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

Potato onion failure

Processing potato onionsWe've been experimenting with potato onions for two years now, and I'm ready to pronounce them a failure.  On paper, the perennial onions looked like a great choice since you can easily save sets and don't have to buy seeds (and baby them in the early spring.) 

Harvest potato onions
And this year's harvest looks pretty good when I tell you that I pulled about fourteen pounds of onions out of seven garden beds.  The problem is that we've never been able to get more than a few of our potato onions to exceed an inch in diameter.  Peeling enough potato onions to equal one seed-started onion would take half an hour!

I've tried every trick I could think of to get my potato onions to make bigger bulbs instead of just lots and lots of small bulbs.  I've tried different planting dates, snipped off the flowers when they appeared, and even dreamed that Eric Toensmeier was right and you have to plant small bulbs to get big onions.  No dice.

Even though we're not going to replant any of this year's potato onions, I'm not quite ready to give up on the idea of potato onions.  I've noticed that Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has stopped selling the Loretta Yellow Multiplier Onions we bought from them and are now offering a different variety.  Maybe too many people complained and they came up with a better option?

I'd be curious to hear if any of you have had better luck with potato onions.  Any onions that head up to a decent size?  If so, what variety did you grow?

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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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No luck at all.
Comment by Errol Sat Jun 25 13:35:32 2011

I emailed the company that sold us the bulbs (and our awesome garlic) and got this reply:

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.

I need to ponder a bit more, but I may give their new variety a shot.

Comment by anna Sun Jun 26 19:24:27 2011
I'm not sure if this is what your onion failure could be attributed to but I had an issue when I ordered "long day" onions because I assumed this is what I needed since I was in the south, but it was really just the opposite.
Comment by Brian Mon Jun 27 15:52:51 2011
As far as I know, day length is only relevant for onions you grow from seed. We're right on the dividing line between long day and short day onions, so I grow long day onions from seed (copra hybrid does well for us as long as I can get them to sprout early enough in the year.) Perennial onions, though, don't seem to have a preference for certain day lengths.
Comment by anna Mon Jun 27 17:12:00 2011

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