Bottle Onions, Now What?

paquebot(Z-4b WI)September 23, 2005

Received some bottle onions, sets, and seeds today. Three large ones of nearly 4 ounces each, 50+ sets from 1" to 2", and a few hundred seeds. All instructions are for spring planting. What I have appears to be a "kit". That is, the large ones will bolt and produce seeds. The sets will grow into large onions plus some for producing seeds. The seeds will produce more sets to produce large onions for producing more seeds. Neat!

Now what? Does this mean that the onions and sets have a storage capability of 7 months or more? That's what will be needed if I can't plant them until next spring.


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gardenlad(6b KY)

I keep the seeds and sets in the fridge, Martin. They seem to do just fine from fall until spring planting time.

I have not had much luck growing seed, however. Don't know quite what the problem is. They flower out real nice, with plenty of pollinators flitting around. But the seeds never seem to develop. Bummer.

Interestingly, the percentage of sets that bolt is comparatively low, too. Nothing near what you get with generic sets. F'rinstance, of 50 sets planted in one bed this past spring, only 5 bolted. The rest produced great onions, some of which are still hanging in the kitchen.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 8:35PM
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paquebot(Z-4b WI)

Lack of seed on a second-year plant may explain why there are the 3 big bulbs in the "kit" and why we don't see them available all over. It's definitely a 3-year thing! One SSE listing states: "takes at least 2 years to seed." Sounds like viable seeds would require planting back the large ones. That's how I'll do it then.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 10:29PM
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What is it that makes bottle onions special enough to grow them? Geezer

    Bookmark   September 24, 2005 at 12:47AM
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coho(z8/9 N. Calif)

Somewhat different here, as is usual. Planted sets. Got nice size onions. About 1& 1/4" to 1& 1/2" dia and 4' long (tall?) They kept quite well and planted some back for seed. Out of sight and pretty much out of mind. Gopher got most and some got lost in the grass/weeds (shame on me.) Believe it or not, some of the left over sets still grew when planted in the fall. Once again, lack of attention, but did get a few seeds.
Planted seeds last fall and they grew but not well. Will plant resulting bulbs this fall and try for seed again. Hope to have a raised bed with gopher wire for the special items like these. Should get some more sets and start over.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2005 at 12:52AM
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lillieinal(z7 al)

where can i get information on the bottle onios ? its new to me. lori

    Bookmark   September 25, 2005 at 8:33PM
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username_5(banned for no reason)

Lilli and Geezer,

Sources for bottle onions are hard to find, you would have to ask those who have them where they got them. I suspect in most cases they got them from a local source rather than a mail order source although the SSE probably has them listed on occasion (although not right now).

What makes them special? Well, whether they are special or not is entirely subjective. First they are elongated rather than round like most onions. Second they are generally mild tasting and keep fairly well. Unfortunately any tubular shaped onion is subject to being called a bottle onion so individual results may vary. The 'real McCoy' keeps better than most of the sweet onions and has an even milder flavor. It is also an heirloom meaning it breeds true from seed and has been around a long time.

If you can find a source for them have at it and please let me know your source so I can get some ;-). It has been a long time since I have been able to enjoy them from my father's garden (now deceased). Would love to have them again.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 12:56AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

I'd say "mild" can be misleading. They are mild, for sure. But there is an incredible spicyness to them. Not hot, I don't mean that. But the flavor is unique.

My main source is from an Amish gentleman in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Problem is, the postage costs me more than the sets he sells. Which is why I was hoping to grow my own seed.

What confuses me is that I can get some of them to flower. So they should produce seed. But they haven't.

I'll hold back some of the full-sized bulbs and see it that helps. Thanks for the tip, Martin.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 1:15PM
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Could it be a day-length thing? Perhaps kentucky's latitude is too short to prompt actual seed production, while penn's is long enough?

Although I guess in that case you wouldn't expect to see flowers even.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 7:13AM
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I'm concerned that 3 onions is not near enough for seed saving. Onions display stong inbreeding depression. Some seed saving books suggest you should have a minimum of somewhere around 20 onions to save seed from. Certainly with 3, you will probably have maybe half the seed self pollinated? (You would expect 15% or so with lots of onions. Certainly more than 1/3 with only 3.)


    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 8:34AM
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coho(z8/9 N. Calif)

Are you planting your sets in the fall or Spring? Mine were plant in the fall. As I recall, the seed heads were small but I may have had some crossing with other onions. Just a little seed also. Partly cause the gophers had a party in that row.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 4:39PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

I spring planted them, Coho. This is the second year that I had minimum bolting and no seed production.

I'm thinking maybe Martin is right, and I'll have to plant full bulbs to get seed to set.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 9:34PM
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manure_queen(md 7)

ordered seeds from franchi last spring and got what sounds like your bottle onions.
if you are not familair with seed company they have interesting seeds. think)

    Bookmark   October 2, 2005 at 4:29PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)


I believe what you got from Franchi are torpedo onions, which is an Italian variety. The Bottle Onions we're talking about are an Amish heirloom.

And you're right. Franchi does have some very interesting varieties.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2005 at 8:51AM
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I Just got seeds from J.L. Hudson, Seedsman

    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 6:41PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

I am curious, because I have never grown these. Do bottle onions split, or produce topsets? The blossoms with no seed sounds like a multiplier onion trait.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2006 at 5:37PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Although there are some doubles, as with all alliums, by and large they produce single bulbs.

It's not that they don't go to seed. They just don't do it for me. The gentleman who sells the sets grows his own seed each year. That's what he uses to grow the sets with in late summer.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2006 at 6:08PM
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paquebot(Z-4b WI)

The 3 mature bulbs were planted as early as possible this spring, early April, along with the sets. Several of the smallest sets failed to come up but the important 3 large bulbs are coming through with possible great results. Two have split into 3 individual large plants. It would not surprise me if I end up with 6 total blossoms from that pair. The third one may be a problem inasmuch as it has divided into 6 rather crowded small plants much like the early growth of some shallots. I'll leave them alone just to see if any produce a seed stalk.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2006 at 7:32PM
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i received 12 bottle onion sets and several hundred seeds from a gentleman in PA. the sets are doing so-so as we have had too much rain, but i have 300 + - tiny plugs of seedlings about 3" tall. do i just let them get bigger in the plug or repot or plant them out allready? they look really healthy and sturdy. thanks for any advice. sue

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 12:09PM
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paquebot(Z-4b WI)

1/8, you jumped the gun with planting the seeds. For producing sets in our northern zones, time to plant the seeds would be right around the first of summer or late June. You only want 3 months or so of growth in the shortening days to produce normal sets. What you would need to do now is somehow stall them for at least 6 weeks until such a time when the present growth would be about what it would be in August. And you have to do that without killing them or causing them to go dormant to quick!

I can see a lot of other reasons why they are not popular. I thought that some of the shallots had the monopoly on trying to send their leaves in every direction but up. Bottle onions also do that but add twists, curls, and turns as well! Two of the mature bulbs have 3 plants from each and going off in all directions as well. Crazy things!


    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 11:58PM
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coho(z8/9 N. Calif)

I have about 30 flower balls opening on the Bottle onions. Somewhat sprawley on the leaves but flower stalks are upright. Nice big healthy plants so far. As I recall, the sets grew pretty much as standard onions do for me.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 12:12AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Coho, let's keep our fingers crossed that you'll get a decent seed harvest from those flower balls.

Put me down for some if you do!

As to growth, when I grew them they were slightly sprawley, but not as bad as Martin implies. Mostly they grew like other onions, with the leaves forming more of a rosette pattern, perhaps. But certainly not shooting off in all directions.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 6:29AM
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A few years back, i saved and planted about 7 - 2nd year Bottle Onions just for seed. I think 4 of the 7 did bloom. The seed was sowed the next year and did well enough!
We do not care too much for the bottle onions,tho they did store fairly well. I think the layers are a bit thin, the onions often do split into doubles, and the outer few coverings are a bit tough, so we wind up throwing more of each onion back to compost. They are pretty and pretty okay flavor, but not fabulous to our tastes. It's just fun to grow something different!
We've SO many garlics and onions in the ground this year, that i will be able to have back another 180'X 4 ' of various garden beds soon! May i NOT lose track of the 22 types of garlic and 5 kinds of tater onions in ground!!
Good growing,

    Bookmark   June 6, 2006 at 9:20PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Glad, of those 5 tater onions, what colors do you have?

I'm searching for the maybe mythological red one.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 4:30PM
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paquebot(Z-4b WI)

I never ended up with a single seed. It's possible that they were given conditions which were just too good! Rich soil, full sun, ample water, everything that produced monster Ailsa Craigs just a few feet away. Of the 3 large bulbs planted, two split into trios which were almost as large as the original bulb. The third one split 5 ways with 4 large bulbs and one short "thumb". If the mature bulbs would always do that, one would not need seeds! I'm now thinking that one should eat all of the largest mature bulbs and save the smaller ones for seed production. And, plant them in ordinary soil and forget about them!


    Bookmark   July 29, 2006 at 11:46PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Incredible, Martin. I never even got a triple. A fair number of doubles, though.

I merely grow them in the same beds as the other alliums. Maybe you're right, and we're growing them too rich? Soon as I get time I'll write Jeptha and ask him. There must be a trick to it, because he grows seed and sets every year.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2006 at 8:00AM
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    Bookmark   August 1, 2006 at 1:56PM
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I doubt that is the rich soil, full sun, ample water preventing you from getting seed. My bed for alliums have those conditions and I was able to grow the bottle onions to seed.

A couple years ago I received sets through seed savers. I was told it would take several seasons to grow to seed. As I reoffer everything I request through SSE my goal was to grow these to seed. The first year the sets grew to full size with a couple of the larger sets dividing into doubles and a couple sets that split into 4+ onions. I currently do not know enough about alliums genetics, but I wonder if you were to continuously select for those 4+ dividing onions if you could develop a strain that performed more like a shallot or a potato onion? Anyway the multiplying sets were harvested and sampled.

I read somewhere that bottle onions were very hardy and stored well. As a test I planted several of the harvested onions in the fall. The rest remained inside through the winter for a spring planting.

All the fall planted onions survived the winter, produced no doubles+, went to flower and are producing seed. The spring planted onions produced about 10% doubles, the smaller onions grew to maximum size and the largest onions only slightly increased to maximum size, and only 2 out of 30 sent up flower stalks. My guess would be if I saved and replanted these spring planted onions in the spring most if not all would produce flowers and seed next year and I would also have a larger percentage of doubles+. Anyway I should have enough seed to offer through SSE and to continue to perpetuate this variety in my garden.

In summary my first experiment with growing bottle onion to seeds found:
Year 1 - Spring Plant Sets ""
August Harvest ""
Storage Fall Plant
Year 2 - Spring Plant All Survived Winter
August Harvest All Producing Seed
Year 3+ -Hopefully Produce Done

Also this year I planted bottle onion seed. Out of around 300 plants about 40 grew to the maximum size, with best coloring, tight wrappers that should allow for long storage, and bottle shape. I plan on fall planting these to see if they produce seed next year. If they do I will continue this selection to see if choosing for the above traits results in a higher percentage with the traits I desire. I'll let you know how it works out.

I planted some seed last week to try to grow sets although we are having a stretch of 100 degree days so I may need to replant. I think I also will try to experiment to see if I select for doubles+ without flowering if these in turn produce onions with a greater propensity to divide.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2006 at 9:04AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

>I read somewhere that bottle onions were very hardy and stored well.That they do. I used the last of last-years crop in June of this year. So we're talking about keeping almost a year.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2006 at 8:24AM
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Hi 1 of 8,
Unfortunately, my tater onions variety names got mixed up a few years back, and i do not know what they are any more. Now, i just plant them in patches by color. No help to those who care about varieties at all.
Most are yellow, some are flatter and have a bronze paper with red hues on the outer onion. I also grow alot of Rakkyo, which are unique and the name won't get lost on them!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2006 at 9:59AM
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