I have started harvesting my first crop for the season: Egyptian Walking Onions. They grow under the snow during the winter and are ready for harvest about 3 weeks after our winter snow cover melts. My father calls them forever onions because they continue to produce food for my family until covered with snow in the fall. The strain I am growing was collected from my great-grandfather’s garden.
How to Use Egyptian Walking Onions
I love the taste of walking onions. They are robustly flavored without the strong sting that is so disagreeable to me in some varieties of onion.
In my climate walking onions produce scallions (green onions) during the entire growing season. In hotter climates they may form a dormant bulb during the hottest part of the summer. The bulbils may be eaten as well. The bulbils are small, so I like using them in dishes that don’t require peeling such as pickles or roasted onion.
How to Grow Eqyptian Walking Onions
Walking onions are a hardy perennial. In my climate they can be planted or harvested any time of year except when the ground is frozen. If pulled, the roots and a small piece of bulb may be replanted. They’ll grow a new plant. They may be propagated by planting the bulbils that form on top of the flower stalk, or by digging and dividing the mother clump. There are a few weeks after the flower stalk forms in which the stem becomes hard and undesirable. New bulbs form beside the flower stalk producing tender bulbs later in the season.
I typically keep a perennial mother clump to generate bulbils that I harvest and store in a dry area. I then replant the bulbils every few weeks as an annual to grow successive crops of green onions for market and to feed my family.
Egyptian onions are an inter-species hybrid between bulbing onions and bunching onions. The plants produce a few flowers, but as far as my plant breeding network has been able to determine, they may be sterile and produce few if any viable seeds. Oh no! One of those sterile plants that I was badmouthing the last couple of blogs. I did that deliberately to demonstrate that I’m willing to grow some sterile plants if fertile substitutes can’t be found. I used to grow sterile potatoes, but successfully transitioned to only growing fecund potatoes that produce true pollinated seeds. I also grow garlic and seedless grapes which are both sterile. Eventually I’ll transition to only growing fertile garlic, but I can’t foresee totally giving up my seedless grapes.
I have a small patch of onions my garden which is planted to both bulbing onions and bunching onions. I allow them to flower together. I am hoping to eventually find some inter-species hybrids among the offspring. This will create more biodiversity among my tree onions and allow them to avoid the eventual fate of clones: a combination of pests, diseases, or weather that overcomes the plants defenses. My ancestor’s clone has been going strong for more than 70 years, but it could meet it’s demise any decade now.
I am also using pollen from both parent species to pollinate the top setting onion flowers. Perhaps that will be the kick they need to set seed.
Egyptian walking onions are a wonderful plant in the home garden because they can provide great onion taste any time of year that the ground isn’t frozen. Even though they are grown as clones, I suspect that the creation of new clones may be within the skill set of the average landrace gardener. This is part of the reason why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.
Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art of landrace gardeningin order to feed his community more effectively.