multiplying onions, knowledge of

pnbrownJuly 26, 2008

I'm much into the "walking onion" aka the "tree" onion or "egyptian" onion, officially described in most texts as "allium x proliferum". It's an awesome crop, but it doesn't seem much research has been done on it, it's origins are very obscure, and how exactly it's related to other alliums hard to determine.

However, I just found this site:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Allium_fistulosum

which indicates that the walking onions are the result of a cross between the "cultivated" onion (allium cepa, which would include common bulb onions, shallots, and "potato" onions, I believe) and allium fistulosum, aka the "Welsh" onion.

So now I'm pretty keen to get hold of that latter. I don't know whether the Welsh onion is sterile like the walking, but if anyone here has some and would swap me seed or top-sets for top-sets of my walking onion cultivar (Catawissa), that'd be great.

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dangould

how do you do the Catawissa onions. when do you harvest or please tell us a bit about the yearly cycle.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 12:51PM
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pnbrown

True perennial, very cold-hardy. Does not thrive on heat, so here it goes largely dormant in the hot season. If you start with a topset bulbil, planted in september, it will make a small green onion that fall. Left over the winter, the bulb will divide and you will have two green onions by early spring; so fall or spring one has a nice crop of green onions. Allowed to grow on, they become large by late spring and develop small bulbs at the top of the stalks called topsets. By early summer these are tender and nice for use as they have no tough skin to deal with. As the summer goes on, they develop a strong skin and many begin to sprout even while in the air, and eventually the stalks will bend over and the topsets will root in the ground - hence the name "walking onion". Meanwhile the bulb in the ground gets to a bit of a size sometimes up to 2 or 3 inches. These are dense and spicy a bit like shallots. Dug dry in late summer they will keep for a couple months.

So there are a bunch of ways and times to use this plant.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 1:08PM
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Bob(6a/5b)

Hi pn
If all else fails, this site has Welsh onion (Allium fistulosum)seeds for sale.
http://www.italianseedandtool.com/product/ZCL02/ZCL02__Bunching_Onion_Rossi__Red.html

Bunching Onion Rossi / Red
(cipollotti rossi)Bavicchi has added this incredible find from the markets of Italy and southern Europe. This bunching-type onion has beautiful pink/red/violet shading to go along with wonderful flavor. Botanical Name: Allium fistulosum

Sounds like something I might like to try as well.
I hope this was helpful. : )

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 3:09PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

For several years, I have been collecting perennial alliums (garlic, onion, leek, chives) and testing for their hardiness & flavor.

In 2007 I grew 10 varieties of bunching onion (Allium fistulosum), and posted results on the "Unusual Vegetables" thread. They varied considerably in winter-hardiness, size of stalk, and their ability to multiply. The largest had stalks of 1" wide or larger, but had the poorest hardiness, and did not multiply rapidly. The varieties with smaller stalk diameter multiplied more rapidly, and were much hardier. The best compromise was two heirloom varieties, "Franz" and "Stevenson", which had stalks about the size of walking onions, multiplied well, and suffered no winter loss. Unfortunately, I destroyed all but 3 varieties after the trial.

At present, I am in the second year of testing 4 heirloom topset varieties. They are being compared to "Catawissa", which I have grown for over 10 years now. Thus far, they have displayed a great deal of variation - one has topsets 1" wide. I will observe how well they multiply from the base this Fall.

Sadly, the variety that I had most hope for ("Fleener's Top Set") does not share the hardiness of the others. It produced large white topsets, which when planted, formed a 1-2" bulb much like a white potato onion. These bulbs appeared to have a long storage life; and since the white potato onion may be extinct (it certainly is commercially), I had hoped to use it as a replacement. Unfortunately, it seems no more winter-hardy than the yellow potato onions I tried here previosly. :-(

Pnbrown, I have also heard the "A. cepa X A. fistulosum" theory of the origin of walking onions... but I have yet to see the scientific basis for it. It would seem far more likely to me that they were a cross with one of the wild alliums which does produce topsets (one of which I grow).

The flowers of my "Catawissa" have always failed to produce seed... until this year, with a bunching onion & a shallot flowering adjacently. It appears that a few seed pods have set on the "Catawissa". I will be watching them closely, and will propagate any seed which results.

I don't have enough stock of the other topsets ("Caudell Heirloom", "Comstock", and "Knox Heirloom") to offer yet as trade, but I do have plenty of "Catawissa". I also still have seed for the bunching onions I tried in 2007, although I am uncertain of its viability. If you have the red-bulbed "Egyptian", I would be happy to do a trade.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 3:59PM
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pnbrown

I have had very poor results with trying to propagate potato onions even here in a much milder winter than yours. Too bad about Fleener's.

That will be very interesting if your Catawissa makes seed. Mine often make those "fake" seed-heads that never set any seed.

I don't have any of the Egyptian cultivars, but I do have a small white top-setter which has a very mild taste compared to catawissa. I can't remember the name, and the bulbils get no bigger than a pea. I could send you a few if you don't think you have it already.......

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 8:56PM
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dangould

Great sharing on the onions. It has greatly increased my desire to grow them.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 9:14PM
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pnbrown

Well then, this thread was well worthwhile. The more perennial onions being kept in business, the better, as they are pretty rare compared to a century ago. I'm sending a number of people topsets of Catawissa by SASE, and I'll repeat that offer here: po box 2492, tisbury ma 02568.

Zeedman, I find that Catawissa when given lots of room and fertility will make topsets in excess of 1". For a while I dallied with the notion of trying to breed a super-large strain, but I reckon the clonal nature would make that rather difficult.......

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 7:30AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Pnbrown, you could be right about the "Catawissa". Mine have always been grown in a large clump; since the scallions didn't seem to suffer from the close spacing, I never tried dividing them. So I may be comparing apples to oranges! This Fall, I'll give a few of the "Catawissa" equal spacing in the trial bed.

However, if spacing dictated size, you would expect that the plants on the ends would have larger bulbs, due to "edge effect"... and that has not been the case. There are a few plants inside the clump which are noticeably taller than the others (by 4-5"), with larger topsets. These are all in one cluster - bud sport, perhaps? I'll have to isolate a few of them in the trial bed as well.

The onion with 1" topsets was "Knox Heirloom". It develops only 3-4 per stalk, but they are much larger.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 2:30PM
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west_texas_peg(8a West Cen TX)

pnbrown
Tried to email you but your mail bounced.

I would love to have some of your topsets. Will put a SASE in the mail to you tomorrow.

Peggy

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 4:28PM
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trsinc(8 TX)

I was tempted to ask for some too, but was wondering how they would do in Texas heat, since you said they don't like it. Glad to see this thread, though. I'll now be looking into this further. Hopefully I'll find some heat loving types.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 4:46PM
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pnbrown

No prob, Peggy.

trsinc, actually I would really like to have some perennial trials of catawissa in hotter climes and lower latitudes. I keep trying to get my folks to try and perpetuate them in north/central fla but they have other gardening interests and don't care for the taste. I know that bulbs and topsets that I have planted there in mid-winter grow excellently, but of course I don't know whether they would reproduce well before very hot weather. That is z8b or 9a, depending on whether one fancies being able to grow apples or bananas (I like to think it's 9a!).

Zeedman, I think there is no doubt that giving walking onions room creates a much bigger plant, bulbs, and bulbils. Where I leave them in a crowd the green onions are often not much bigger than a pencil, bulbs rarely get bigger than 1.5 inches, and topsets average pea-size to cherry-size (rarely). Where they have more room the green onions are the size of leeks by May (makes great onion-soup), and basal bulbs can get to 3 inches as I mentioned earlier.....

    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 8:23AM
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trsinc(8 TX)

Well then, if you still have any left I'd love to put my name on the list. I'll send you an sase, once I hear.

Tammy

    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 10:22AM
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pnbrown

Well, so far I have 3 sase's which will probably use up about 30-40 bulbils at the most, out of I have no idea how many thousands are out there. I have several patches of these things and I only separate out and re-plant a tiny percentage of them.

It's either that or start a small walking onion farm. Actually, the local CSA guy might take some bulbils from me a try a few hundred feet of row soon.......

    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 10:36AM
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west_texas_peg(8a West Cen TX)

I just traded over 50 E. Walking Onion starts for asparagus crowns...went to Seminole, Florida. That trade took all I had left. I have some babies starting to pop up from a trade I made a few weeks ago, some were quite tiny but are slowly leafing out.

Few weeks back I made a trade for Winter Onions...had no idea what they were but was game. It was Walking Onions and some were larger than what I grew this year; probably came from where it RAINS! We are very hot and dry this year...my water bill is a sin! Looks like we will be going into August with a run of 100 degree days...am hoping we don't break any records...not sure I could afford that water bill. We did not get one drop of rain from Dolly!

I will get a SASE out to you.

Peggy

    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 10:48AM
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trsinc(8 TX)

I know where you're coming from, Peggy. So sorry to hear you didn't luck into any hurricane rain. We had a few hours of good rain here. It was the first one this year (actually I think since September of 07.) We had a "rain" a couple of months ago that lasted about 10 minutes, so I don't count that one.

Thank you so much for your generosity pnbrown. I'll get that out to you today or tomorrow. Would you like some asparagus pea seeds? I haven't had any luck with them and just have a few left.

Here is a link that might be useful: Asparagus Peas

    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 11:15AM
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pnbrown

Sure, might as well.....

Sorry to hear about the droughts. It's usually quite droughty here this time of year, but we've been soaked by two major storm-systems in the last week - about 5 inches and then about 2 inches. More in the offing, apparently. Good thing the drains like crazy.....

    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 5:36PM
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slashy

I've been looking around for an Australian source of walking onions but haven't been able to find one commercially- does anyone know of a supplier? I'm pretty sure live plant material can't come into Australia through the post due to strict customs regulations, or I'd ask for a swap as well.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 12:43AM
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socalgirl-10

Well I am in zone 10 if you are interested in some down this way let me know, I am game to try them out.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 5:20AM
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pnbrown

Send on the sase......

Slashy, I'd check with as many gardening associations as you can find. There must be someone with tree onions in Australia.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 6:59AM
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shot(8 - GA)

Wish I liked onions... yall sure make them tempting. My wife grew some kind in one of her raised beds but not sure what kind. Vidalia onions are popular around here as I am about 35 miles from the little town of Vidalia. Every year school kids come around selling them and wife buys some and gives most away.

Pat, am really impressed with your knowledge of onions.
BTW: how is the Hickory King doing?

Rain has been hitting around us, but dry as a powder house here on our little farm :(

Shot

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 8:55AM
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west_texas_peg(8a West Cen TX)

Pnbrown,

I received in today's mail a swap from a lady in Idaho that included walking onions. The onions are purple, many about an inch in diameter and she sent a good number of starts.

If you are interested in contacting her, I will be happy to send her name and email address. She might be interested in your onions.

Peggy

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 2:55PM
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shebear(z8 NCentralTex)

Pnbrown:

Oh could my community garden have some onions? We're in the Dallas area and it would definitely give them the heat test. I promise to give them a good home and after they multiple a bunch, we'll share them with the local Food Pantry.

Thanks in advance

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 3:37PM
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pnbrown

I sent off 5 SASE's today. Hopefully the envelopes will hold up through the mail adventure, and that my little scale was accurate so the envelopes don't have more weight than the postage allows. I was slightly conservative figuring that a little less and actually arriving is better than a little more and getting returned.....

Shebear, if you a havn't already, send on the SASE. If you look at the usps website they have a list of how many ounces you get for various postages for regular envelopes and large envelopes (like the padded ones). Some of the ones I sent off today were 8 or 9 ounces which makes a pretty decent starter, I was even able to sneak in a few basal bulbs. The 2 or 3 ounce envelopes even so are at least a couple dozen small topsets, which given reproductive success can still makes a good little patch within 3 or 4 years (presuming no eating of the stock at first).

Shot, thanks, but I'd say Zeedman knows a lot more than me about the allium world. Supposedly the potato onions do very well in the south, BTW.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 2:23PM
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west_texas_peg(8a West Cen TX)

pnbrown

I received the Catawissa onion starts...thank you so very much for sharing with me. I will pass on the favor once I get them going.

Peggy

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 1:26PM
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trsinc(8 TX)

Mine arrived today safe and sound! Thank you so much. Might have questions after I finish googling around.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 7:06PM
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sudzy(5b IL)

Sir--Picked up my onions this A.M. at the post office. All are in great shape. I thank you for your time and generosity. Looking forward to growing these in IL.

Sue

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:24PM
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trsinc(8 TX)

Mr. pnbrown, how deep should I plant the little bulbils and also the two big ones(basal bulbs?)? I've been googling but I'm still not sure which is the correct way.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:58PM
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sudzy(5b IL)

trsinc: Until pnbrown returns to the thread, you might find this website informative. Trying to help. Sue

Here is a link that might be useful: top set onions

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 2:55PM
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sudzy(5b IL)

Sorry I gave you the wrong link. My apologies. Meant to give you this site.

Here is a link that might be useful: Vegetable gardening book

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 3:11PM
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pnbrown

Similar to an ordinary onion set, that is, not very deep. The top of the set about at the surface - a little under or above doesn't much matter IME. The basal bulbs have all those roots so it does pay to take a little time and spread those out and make sure they are well-covered by dirt. Glad that several packages arrived safe.

I'm seperating out and planting a bunch of basal bulbs this summer because I'm having ever worse results with seed-grown bulb onions. I increasingly uninterested in taking the time and effort to grow big onions. They are so fussy, drought-intolerant, weed-intolerant, have to be started in february and tended forever. I believe I'm about done with them - at least until I'm an old coot with untold time on my hands, or more precisely, an old man with an adequate greenhouse. Basal bulbs of catawissa given sufficient room and decent soil make quite usable bulbs for cooking and with a tiny fraction of the trouble. So I aim to put out a couple hundred with good spacing for bulbs late next summer. This year's potato-rows should be perfect.......

I wasn't able to log on this morning because the server was down from the torrential rain and lightning storm that passed through here just before dawn. We had about 3 inches of rain in the 24 hours before 6 am today. It's been an unusual summer for rainfall here, it's generally parched at this time.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 7:40PM
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trsinc(8 TX)

Well, I'm glad somebody's getting some rain! Thank you for letting me know about planting depth. I hope they make it through our heat each summer. I'm thinking if they make top sets next spring that I'll set some aside to plant in the fall (and plant some in pots in the shade), just in case the rest croak next summer. My intention is the same as yours. I hope to have a lifetime supply of onions, eventually. I'll be sure to post along the way so you can see how they are doing in our area.

And, thanks Sue, I enjoyed those two articles.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 8:03PM
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sudzy(5b IL)

trsinc and peg--
Found the link on the forum on walking onions and Mr. Browns are pictured. I found the conversation interesting. Thought you two might enjoy

Here is a link that might be useful: More Egyptian Red Topset Onion (Catawissa)?

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 11:21PM
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pnbrown

Thanks for that link, Sudzy, I'd forgotten about that thread and in fact I never read Martin's last post (I wonder what's up with him, I havn't seen any posts of his in a long time), He's right, those onion thickets need clearing out periodically, and mine are long overdue. This is a pesky task, which is why I have never done it thoroughly. In future I'm going to try to give a little more attention spring and fall and prevent the thickets from forming in the first place.

For those of you just starting, you'll find it hard to imagine at first but within a few years you'll have dense thickets of them unless you separate the bases and pull out the topsets every year.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 7:28AM
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shane11

Does anyone have or know where I could find an egyptian onion known as 'moritz'. This was selected in MO and sold by Southern Exposure Seed exchange in VA in the 1980's but they have since lost their stock. I really liked this one for its dark burgundy red bulblets and strong growth and would love to have another start. My original patch was accidently killed off by someone spraying herbicide. I fear this one has been lost.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 11:31AM
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sudzy(5b IL)

Hey!!! My onions poked up though the soil today!!! Smile. Sudzy

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 9:44PM
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pnbrown

Good deal. You'll be hacking them back with a machete in a few years.

Shane, have you talked to anyone at SSE? Or looked thru a recent SSE member offerings?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 8:00AM
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west_texas_peg(8a West Cen TX)

Pat,
It took me some time to get a container prepared for your onions, but did get them planted early part of the week and I noticed this morning that two are poking up leaves.

Thanks again for sharing.
Peggy

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 10:07AM
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sudzy(5b IL)

Shane you wrote:
Does anyone have or know where I could find an egyptian onion known as 'moritz'. This was selected in MO and sold by Southern Exposure Seed exchange in VA in the 1980's but they have since lost their stock. I really liked this one for its dark burgundy red bulblets and strong growth and would love to have another start. My original patch was accidently killed off by someone spraying herbicide. I fear this one has been lost.

I was just reading some info from Territorial Seeds. They've described an onion similar to what you are looking for although, they did not name the cultivar. Take a look at the photo. Hope this helps. Sudzy

Here is a link that might be useful: Speciality Onions

    Bookmark   October 4, 2008 at 2:13AM
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shane11

Thanks for the info. It does look like the same red egyption as I remember.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 11:18AM
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jkfergbmt_aol_com

My father-in-law who is homebound has been asking us to find some "multiplying onions" like he used to grow here in TX near Louisiana border. Can't find any here. Ideas? He loves to eat them when they are small (1/4")! We made him a small raised bed that he can access from his porch but he used to garden the whole "back 40" when he could get around.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 11:09PM
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meerrden_comcast_net

This post has been interesting but I am still lost. I have nothing at all to trade as I am starting all over after being unemployed for 2 1/2 years. Many years ago a friend gave me some red multiplying onions (red beard?) just to thin his beds. They were hardy all year here in Northwest Georgia and supplied me well until I had to move quickly. My search locally has yielded nothing and the web has also been dismal. Does anyone have any idea what variety it was and where I can get it. What other varieties would do well here being hardy, prolific and flavorful? I am partial to the flavor of yellow, red or vidailas. All veggies are going to go through the roof because of gas prices. At least growing some of our food will ease the cost a little. I will do raised beds and planters. Please Advise. meerrden@comcast.net

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 12:24AM
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