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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?

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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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