The Versatile Onion Family

| 5/27/2014 9:05:00 AM

Tags: onions, garlic, leeks, ramps, chives, shallots, garden planning, North Carolina, Nan K Chase,

Meet the Onion Family. They’re my new best friends in the garden:

Onions (white, yellow, purple, “walking,” bunching)
Scallions (simply onions that haven’t formed bulbs, or what we call spring onions)

I have experimented with growing most, but not all, of the species on that list. Each one has its quirks and personality, its favored growing conditions. What they all share is great hardiness in weather extremes and the ability to grow in many parts of the country. Onions are economical to grow and by raising them yourself you avoid some particularly nasty strains of food poisoning that have accompanied dangerous commercial farming practices.

Members of the onion family are also great kitchen companions, adding character to all sorts of dishes. In springtime chives and scallions, as well as the wild garlic called ramp, act as vitamin-rich tonics.

Leeks Cleaned

The onion family is so vast and varied that just reading about them in seed catalogs inspires me. My main failing in growing them is probably that I skimp on fertilizer; for the most part onion relatives do best in compost-rich, nutrient-rich, deeply-worked soil. I need to add more composted manure. Some of the onions also like a thick mulch cover to protect them in heat and cold. I use straw.          

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