Egyptian Walking Onions
Whether you call them walking onions, forever onions, tree onions, egyptian walking onions, or winter onions: these perennial alliums (latin name for onion family) are a winner in the homestead garden! They can provide delicious fresh onion flavor for whatever your recipes call for any time of the year, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
Many people consider the flavor of this relatively mild onion preferable to the bite of more strongly flavored traditional onion types. Walking onions can be used raw or cooked in most any recipe, and even make great pickles when used whole. You can get a triple harvest off of these prolific producers! Early on you can harvest the greens as a scallion. They produce a copious top-set of bulbils (like garlic only larger), or you can divide the bulbs in the ground to harvest a small onion(usually between a ping-pong and racquet ball sized bulb). If you separate the cluster of onions in the ground be sure to plant one back to keep the harvest going! They are perennial as long as you leave at least one bulb behind.
You can plant the bulbs or bulbils any time of the year as long as the ground isn’t frozen. Planting is simple you just bury them in the ground one to two inches deep, water them in, and mulch. They will propagate themselves pretty prolifically if you leave them to their own devices. The bulbs will multiply similar to a daffodil or iris bulb cluster.
The top-set will nod over onto the ground as the plant matures in the fall, and anywhere the bulbils contact the ground they will start a new plant. This is how the got the name walking onion, they will literally walk their way across your garden patch if you let them. Each bulbil will start to make its own cluster of bulbs, though you won’t get a sizable harvest for a couple of years planting this way. The bulbils are usually nickel sized or smaller so they take some time to get up to full size. Planting the bulbils this way you can grow and harvest them as an annual for scallions if you wish. Or if you snatch the top-set before it gets to the ground they make a fine pickle or can be added to stir fry whole.
I planted my bulbils last fall, and they are looking pretty good this spring. They even beat the garlic out of the ground, and that is saying something!
I would say it was even money on the daffodils, nettles, and walking onions on which one emerged first. I could harvest some now for scallions, but I want to really let these guys get some good growth and propagate them latter on. I got my initial seed stock through a seed exchange in the mail. It’s amazing the variety of plants you can get from folks if you just ask. I was able to source the walking onions, comfrey, nasturtium, burdock, blackberry, and mulberry cuttings all from the community at the forums on Permies.com. But I digress, this post is about the walking onions not the cool folks at Permies.
The egyptian walking onion is said to be a hybrid of a bunching onion and a bulb onion. If this is the case then it should be possible to breed your own unique variety specific to your locale. I’m going to try interplanting perennial Welsh Bunching onions alongside some red onions that I’ve got started, in hopes of cross pollination, and letting some go to seed. I figure it’s worth a try anyway. All walking onions that I am aware of are sterile clones of the mother plant. They produce no viable seed and are propagated via the methods mentioned above. Clones are convenient, but they pose some potential problems in that they may have no resistance to a specific disease or pest. If something comes along that really likes your plant there will be no good way of stopping it from being wiped out. Lack of genetic diversity in any population is a problem.
The egyptian walking onion, tree onion, forever onion, or just plain walking onion, whatever you want to call it, is an early prolific producer in the homestead garden. I believe this rare and almost forgotten heirloom vegetable deserves a place of honor in any garden.
Tune in next week for another exciting episode of Homestead Heros, Plants of Promise when we’ll delve into the mysterious world of the common garden strawberry!