Statesman gardening columnist Margaret Lauterbach is taking some time off. She’ll be writing again in January. But she’s checking her email, so if you have questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meantime, we’re repeating some of her most popular advice.
Nearly all of us love onions, and they’re one of the main ingredients in most recipes. Many call for scallions (green bulbless onions), and there’s really no taste substitute. I grow Evergreen bunching onions, a scallion variety, in containers where they’re readily available nearly year-round.
There are other varieties of hardy bunching scallions available, but the Evergreen onion seeds are available from several seed sellers. They’re also called Welsh onions in the West, Chinese or Japanese onions in the Far East. They’re invariably necessary in Asian recipes, and give texture and taste interest to cooked quinoa. “Welsh” has nothing to do with Wales. The word was an Anglo-Saxon (and now German) word that means “foreign.” Varieties other than Evergreen may be milder or have longer white parts than Evergreen, but I’ve found this variety very useful. There are even red-fleshed scallion seeds available from some Asian seed vendors.
Now my scallions have gone to seed, and the onions aren’t choice for culinary use right now, but they’ll be good again soon and be multiplied by seeds dropping and tillering below the soil surface. All seem to be very hardy, but some varieties are specifically grown for “winter onions.”
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Some folks substitute “walking onions” for scallions in early spring. These are called “walking onions” because they set bulblets instead of flowers at the tops of their leaves that, as they grow heavier, topple to soil and there set root. These onions taste best before the bulblets set, and this is the time when your crop is vulnerable to over-consumption. When bulblets set, the mother onions develop stronger pungency. These are perennial onions, but if you or another begins harvesting all of these spring onions, you lose the crop. You must save at least a few to set bulblets for succeeding years. Some friends have lost their crops in this way.
The gardener growing walking onions (also called Egyptian or tree onions) may snip off the bulblets and place them where he/she wants them to grow. These bulblets mature in late summer, usually beginning to set roots and leaves, even though they’re still at the top of a leaf. At times, one of the bulblet leaves will stretch out and set another set of bulblets, giving rise to the designation of “tree onions.” They’re very hardy, and not particular about soil or growing conditions.
I have a clump of fat bunching onions in one of my beds that I believe is Shimonita variety. I planted it from Territorial Seeds seed about three years ago, but I can’t verify the variety because Territorial couldn’t get seeds and isn’t carrying it this year. This is not a bulbing onion, but is shaped and sized more like a leek. It’s sweetly flavorful. I’m surprised Territorial couldn’t get seeds, because this variety goes quickly to abundant seed set in spring.
One vendor, Kitazawa Seed, reports Shimonita Negi is the “king of the Negi (alliums)” for its fat white roots and enticing flavor, but it really needs to be in the ground a full year to develop its fat roots. Some do harvest it after six months, but one should wait a year. They also say the sweetness of the root increases with cooking. They recommend its use in sukiyaki, tempura and other dishes. Tillering occurs, but is quite manageable. My little cluster of Shimonitas started as a group of three, and even though I’ve given away two or three, the clump now numbers about a dozen.
There are multiplier or potato onions, but I’ve never grown or eaten them because they’re not available as seed, and the Idaho Department of Agriculture has an embargo on allium sets not grown in this area. A friend who grew them in another part of the country said they were delicious.
Insect enemies of scallions and other members of the allium family are thrips that scour chlorophyll from leaves and wireworms that invade the soil-borne shank of the onions.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.