Magazine article Sunset

Onions for Nonstop Crops

Magazine article Sunset

Onions for Nonstop Crops

Article excerpt

Grow perennial kinds for flavorful bulbs and deliciously mild leaves

Sweet, sharp, mild, or pungent: when it comes to flavorings, onions are widely used by good cooks everywhere. Most gardeners think of onions as an annual crop. But there are members of the Allium family that will give you a continuous crop year after year, yielding plenty of tasty onions for salads, soups, and sauces. These cousins of the ordinary bulbing onion are all perennials. If planted in October in the mild-winter West, they grow and develop during the cool season, with harvest the following spring.

You'll find a wide selection of perennial onions; for sources, see page 96.

MULTIPLIERS. The closest relatives of common single-bulb onions are multipliers, which include potato onions and shallots. Multipliers grow by dividing. If you plant a large potato onion (2 to 3 inches in diameter), it will grow and divide into a cluster of bulbs of mixed sizes. If you plant a small onion (about 1 inch in diameter), it usually grows into one large bulb. Shallots always divide, and they're often smaller than potato onions.

Multipliers can be left in the ground, where they will continue to multiply. But most gardeners lift the bulbs at harvest time, store some for eating, and replant the rest in fall.

Potato onions and shallots are both good keepers, flavorful, and fairly mild. But they're better for cooking than for eating fresh. Shallots cook quickly and are especially tasty in sauces and vinaigrette dressings.

TOPSET ONIONS. This type, called Egyptian onion (though it's not really from Egypt), produces many leafy green stalks; small bulblets form on their tops.

If bulblets are not harvested, they become so heavy that the leaves bend and the bulblets fall to the ground and take root.

When left in the ground, Egyptian onion plants increase in size. To expand the size of your planting, harvest the bulblets and plant them individually in fall (if bulblets are very small, don't separate them before planting).

Several parts of this onion are edible. The mild, tender young leaves (with no bulblets) can be used like green onions. The bulblets make tasty pickles. The bulbs normally are left in the ground, but some can be harvested; since their flavor is very strong, they're best cooked.

BUNCHING ONIONS. These onions are called Japanese bunching onions, Welsh onions, or scallions. …

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