In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2007
Regional Report

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These Egyptian onions add beautiful sculpture to the garden and piquant taste to the salad bowl.

An Onion for Everyone

It seems everyone loves onions, but do you know how many different types of onions are actually out there? Aside from the standard slicing onion we love on hamburgers or atop a bowl of pinto beans (a favorite from my southern roots), there are sweet scallions for dicing into a salad, shallots for lending a definite French flavor to sauces, and tender chives that give an unmistakable garden piquancy to baked potatoes.

Onions are quite rewarding to grow because they deliver a good-sized crop with relatively little care. Typically they are started from sets or plants in early spring. The plants send up strong top growth through the spring and then begin to produce bulbs for fresh eating or storage in late summer.

I grow onions this way, just to have my storage onions in winter, but I've also been trying all sorts of other methods to produce very early onion greens. There is nothing that quite says the winter season has broken like the smell of fresh onion greens in a salad in March.

Growing Onions in Fall
Many garden stores still have a bin of withered onion sets hanging around in July, and I purchase these for fall planting. I store them in a very dry, airy place until September, and then plant them in a well-drained spot in the garden. When they sprout, I pile on winter mulch and leave them until spring. Then they are up and growing, almost before the snow melts. I can harvest onion tops before anything else is growing in the garden. They will go on to flower later in spring, but by that time, I have new scallions planted as well as my bulbing onions.

Egyptian Onions
These unique onions (also called top-set, walking, or tree onions) produce clusters of small bulbs instead of seeds at the top of the seed stalk in early to midsummer. The onion plant also produces a bulb underground, but I find that these bulbs are fairly tough and quite strong for fresh eating. Once you have Egyptian onions in the garden, you never have to replant them. They take a little management, but it's a small price to pay for very early onion greens.

Once the little bulbs are produced at the top, the stalk bends to the ground to "plant" them -- this is how they walk. Once the stalk bends, I actually harvest the cluster of bulbs and plant it where I want them to grow. They quickly send out roots and produce onion greens in late summer and fall. The small bulbs can also be harvested and sauteed or pickled.

In addition, there are leeks and Welsh onions and garlic chives and all manner of other onions and onion relatives. I could go on forever!


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