow your onion seeds in your flats for growing indoors? Last year I tried putting one onion seed in each cell of a growing tray, but in your pictures it always looks like you have more of a clustered look to your onion seedlings. Any info would be helpful.

    As always, appreciate your blog and your sharing.

    Reply to Denise's comment

    • Susy on March 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm

      Dampening off is usually caused by too much water. Make sure you let your seedlings dry out in between waterings. Also I’ve read watering with chamomile helps.

      I usually seed a few seeds per cell, and I simply take them apart to plant them. I find that onions don’t mind the extra handling like some other plants do (like cucumbers, beans, peas and corn). I have seen that some people seed their onions in flats filled with soil not in separate pots or cells. I also water my seedlings with some light fish emulsion every 2-3 weeks.

      Reply to Susy's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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