The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Growing bigger potato onions

Yellow potato onionAfter planting Loretta Yellow Multiplier Onions from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for two years, I finally pronounced the experiment a failure.  When your onions are smaller than your garlic cloves (no, not heads), you know something's wrong.  Yes, I've valiantly peeled and chopped two thirds of the potato onions so far, but it took me a full hour to prepare enough onions for one of my big freezer soup afternoons and that was the straw that broke the camel's back.  No more potato onions!, I swore.

But I adore the idea of perennial onions, so I emailed SESE and got back the following note:

We had similar issues with the Loretta onion not sizing up as well as other potato onions so we have stopped offering it. The potato onions we have been offering the last few years has a mixture of sizes but about 1/3 are 2-4" if kept well weeded, mulched, grown in beds with plenty of organic matter and watered as needed.

If you are getting good garlic you should be able to get larger bulbs from [our new] strain than the Loretta. We have a couple of growers in your area who do well with potato onions so I expect it would be worth a try with another strain.

So I ordered some "Yellow Potato Onions" from SESE and put them in the ground along with the garlic.  I'll let you know next summer whether potato onions are back in my good graces.

Big potato onionMeanwhile, Stevene commented to tell me about a breeding experiment conducted by Kelly Winterton.  Some of Winterton's potato onions bloomed and (unlike mine, which flowered but produced nothing), he was able to collect seed.  The next year, he planted out the seeds and saw the usual hodgepodge of traits that you'll find when planting hybrid seed.  But some of the onions both multiplied (like a potato onion) and bulked up to the size shown here.

So the next year, Winterton and a buddy planted the bulbs of the big potato onions --- named Green Mountain Multiplier.  They were planning to sell the results...until the deer struck.  As of September 7, there are 27 Green Mountain Multiplier onions in existence.  So, don't get your hopes up about buying some Green Mountain Multiplier onions just yet.

Perhaps the reason Winterton got viable seed and I didn't is because his potato onions crossed with the Cepa type onions you grow from seed?  It would take multiple years to test my hypothesis out, but I may give it a shot if this year's potato onion variety fails to exceed the size of a garlic clove.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I, too, love the idea of perennial onions. Please be sure to tell us how they do. I believe I grew the new SESE strain of potato multiplier onions this past season, and they grew okay in my VA garden. (Not planting any this fall.) Most were fairly small but not the size of garlic cloves! There were a few bigger ones. My SESE garlic did very well, and this fall I'm adding a second variety, Inchelium Red, to the Silverwhite Silverskin that I already grow. In another bed I also planted Copra onions grown from seed (1/2 from indoor transplants and 1/2 direct seeded) and they didn't do too well either, so maybe it was just me. Good luck!

I'm going to try Copra (and/or maybe Patterson) again next season. Do you grow annual onions from seed successfully? My stores of all onions harvested (except scallion-type) are gone, and I'm back to buying onions at the store already (or substituting scallions in recipes).

Comment by Lisa P Tue Sep 27 08:48:34 2011

I also grew the new variety of yellow potato onions from SESE in my MD garden. They did okay, but only a couple were what I would consider large enough for eating. The rest I kept for planting stock. However, I assumed this would be the case. I figured I'd have to save most to build my seed stock. I'll be planting later in the Fall, hopefully they do a little better this time.

I've read that planting larger seed stock give many small onions. Planting small seed stock gives fewer bigger onions. I'll be tracking it on my blog this year, so hopefully I'll have a more details about what happened when than I had last year.

As for garlic, I'm really happy with the SESE garlic. I bought one of their packs with 4 varieties. All did great. But we have fallen in love with garlic scapes, so I will only plant hardneck this year.

Comment by Greg Tue Sep 27 13:45:16 2011

Lisa and Greg --- Interesting to hear from two other folks trying the new SESE potato onion variety.

Our garlic is also from SESE and does amazing. This year, we're growing a lot more Music (hardneck) because we just get such heavy yields and the huge cloves are a joy to work with. We're also increasing our Inchelium Red, which seems to have high yields for a softneck (although I always seem to harvest it a bit late --- gotta remember it is ready a week or two earlier than the others.) I had been planting more Silverwhite Silverskin, but when I crunched the numbers this year, I realized the variety was yielding less per bed than the others. (The bulbs do tend to last longest in the spring, though.)

Lisa --- I've had very mixed results with the onions I've planted from seed. This spring, I did some experiments, and hopefully next year I'll know better how to raise them.

Greg --- I'd read the same thing about planting the larger potato onions to get lots of small ones or the small ones to get a few large ones, and I kept careful notes on the size of the bulbs I planted last year. With the dud variety I was growing, unfortunately planting small bulbs didn't make any difference. Hopefully this new variety will be better!

Comment by anna Tue Sep 27 14:50:12 2011
Anna - Thank you for the additional garlic info. I almost picked up Music from SESE's Heritage Harvest Festival table two weekends ago, but for some reason didn't! Kicking myself now. I just ordered 8 oz of Music online (and paid shipping!) because I really need a larger garlic harvest than I had this past year (~30 heads from one 8 oz starter pack of Silverwhite Silverskin). I use a lot more garlic than I initially thought and will probably run out of homegrown in November! I hope to plant at least 100 of my biggest cloves this year.
Comment by Lisa P Tue Sep 27 18:39:16 2011
Isn't it funny how you start using a lot more of vegetables when you grow them yourself? I suspect you'll love your Music garlic as much as we do --- and the plants are stunningly beautiful!!
Comment by anna Wed Sep 28 08:43:37 2011

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