Why do you grow walking (top setting) onions?

wertach zone 7-B SCAugust 13, 2012

I have grown them on and off over the years. IMHO They take up a lot of time and space for what you get in return.

I'm thinking of not replanting them this fall. Can anyone talk me out of it? LOL

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Would not try. Strictly a novelty for me. However they are perennials and in a dedicated bed. I will clean them out and reset every couple of years.Not much time is devoted to them and they will grow unattended like a weed for years.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 5:46PM
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gemini_jim(7 MD)

Of course it's your call, but how much space and time can they really take up? ;-)

They've been part novelty for me too, and food has been a side benefit. If I didn't eat them I'd probably still keep a few around.

I'm actually looking in the opposite direction, at maximizing production, especially of topsets. They store for months and aren't too much work to peel if you blanch them first. I had some this year that were over an inch across, and quite worth the peeling effort IMO.

I've had bumper crops of green onions from them when I've taken the time to harvest in the early spring. The ground bulbs are nice while they last too, but may be best for replanting.

Like farmerdill said, if you leave them alone they take care of themselves. But if you manage things right I think you can get a lot out of them. We shall see...

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 11:43AM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

Yep, it's "Strictly a novelty" for me too. I'm thinking about making a bed on the "back 40" for them and let them do what they want to do, weeds and all. Maybe go by and check them every once in a while and get what ever they have to offer.

Jim, I have put a lot of time in, trying to keep the weeds out. I have a bad problem with pig weed and Bermuda grass. I try to keep the weeds down in my main garden so that they don't spread as much. It's not really a space problem since I have 10 acres. I have one acre dedicated to the main garden. I rotate it with cover crops and move 1/3rd acre at a time.

I'm thinking I should transplant about OCT. in zone 7b SC? Correct me if I'm wrong, please!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 3:37PM
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gemini_jim(7 MD)

Oh you do weeding? Seriously though, if you don't mind the weeds neither will the walking onions; they just won't get as big.

I'm a bit of a pigweed fan myself. It's a great accumulator crop, pulling minerals from deep in the soil. Also cucumber beetles love it and leave other plants alone. When it gets tall I chop it down and use the tops for mulch. Hoeing and mulching in the spring when the seed starts to germinate should really cut down its impact. From May to September, any patch of bare soil will start sprouting pigweed around here!

Bermuda grass OTOH I can do without!

Yeah, October is fine for transplanting the onions. Really anytime between now and early spring. If you wait til then you can transplant and harvest green onions at the same time.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 7:41AM
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wertach zone 7-B SC

Thanks Jim

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 12:01PM
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I grow heritage sweet white which supposedly was from an old homestead in Florida and I would not be without this strain. It is much milder than typical egyptions I have grown in the past and makes great scallions from fall through spring. The tops mostly die back during the heat of summer and then I use the underground bulbs for cooking. Again these are not as strong as typical types and are very good chopped and cooked with something like summer squash where you dont need a huge amount. They have great flavor though they are only around 1 - 2 inches across. Though I have never done this these underground bulbs would be exceptional pickled as they are just the right size. This strain also multiplies quicker than any other I have seen. I do not use the topsets but they of course could be used. Any underground bulbs left in the ground during the summer will send up loads of scallions in late summer or fall.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 4:53PM
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I have grown nesting/top set onions for 3 years & garlic for one year. I did try red sets from Walmart 4 years ago, not good return.
Farmerdill & gemini jim, you do not weed??
I use the larger top sets for pickling, the wife use the green tops in salad. We eat the larger bulbs.
I am going to try 3 or 4 kinds of large onions this year, but I will keep the nesting/ top set.
I do a grass clipping mulch to keep the weeds down on my perennial beds & dig the Bahia grass out when I add compost.
Seems to work well, if I was not a organic gardener I would round up the whole 2 acres & be done with the perennial grasses.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 10:35AM
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No I pretty much leave them to their own devices.I clean them out and reset every year or so. It is a perennial bed, not bother too much with grass, but Carolina Moonvine does move in periodically. I don't like the taste very much, much prefer the flavor of wild onions and I have a field of those, if I have a need for strong green onions.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:10PM
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gemini_jim(7 MD)

I mulch with straw and grass clippings and weed when I have a chance. I know the more care they get the more productive they will be, but it's nice to know they are still hanging in there even if I don't get to them.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 8:00AM
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my 2 cents, which probably aint worth 2 cents. i have them out in my wildflower field that i planted for my bees. i dont use the greens much, but do pull some bulbs and scallions, and my favorite is the topsets before they mature. no peeling, not very strong, i go out each fall and gather up all of the "heads" before i mow the field so i can throw em around (the mowere does a number on em) i have also planted very dense clumps of them where they are not very happy and they make a pretty interesting display. ive wedged them into fairly heavy shade in a rockpile, they thrive and look even goofier than when happy

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 7:47PM
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lorabell NC(8)

Topset onions are my absolute favorite. If I had to grow only one type, this would be it. There is no other onion that I can get fresh onions from all year around, no work, no expense.

I use some of the large topsets as pearl for pickling and boiling, and leave the others to dry. I then scatter the dryed tops in a seperate bed and have fresh young onions for months.

I am thining out the bed this Fall by using some of the ground bulbs that have split like scallions. Again, have been eating these for over a month and they just keep on splitting and growing...an endless supply for all my cooking.

I don't have to worry about storage, they just stay in the ground till I need them. I just couldn't imagine getting rid of them...go figure.

I have red that are strong tasting and a mild white that I use the most....
Love, love, my egytian onions!ha

I have mine in my Herb garden(which I have divided into about 50 seperate sections) in about a 2 ft by 4 ft contained area. No weeds allowed. I have the red in a seperate section....never even considered using them for decoration!

Did I mention they're my favorite onion.

1 Like    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 12:49PM
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loomis(Z6a Western MA)

I use them mainly as green onions. They're about the first things to sprout in the spring and this is when they are at their best--sweet and hot. I just keep cutting them off at ground level and they keep sprouting back. When the tops form onions and drop to the ground in mid to late summer, I am again rewarded with even more green onions. When they begin to spread too much, the surplus ends up in my compost pile.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 11:56PM
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rxkeith(z5 MI)

they are a no brainer onion for me. i haven't figured out growing onions from seed consistently well yet. my catawissas
are my onion crop this year. multiple small bulbs grew from each top set planted. i am very happy with the harvest. i'll grow them every year.


    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 11:44PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I am very, very, very happy with my walking onions. Somebody mentioned them on a forum here, and I checked on Ebay. Spring is not the best time, but I bought a few rooted starts, and did they ever take off! Wow! One already has rooted a bulb head already, and I love the way they walk!

Except for one little thing... Some creature stepped on the one with the head, broke it half off on it's way to decimate a baby fig tree!! It snapped that fig off, and left the onion broken, so I just cut it off, buried the bulbs, and they are happy as little clams all growing.

The good news is, a fig tree is not easy to kill, and that little baby has bounced back bigger than it was. It's now protected with a chicken wire fence!

I harvest the onions and use them like green onions in salads and as garnish for Mexican or Chinese dishes. They are delish!!

Did I mention I hate rabbits?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 3:28PM
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Because it's easy?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 3:40PM
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yeah, because they are easy. And as noted there are different types with different eating qualities.
Did I mention how easy (and so how dependable) they are....

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 9:45PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

They are awesome! No brainer. Stick them in. They grow. Cut, they just keep growing. xoxoxoxooooooooo

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 10:01PM
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Years back, we lived in the "Siberia of the South" in the Southern Appalachians.One winter morning the mercury was all the way down in the thermometer bulb, below the minus 32F degree line. The Egyptian onions all survived just fine.That's why I grew them.There are better tasting onions out there, but nothing hardier that I know of.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 5:11PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

I have to admit, if I lived in the milder climate of the original poster - where potato onions are a better choice - I probably wouldn't grow walking onions.

But in my neck of the woods, potato onions are not hardy enough to be reliable. Walking onions are. We had a bitterly cold Winter, and a very wet Spring. Over half of my Fall-planted garlic died... yet the walking onions are just as healthy as in normal years. They are insanely hard to kill, and thrive on neglect.

Personally, I love the walking onion scallions. They are the first fresh vegetable from the garden each year, often while we are still getting snow showers. After a period of dormancy, they sprout again in the Fall... at which time they are also the last fresh vegetable, long after the first frost.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 11:08PM
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Potato onions both white and yellow do well in Zone 4. I got braids as long as your arm to prove it, too. The topsets augment them or is it vice versa, and I also grow garlic and yellow and red cooking and slicing onions. What I use at any one time depends on what is available and what I feel like at any given time.

For those who don't especially like the taste of what they have there are a number of different types just like there are for all the other alliums and the tastes between the different types of top sets vary, too.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 11:53PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"Potato onions both white and yellow do well in Zone 4. I got braids as long as your arm to prove it, too."

OldDutch, I take it that you plant potato onions in the Spring? Planted in the Fall here (along with my garlic) the winter kill was severe - over 50%. I've tried Spring planting, and had better survival, but the bulbs were smaller.

Over the years, though, I've collected two hardier nesting onions that can be Fall planted - one of which began as a seedling of Catawissa walking onions. The bulbs are smaller than traditional potato onions, so I hope to breed them with other onions to increase their size.

We really should chat off line... it sounds like we both have a lot of alliums & could have a good trade. The walking onion sets (5 kinds) are almost mature, I've collected seed from two bunching onions, and the nesting onions are curing. I'd be very interesting in your white potato onions.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 3:10PM
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The yellows that I got from Jungs last fall, I planted last fall. Every set came though the winter. Kelly's Green Mountain whites I planted in the spring, every one of those grew, too. This fall I will plant some of them in the fall, along with the yellows. Both types grew me some of the biggest potato onions for their type, I have ever grown. This type of onion keeps so well that if one misses the fall planting; early spring remains an option, but I really don't think it makes that much difference. Just plant em like garlic at the same time as garlic or not whatever is convenient for you. (I plant tulips then, too)

The white onions came from Kelly Winterton in Utah out of his breeding. He has more than just his Green Mountain whites, too. They are superb, very large, quite a bit bigger than my yellows, and still keep just fine.

Another possible source is Heirloom Onions. Interesting website, but what I might like has generally been sold out, and now I have filled in the gaps pretty much to my satisfaction anyway.

Potato onions used to be an heirloom on my father's mother's side. It is said that the original stock was brought over from Holland when they immigrated, but at some point the old timers forgot and that strain has been lost. IIRCThose were always planted in the spring. But Jung's and a whole lot of other suppliers sell their sets for fall planting, which worked just fine for me and last winter brought us a number of nights to -25F. Like I said above, I didn't lose a set.

Email if you wish.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 8:38PM
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It's a good way to have green onions just about all year long if you plant the topsets scattered across the year. I will often dig up the whole mess, replanting just a handful of the bulbs, but a lot of the topsets broken apart. I plant them densely. A month or so later I plant some more of the topsets, and on it goes. After a year, in early summer, when the topsets are mature and they start to fall over, I'll dig up everything and start over again. I'll eat the bulbs, but they are relatively small and smoking hot. I eat these for the green onions.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 1:06PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I'm in it for the greenies! They are huge, and so versatile! You can cut them in pieces, pile them on top of each other, and slice them thin into chives. Perfect on Potatoes!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 1:11PM
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This year was my first year planting walking onions and it has been in the ground since spring. We are now in fall, the plants don't seem as strong since I've transplanted to the garden beds for the last 2 months.

What should I do to help it in next season or right now for next season?
I bought them as tiny bulbs. When will I start having topsets? Ive only cut it for the greens.

Any help would be appreciated.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2014 at 4:13PM
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You don't need to do a thing and if you set aside a small part of your planting and don't cut that for greens you should have topsets there next summer. It won't hurt to sidedress lightly and mulch, but the topset onions don't need to be babied.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2014 at 5:06PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Zoemom, in addition to OldDutch's advice, I would recommend not transplanting them. They do not require rotation or transplanting... in fact, they will build up strength over the years if left undisturbed. My main bed has been in the same place since 1997, and is still growing strong.

If you still wish to move them, it is best to do so when the plants are dormant. For me, dormancy follows the maturity of the bulbils, sometime in August. All of the foliage dies back except the central stalk that holds the bulbils. I'm not sure when yours would go dormant, though, in your year-round gardening climate.

Mine came back out of dormancy about a month ago (as they do every Fall) and I will be harvesting scallions until it gets well below freezing.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 11:31PM
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zeedman is correct. Just treat them like a very persistant, widely adapted perennial. Generally every bit as hardy, dependable and carefree as say daylilies. Reds and purples stronger flavored, the whites a bit milder, if you need to be that distinct. Just about the easiest food you can grow.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 11:49PM
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Thank you OldDutch and Zeedman. I should say that it was first put in pots, and I did cut it for green as it grew well. Then 2 months ago I transplanted it to the garden bed.
Since then it has not grown well and I no longer cut for greens as I am afraid they will die.

If I am to just let it be, I am afraid it will die?
When in the year should it have topsets?


    Bookmark   October 6, 2014 at 5:02PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

My walking onions only stop growing (but do not die) when the deep cold of Winter sets in. In Spring, growth resumes, and the stalk with topsets appears in early Summer.

Without the pause in growth caused by freezing temperatures, your onions should grow throughout the winter. I'm really not sure what the life cycle of walking onions will be in a warm climate, since they are a cold-adapted... but I would expect that topsets would appear from healthy plants in early Spring. If the plants are weak, you might not get topsets the first year, or only small ones.

By the way, you mentioned "cutting" the plants for scallions. Did you mean trimming from the top? Walking onions usually grow in clusters, and that method weakens all the plants in the cluster. It is better to carefully cut out a plant or two from the cluster, leaving several healthy plants to reproduce. If you carefully cut straight down while pulling a stalk outward, you can remove that entire stalk with only minor damage to those around it. The remaining plant(s) will divide at the base to rebuild the cluster; mine do so following dormancy, or when growth resumes in Spring. That method has served me well harvesting from the old patch mentioned in my previous post. Plus, that way you can harvest the base of the stalk... which in my opinion, is the best part (until the bulbil stem rises, at which time it gets tough).

    Bookmark   October 6, 2014 at 11:55PM
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I had thought it was impossible to kill walking onions by simple neglect. For years my parents had them as volunteers along the edge of their main garden. More than anything all that was done was to keep them from invading further.

I got some from my sister last spring, separated the bulbils and set them out and only one seemed to do anything at all. The rest just disappeared and finally the last one went dormant about the middle of summer. Now they are ALL coming back up as fall comes on. Every one of the original bulbils now has several shoots. I could have sworn I lost all but the one. In fact I got some more from my sister and they have been added to the bed, and it turns out they weren't needed.

This type of onion doesn't need to be babied. Just give it a chance to establish itself is all. If it mopes at all at first, it very likely will not be moping for very long. A couple of months should just about do it and then new and likely vigorous growth should be showing up very soon.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2014 at 10:22AM
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Thanks all. We dont have winter but I will wait until next spring since it has been only one year. I will take note to not cut for the greens but take the whole bulb too.

Thank you for your both of your help Old Dutch and Zeedman.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2014 at 5:35PM
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Harvesting/removing topsets is how a person easily controls walking onions. A half hour of harvesting and a half hour of weeding each year is all I need to control my 5 foot by 5 foot bed. Usually the only weeds are an occasional thistle and some rhizomatous grasses that creep in. 15 minutes to refresh the mulch, and the labor is finished for another year.

One hour and fifteen minutes per year to maintain a perennial food source just does not seem to be that big of a deal to me...

Now, skip that maintenance just one year and things can easily become an out of control mess with topsets sprouting all over the place. Human carelessness is how this plant spreads and gets out of control in the garden, it is not the fault of the plants. In fact I find the walking onion to have a rather interesting method of propagation and survival.

I plant the onion plants in rows in the bed for ease of maintenance...

Every three years or so I regenerate my walking onions by planting a new bed right next to the old one, and I dig up the old bed and toss the plants on the brush pile. Never discard new topsets or old rooted, sprouting topsets carelessly. They are hardy and will grow anywhere if given the opportunity. Never till an old bed without making certain any fallen or rooting topsets have been removed, or there will be walking onions sprouting all over the garden.

Every September when topsets are maturing and parent plants' stalks are starting to fall over is when I harvest topsets. I pickle some and store some for fall planting. For my area this is getting to be the time of year for planting the bulblets for harvesting as green onions in spring, one of the earliest foods I can harvest along with green garlic and ramps. Good stuff, cannot beat fresh alliums harvested in springtime after eating stored and preserved food during the long winter. That is why I grow walking onions.

I plant garlic second half of October. Garlic is planted first, followed by a bed of potato onions, a bed of shallots, and several rows of winter onion bulblets. Thus begins my 2015 gardening season.

Topsets will usually keep in storage through winter. After fall planting I save some so I can plant in springtime in order to extend the harvest. As in fall, I plant them in spring when I again plant potato onions and shallots (usually late April). Garlic bubils usually keep until spring as well, and I keep and plant some of them in order to extend the spring green garlic harvest.

I know it is obvious to most, but in case someone is new to walking onions be sure to break apart the topsets into individual bulblets before planting for spring green onions, do not stick the whole topset into the ground. (I have heard of people doing this, as well as planting whole garlic bulbil heads and even whole garlic bulbs, not knowing that bulblets, bulbils, and bulb cloves are supposed to be separated and planted individually). Plant the inidividual bulblets correct end up with a spacing of around two inches. Harvest usually starts around the second week in April around my area. Enjoy!


    Bookmark   October 11, 2014 at 11:30AM
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I keep a patch of walking onions in the garden as a "Prepper" item. I can leave them there and they will take care of their selves, pretty much, and I not only have some onion but the seed onions for a new much bigger bed if needed. I usually reset the bed every couple of years and chop and freeze the parent bulbs. Love them.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2014 at 12:11PM
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If you like garlic sauce, just try the walking onions in the garlic sauce with the garlic...outstanding! Also if the walking onions are left to keep growing, not sure how many years it takes, mine were somewhere around 5 or 6 years the top sets will produce much larger bulbs and really worth the wait! Picture is comparison of larger walking onions to the regular small ones.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2015 at 3:10PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

5 or 6 years? Wow! I bought some last spring on Ebay. Planted them. They all thrived, and one gave us about 5 bulbs on top. Those are now rooted and starting to put out green onions. I'm willing to wait. I love having green onions for salads all summer and fall.

1 Like    Bookmark   February 9, 2015 at 3:20PM
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Suzy I was talking about the size of the bulbs that grow on the top sets.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2015 at 7:32AM
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Walking onions are hard to kill. I was given some (maybe 3-5, not many) at a swap in Colorado several years ago, I think in 2009, or maybe 2010. I planted them, and they produced topsets, which I planted as well. Before I got to do much with them, we moved to WA. I took a few of the EWOs and put them in a pot. We rented a house the first year here, and they sat in a planter in what turned out to be terrible potting soil, at a house with little sun. Then we moved during the second summer, but had to do many renovations, so they sat again in the container. Sometime before the 3rd summer, I put them in the ground (that was for 2013 I believe). I think that was during the fall, and then the slugs and caterpillars chewed them down about to the ground. In 2014, I harvested tons of (small) topsets. I harvested small bulbs which we ate (cooked only, they're pretty intense otherwise). I replanted the 30" diameter ring with them, using older starts in the center to grow more topsets, and a heavy planting of bulbils for scallions. In the fall, the slugs and caterpillars decimated them again, and they've grown their greens back just fine this winter. We used some in a stir-fry a couple weeks ago. I gave away a bunch of topsets, and still have a bunch left (looking just fine, with little green sprouts trying to start, in a cardboard box in the mostly shady breezeway. I'll probably plant them for more scallions.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2015 at 12:52AM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

They grow themselves. I don't fertilize or even water them. I just divide them every few years. They're the first things I get to eat from the garden, as soon as the ground thaws in March.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2015 at 10:28AM
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I grow them for the green leaves... I can't get enough because I almost always cook with onion greens so I'm happy to have them around....

    Bookmark   March 1, 2015 at 1:32PM
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