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Alternative Alliums for Your Plate

June 22nd, 2012

Many of us have small gardens and would never be able to grow all the bulb onions we use in a year. We can supplement those bulb onions with other alliums, it’s especially helpful if they can be grown during the off seasons and throughout the winter. Over the past couple years I’ve been adding a couple alternative alliums to the garden to fill our plates.

Leeks are a perfect stand-in for onions in winter and spring. After growing them once I wondered why I had never grown them before. I planted them in late summer and overwintered them in the garden. They were harvested throughout the winter and on into spring. It was the perfect way to supplement the storage onions. They are perfect for growing in fall/winter/spring and are quite tasty used like regular onions. If you’ve never grown leeks in the garden before I’d highly recommend giving them a try. Seeds are available from a variety of sources.

Potato Onions are planted in fall like garlic and are harvested around this time. If you plant a large onion they turn into lots of smaller onions, if you plant smaller ones they turn into large potato onions. You save onions from the previous year to replant in the fall. These onions are nice because you don’t have to buy seed, sets or plants after your initial purchase.  These are nice because they’re ready much earlier than the bulging onions you plant in the garden.  Shallots are very similar to potato onions, only they’re more mild.   (source: Southern Exposure)

Bunching Onions are hardy onions and are harvested and used as scallions or green onions. I planted ‘Japanese White Bunching’ a few years ago and have been letting them bunch for the past couple years. I harvest them all winter long, there’s nothing like having green onions to use in the middle of winter.  It would definitely be worth adding a small patch of hardy bunching onions to your garden. This year I added another variety called ‘Red Welsh’ and I can’t wait to try them this fall.  (source: Japanese Bunching from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Red Welsh Bunching onion from Baker Creek)

Perennial Leeks produce small bulbs and tiny leeks from the base of the main leek plant. They’re like regular leeks only smaller with a bulbous end and you don’t need to start seeds for them each year.  To propagate, you dig up the main leeks and replant the small bulbs that form around it (kind of like garlic). My initial planting of perennial leeks last year so I didn’t harvest any this spring for eating, I wanted them to multiply as much as possible. As a result, I have a nice crop of small leeks, I’ll be digging them up shortly to replant for fall/winter/spring harvests. (source: Southern Exposure)

Egyptian Walking Onions are harvested like green onions. Besides the bunching onions, they’re the earliest onions harvested each spring. They reproduce by forming little bulblets on top of the plant. The main leaf then falls over and the little bulblets produce a small bunch of onions, thus they “walk” around the garden. I started these onions a few years ago and I’ve been working on establishing a good sized patch of them since they multiply so readily and are so easy.
It’s no wonder Thomas Jefferson grew these at Monticello! (source: Southern Exposure)

It’s been really interesting researching all these different varieties of alliums and growing them in the garden. They definitely make it much easier to produce a larger percentage of the food that we eat. The thing I like most about all of these is that they produce fresh harvests during those times of the year that you’re really craving something fresh!

Do you grow any alternative alliums? Which ones? Any great advice? If not, which one do you think you’d like to try first?

11 Comments to “Alternative Alliums for Your Plate”
  1. Rhonda on June 22, 2012 at 6:25 am

    I’ve never grown leeks before so now I’m thinking I’ll be giving those a try — those and the walking onions. Thanks!!

    Reply to Rhonda's comment

  2. Mich on June 22, 2012 at 8:19 am

    I always grow leeks a early variety and a hardier long standing variety.
    I used the last ones only last month!
    This spring I planted Ciboule (welsh onion) Red Skinned to try, its a perennial bunching onion.

    Reply to Mich's comment

  3. Mrs. Mac on June 22, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Great information and links .. thanks!

    Reply to Mrs. Mac's comment

  4. angie h on June 22, 2012 at 9:53 am

    So it isn’t too late to plant some of these? I have only ever planted onion “sets” and not seeds. I would like to get some seeds for some of these varieties and plant this year if it isn’t too late!

    Reply to angie h's comment

    • Susy on June 22, 2012 at 11:33 am

      I probably depends on which zone you’re in. Probably for the north it might be a little late for actual bulb onion seeds. These types of alliums they’re planted in fall so you’re ahead. You can purchase the bulbs/sets/seeds for Egyptian Walking Onions, Perennial Leeks, Potato Onions and Bunching onions now and plant them in Sept for a spring/early summer harvest next year. You can always try planting some bulb onions seeds or sets (I actually just planted some sets last week). If they don’t size up you’ll at least have a lot of green onions to use.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  5. Maybelline on June 22, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Onions are always present in the garden. I find the most success with seeds.

    Reply to Maybelline's comment

  6. Rick on June 22, 2012 at 11:37 am

    So a couple of questions for you Susy. 1. Do you plant your leeks in the summer directly from seeds in the garden, or do you start the seeds indoors first? 2. I have some walking onions that I picked up some where a couple of seasons ago. I don’t know when to harvest them or what part to harvest. Do you eat the little bulbs on the ends or do you wait for them to fall over and root and then eat the bulbs that were the “parent” plant?

    Reply to Rick's comment

    • Susy on June 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      I usually start seeds indoors because I don’t have the space for them directly in the garden. I do want to experiment with starting them in the garden. Since the soil is warm germination would be better than in the spring. I’ve seen where some people seed them very thickly then when they’re about the length of a pencil they replant them deeply elsewhere in the garden.

      As for Walking Onions you can harvest them as green onions early in the spring when they’re small or you can harvest the little bulbs later in the season and use them as tiny onions. Once the bulls start to form the main onion get a little tough for eating.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Rick on June 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm

        Thanks Suzy!!

        to Rick's comment

  7. KimH on June 23, 2012 at 9:21 am

    You’re a font of information Suzy.. Thanks for sharing it, as always.

    Reply to KimH's comment

  8. C Scott Henningsen C on August 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    AWESOME post and many thanks for it! between your blog and another who posted about potato onions, youve won me over im getting some! and your blog has me wanting perenial leeks! as i have egyptian walking onions already

    Thanks again and god bless

    Reply to C Scott Henningsen C's comment


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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