Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
November, 2000
Regional Report

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Make small trenches in prepared soil and set potato onion bulbs 4 inches apart. Just barely cover the tops.

Alternative Onions

Onions and their relatives - in all their sizes, shapes, and forms - are indispensable in cooking. Some of the lesser-known onion family members are actually among the easiest to grow and are quite hardy. Most have smaller bulbs than onions, which is handy when you need just a bit of onion flavor. Plus, they're an interesting conversation piece in the garden.

Onion Cousins

Some of the "onion cousins" include Welsh onions (also called Japanese bunching onions); top, or Egyptian, onions; shallots; rocambole; Spanish, or ophio, garlic; and potato, or multiplier, onions. That's quite a list of names, but what they all have in common is their ease of growing and mild onion flavor. My new favorite is the potato onion.

Potato Onions

This is my first year to try potato onions. These are closely related to shallots, growing in clusters of eight to ten irregularly shaped, copper-skinned bulbs. Fall planting (mid-October until mid-December, Thanksgiving week being ideal) produces the biggest harvest, often double or triple the yield of spring-planted bulbs. Garden centers and farm supply stores have the bulbs for sale now, and they are also available from mail-order sources.

Growing Potato Onions

Like other onions, potato onions grow best in well-drained, sandy loam soil that is well supplied with organic matter and has a pH between 6.5 to 7.0. To improve both sandy and clay soils, incorporate about 4 inches of compost, preparing the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches. Improve soil fertility with either organic or synthetic 5-10-10 fertilizer. Space bulbs that are 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter 2 to 4 inches apart and plant them 1/2 to 1 inch deep.

Eating Potato Onions

During the winter and spring, the tops of potato onions can be used as green onions. Next summer, the bulb clusters will be ready for harvesting when the green tops naturally yellow and fall down. Gently pull or dig the clusters, remove the loose soil, and let them dry. Then cure them by placing them in a single layer in a shaded, warm, dry, and well-ventilated area for at least 1 month. After curing, cut the dried tops 1 inch above the bulb and separate the clusters. Ideal storage conditions are 35F to 40F with 60 to 70 percent humidity and good air circulation.

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