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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Super Scallions

by Jack Ruttle

Green onions. Bunching onions. Scallions. These are all names for the same thing in most people's minds: undersized onions, generally eaten raw. At home we use the straight white shank (usually bulbless) and as much of the upper green portion as is tender and mild. In the supermarkets, scallions often come trimmed and bundled, a dozen or so to the bunch, bound by rubber bands. But to get the very best scallions for eating raw in salads, garnishes or solo, you'll want to grow them yourself.

A lot of people think that scallions are simply onions pulled before they are mature. But while such onions may look like a scallion, they may not match the taste of one. Good scallions must be mild enough to be enjoyable raw, without the eye-watering pungency of many onions. Just any old onion won't do.

Sweet Onion Varieties

A handful of ordinary onions dominate commercial scallion production, most of which occurs in the South and increasingly in Mexico. In the South, any long-day onion (requiring daylengths of 14 to 16 hours to form bulbs) will fail to make a large bulb and will instead become a smooth, straight-sided scallion. Unfortunately, any major contender as a commercial scallion must also be available as cheap seed. That's why more than half the scallions brought to winter market are 'Southport White Globe'. It produces abundant seed but has a powerful pungent bite -- not a great scallion.

There are, however, a few mild-flavored long-day onion varieties traditionally grown for scallions during the cool months. 'White Lisbon' and 'Sweet Spanish Valencia' are two good ones. If you buy sweet, mild scallions in the winter supermarket, they're likely to be one of these varieties or a close relative.

Any of the short-day sweet onions (12 to 14 hours of daylight) like 'Granex', 'Grano 1015', 'Bermuda' or 'Crystal Wax' -- though their seed is too expensive for market growers -- make excellent scallions wherever they are winter-hardy. Plant them in late summer (the same time you would plant a bulb onion) and begin harvesting the thinnings as soon as they reach pencil size. Farther north, into zone 6, try 'Walla Walla', planting it in late summer to overwinter.

Late in the season, the short-day onions will begin to bulb up. But you can keep pulling them for use in salads as long as you like. There is a growing market for undersized 'Grano 1015' (a.k.a. 'Texas Sweetie' or 'Vidalia') harvested green at the 11/2- to 2-inch size and sold in small bunches with the green stem and leaves.

Leonard Pike, a sweet onion breeder at Texas A&M, told me recently that he was surprised how good these undersized onions are. He expected that mature onions would be milder, but when he ran tests, he found that the age of the onions had no effect on pungency. He also said that he was surprised how far north some growers were producing respectable 'Grano 1015's, even into Nebraska and Missouri. If northerners are interested in growing green onions, it doesn't matter that short-day sweet onions don't reach full size. Plant either seed or mail-order transplants. Pull the green onions in late spring and early summer.

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