Potato onion cultivation
Potato onions were
one of our experimental vegetables this year, and I'd be
hard-pressed to call them a success. The total production from
one garden bed was 60 bulbs, but most were too small to bother skinning
supper. I figure that all together they'd add up to enough onion
flesh to feed us for about two weeks.
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On the other hand,
potato onions do have a
lot of potential. These storage onions can be grown from
multiplied bulbs, a bit like Egyptian
onions, with no need
to buy seed or sets
every year. If we tweak our growing technique a bit, I
think we could turn potato onions into a dependable part of our annual
We began our experiment
with an eight ounce starter package of Loretta
Onions from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. The company told us
that we could choose to plant bulbs in the fall for a larger yield, but
also a higher likelihood of losing onions to freezing, or could wait
and plant in the
spring. We opted to toss them all in the ground at the beginning
like to say that we lost a third of the bulbs to winter cold, but
instead I have to admit to mismanagement. After planting, I
mulched the bed heavily with autumn leaves since I knew from experience
that garlic will push up through a heavy mulch with
no problem. Potato onions are made of weaker stuff, though,
and the bulbs under the thickest mulch languished and died.
came, and our remaining onions were doing well. As
the original bulb divided into multiple bulbs, the plant pushed the
dirt aside and I was able to watch the onions grow. I was pleased
to see each individual plant turn into six to ten smaller plants, and
then the bulbs began to swell.
I thought we were in for
a bumper crop, but then over half of the
potato onions threw up flower stalks. An exhaustive search of the
internet turns up little data about potato onion flowers, except that
they're rare and channel energy away from the bulbs. A few
that potato onions are more likely to bloom when fall planted, so next
year I'll stick to spring planting. I was disappointed but not
surprised to find that the
blooming plants produced only small bulbs.
few non-blooming onions, though, sparked my interest. Each plant
produced one to two big bulbs about two thirds the size of a
storebought onion, along with several small bulbs for replanting.
I plan to eat the big bulbs and put all of the small ones in the ground
early next spring. If we can tweak our planting
method to prevent blooming, I foresee doing away with fiddly seed
onions and expensive and ephemeral onion sets and instead planting
potato onions every year from our own offset bulbs.