How many types of onions do you grow?

donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)November 18, 2011

I am trying to piece together a complete idea of the onions that I need to grow. (I hate being ignorant. Don't even know the right questions to ask...) I started Granex 33 onions from seed and they are growing nicely in beds, buckets, and tubs. I THOUGHT I could use them as green onions (scallions?) when they were small and then harvest the rest as bulbs later. But with all the talk of bunching onions, egyptian onions, shallots, scallions, etc. I am beginning to think that it's not that simple.

So, do you plant one kind for use in cooking and salads as "green onions", and another kind for big "cooking onions" that are stored long term and then peeled, sliced, or chopped? What other types do you think a reasonably good cook needs? I am pretty sure that it's very difficult if not impossible to grow green onions (or maybe any kind) here in the south in the summer. Is that true? If so, how do you manage to keep a supply on hand?

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A bulbing onion can, in it's young stage, be used as a scallion. The reverse, however, is not true. Some onions keep well (cooking type) and some do not (sweet).

Shallots are related to onions, as garlic is, but yield a different taste. Some say that shallots are a cross between onions and garlic. Both can be used at the scallion stage if desired.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 12:28PM
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Central Plains here. What I grow - one or two varieties of storage onions, pull some early to use as scallions. One kind of shallot. One kind of leek. One variety of garlic currently (was up to 7 at one time). Might try those fancy cippolino onions this year.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 9:48PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Well that's reassuring. As time is passing my Granex are putting on size and I don't think it will be long before I can use them as scallions.

Is there a specific cookery reason that you grow shallots? Do you like them in certain dishes better than say, scallions? To my knowledge I have never had a shallot.

Thanks to you both for responding. On second thought, I could probably have given my question a more compelling title....

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 11:44PM
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I tried shallots this past year because Johnny's had the seed on sale for $1, and I was already going to grow onion from seed so I just added them to the grow list. Some of them ended up nearly as big as the onions. I think they are slightly milder than onions, and I love them in salads (I usually think onions are too strong there) and mixed with roasted brussels sprouts.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 11:20PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Good to know. The seed catalogs are starting to arrive. I may just give shallots a try next year. Thanks!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 6:54PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

For scallions, my favorites are the perennial "walking onions" (a.k.a "Egyptian"). They are the same species as common onions (Allium cepa) but are much hardier... they survive my winters easily with no protection. I grow "Catawissa" and several heirloom walking onions. In my climate, I get two harvests; one in Spring (the first vegetable of the year) and after a period of dormancy, another harvest in late Fall. Their flavor as scallions is outstanding, IMO. And while they don't form bulbs in the proper sense, if you divide them to single plants during dormancy & space them out (6-8" apart) they will form a cluster of bulbs up to 2" in diameter the following year. These have virtually no keeping ability once dug up, so must be used fresh. They are very strong flavored, keeping much of their zing even after cooking. I will be experimenting with dehydrating them next year.

I also grow bunching onions, which are a different species from common onions (Allium fistulosum). The most common variety is "Welsh", but bunching onions are very popular in Asia, and there are many Asian varieties available. They too can be perennial, although some varieties are too tender for my climate... but they would be no problem, I am sure, for MS. Planted from seed, they will grow bulbless plants the first year with thick, leek-like stems, often over 1" wide. The larger-stemmed varieties (including "Welsh") tend to multiply slowly if left in the ground, while smaller varieties can multiply as rapidly as chives. The Asian variety "Four Seasons", from single plants, formed densely packed clumps 2-3" wide after 2 years!

Both of these onions go through Summer dormancy here, then re-sprout in the Fall. I'm not sure how they would respond to the much warmer Southern climate; they might grow all Winter.

The larger onions, unfortunately, do poorly for me... they grow beautifully, then tend to rot from the bottom just as they are maturing. It's probably the heavy soil, since I have grown onions successfully in other locations. I also grow shallots, which do OK, but their yield isn't enough to keep me in onions for the winter. So I have to resort to buying most of my bulb onions. :-(

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 2:13AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Thank you, zeedman. From reading here and on googled questions, I think I am starting to get the idea of the different types, though am still not quite clear if they each have unique kitchen uses.

I have grown "multipler" onions the last couple of years, planted in fall from sets I got at the Feed and Seed. I had no idea why they called them multiplers, but now I am pretty sure that they are true scallions. They were too strong for my taste. For that reason, I feel unsure if I would like Egyptian walking onions.

I pulled some of my Granex seedlings this week for scallions and they were delicious. Very mild, which is just what I hoped.

For Thanksgiving, I purchased several bunches of green onions from the store, and on a whim, stuck some of the roots that I cut off into a window box. They are all putting up green tops! Do you think they could be bunching onions? If so, I very much doubt they would make it through our hot summers. I am guessing I would have to start with fresh seed or sets next fall.

I am absolutely fascinated by all this and look forward to experimenting with alot of different alliums in the next few season to see what does well here.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 4:56PM
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Thanks for a great thread.
zeedman, could you use a raised bed with peatmoss & sand to grow your larger onions?
I have sand & compost here in S.C.( the whole state was once a seashore).

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 10:58AM
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Agree with folks here about Egyptian walking onion. If it is the other way out and you want to grow 1 kind of onion, this is it.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2012 at 4:43PM
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I've been using my Egyptian walking onions for cooking through the winter this year. To do this, I cut a fair number of stems, peal off the dead skins and then dice them. It is laborious compared to using a normal storage onion. But by doing this we have had to purchase very few onions from the store.

I'm not a big far of green onions (scallions). But I do eat one or two of our Egyptian onions, this way, every spring, simply because they look so good!

Like Zeedman, I struggle with regular onions, here. Yet I have a friend, in the same town, who produces the most beautiful onions, year after year. Because of this difficulty I have gravitated toward multipliers. Cybrczch, could you tell us the varieties you grew last year?

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 6:05AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

George, I know you grow potato onions from other threads. How much row do you grow of them and how long will they last for you? Do you find them easier to cook with than scallions or Egyptians? After doing lots of reading on the forums and on the web, I am feeling most hopeful about potato onions here in Mississippi. I ordered a pound of starts from SESE and am hoping they will fill my need in time. I have also ordered two kinds of bunching onions and three kinds of shallots. We'll see....

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 7:13PM
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I don't purposefully pursue scallions, though I use the Egyptian Walking Onions like scallions. The potato onions are very easy to cook with, almost as easy as a regular Spanish onion. However, either the current strain I have, or the current conditions, make it that they often go bad on me when stored. This begins happening within two or three months.

The potato onions we originally inherited from my wife's grandparents would be good, all winter long, in our kitchen. But I don't know for sure what makes the difference. Since starting with these, here in Oklahoma, we have not had a very good growing season, each year getting progressively hotter and dryer. I've had potato onions cook in the ground. Last summer, for instance, it got so hot, that one of our goats knocked over his water bucket, out in the sun, and the plastic bucket actually started melting!

So, in 2011, I dug the potato onions in July and stored them in the refrigerator, planting them again in the fall.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 6:14AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Hey, DB! :) I haven't settled into always growing the same mix of alliums every year. This year I'm growing 4 types of garlic, shallots, a storage onion, and leeks. I may give the potato onion another chance. I do like their flavor, I just kept getting many small bulbs that were an annoying amount of work come dinner time. I've ditched the bunching onions. For some reason they just always come along all weeny and small... Well, maybe they can have a space in the herb garden. I do still have the seed after all... Can you tell we like our alliums?

You did ask about the flavor of the shallot. It is definitely different from a regular onion. Many places say "milder than onion", but I think they are more pungent. Generally they are used in smaller amounts than onion, too, which seems to point to them being stronger. I really like them minced into salad dressings. They all have their specific flavor and I don't think a tomato sauce made with shallot tastes exactly like one made with onion (and potato onions are subtly different too). But if you wanted the bare minimum in you garden, I would go for a soft-necked garlic (better storage) and an onion (sweet, storage, potato; depends on your growing conditions/style). Cheers!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 10:50AM
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So, in 2011, I dug the potato onions in July and stored them in the refrigerator, planting them again in the fall.
macmex, you keep them in the frig to keep them from drying out?
What type of potato onion do you have?

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 8:12PM
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Don't know what kind. I got it from, back in 2008, if I recall. They're out of business and their web site no longer functions. I know they were in Kentucky. These potato onions do seem a bit larger than what we grew 30 years ago. I had trouble with them rotting in storage or, if I left them in the ground they sometimes rotted there. At least in the ground it seemed to start as a scald type wound.

The potato onions we had before came from my wife's grandparents in Salem, Illinois. We got them from them around 1984. They did great. But then again, Northern Indiana conditions are vastly different from Oklahoma conditions. We left the country to do mission work, and I sent heirloom I had, including our family potato onions, to the Seed Savers Exchange. I specifically sent the onions from my collection to their Allium curator. When we returned, I wrote him, inquiring about these onions, asking if I could get some back. He informed me that they had lost them all.

Lesson learned: if you have a valuable family heirloom, spread it around. Don't count on any one, not even a specialist, to preserve it for you.


    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 6:09AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Wow. That is a sad story, George. I am so grateful to all of the people who have preserved these heirlooms down through time....

According to SESE, the potato onion starts I have ordered should last for 12 months "under proper conditions". There will be a list of instructions included, I am sure, but from what I have read, I think I should be able to store them in my basement. That's my hope anyway.

Sunni, have you had your soil tested lately? I had read on the forums that onions are heavy feeders, and not just nitrogen. That was news to me, but my bulb onions were not thriving like I thought they should. I gave them a good dose of fertilizer and they have just taken off....Maybe that's the trouble with your bulbs growing smaller and smaller? ...There is so much to learn! :)

I am grateful for the rundown of onions you grow, and am more than eager to get started on all this next fall!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 2:56PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Oh, I guess I wasn't very clear. My storage onions and garlic and shallots are all bountifully bodacious, but the bunching onions (scallions) just seem small, much smaller than I find useful. And my potato onions always make lots of small bulbs instead of a few larger ones (could be I'm choosing the wrong ones to replant). But yes, my soil has been tested, and it is in real good shape, which is nice. I did do an experiment last year using an extra feeding of compost to half of my onions early in the season and the ones with extra compost were much much larger one month later than the others.

I don't feel like I am an allium expert by any means, so much as an enthusiastic amature. I do love my various types for their different uses, sounds like you will too. But watch out, alliums are addicting!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:15PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"I've ditched the bunching onions. For some reason they just always come along all weeny and small..."

Sunnibel, you must have one of the smaller bunching onions, like the variety "Four Seasons". It is very hardy & multiplies like chives, but has very small scallions - only 10" long or so, and about pencil width or smaller. Some of the larger varieties can be seen in the photo below:

Onion trials

These onions were part of a nine-variety trial of bunching onions (garlic was in the blank spots). Those in the foreground are "Franz" and "Stevenson", heirlooms from an SSE member. They are both very vigorous, and virtually indistinguishable. The clump in the background is "Welsh".

Close-up of "Welsh" (note quarter in foreground)

The rest of the trial was grown on another site, and unfortunately, no photos were taken. The photos are of first-year plants started early from seed. The second part of the trial was to test for winter hardiness, and the degree of multiplication.

Large-stemmed varieties (like "Welsh") had heavy winter kill in my Zone 5 location, and multiplied very little if at all. Smaller-stemmed varieties ("Franz", "Stevenson", "Four Seasons") were much hardier, and had virtually no winter loss. They also multiplied extensively, splitting the first year, and again in the Spring. They form clumps very quickly.

The majority of the plants were eaten, given away, or destroyed after the trial. I did keep a few plants, though. The thing is... they were moved, and I can't positively identify the varieties. I have a clump of either "Franz" or "Stevenson". If you would like to try them, PM me through my member page, I'll send some plants when the weather warms.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 11:57PM
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Cybrczh - what is the name of the shallot that you grew from seed?

Ambition didn't grow as large as I had expected last year. Am growing Pikant from sets this year. Also, 4 varieties of garlic, King Richard leeks, and 4 kinds of onions.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 2:16PM
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The variety of shallot I'm growing is Picador. I had never grown shallots, either from seed or bulbs, so when I planted them out, instead of planting single plants like I did my onions, I planted them in little clumps just like a shallot bulb would grow, I decided. It didn't seem to affect them, they grew as big as the bigger ones I saw at the grocery store.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 12:51AM
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"And my potato onions always make lots of small bulbs instead of a few larger ones (could be I'm choosing the wrong ones to replant). "

Sunnibel, if you plant small potato onions you should reap large potato onions. If you plant large potato onions, you should reap lots of small (often over a dozen per plant) potato onions. Try planting a mixture of large and small. The large ones will provide you with lots more to plant for next year's crop. The small ones will provide you with the large onions you want to eat. But in order to keep the rhythm you need to plant both.

I'm a little sad, as my Matador F1 and Saffron F1 shallots (grown from seed) are damping off. We'll see if I can save some. Bonilla F1, grown in a separate pot, is doing great.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 10:23AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

This is good info, George. I will remember the "rhythm" for potato onions. I do hope your seedlings recover! Holler, if they don't. I can share some of my seed which I have not yet sown. I really do have more than I will need.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 1:55PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

George, thanks for telling me that. I was starting to suspect that with further reading in this forum, but couldn't locate a post that said directly that. Sadly, I ate all of my potato onions, so no replanting. Maybe I can look back through my journal and find where I bought them, I did like the taste. Anyhow before I hadbeen planting big ones only, because that's how they were sent to me, and I was treating them more like garlic.

So in the orchestra of of the gaden, I guess the alliums are the drums? :)

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 10:15AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Sunnibel, you can order potato onion starts from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They ship in the fall.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 4:00PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Aha! That's who I go them from the first time! Thanks for jogging my memory, DB.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 7:59PM
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