I was first introduced to walking onions by a good friend
over a decade ago.  I’m not sure why I
didn’t immediately grasp the potential and importance of such a wonderful
vegetable.  Maybe they were just too
novel.  Maybe because I’d never heard of

Anyway, the garden at the new house included a patch of
these walking onions, also known as Egyptian onions, topset onions, winter
onions, tree onions, and multiplier onions. 
The growing season had already passed, and we were busy moving in.  We also needed a secure place to keep Lydia’s
sheep while proper accommodations were being built for them.  So they went into the fenced garden area with
the walking onions.  The sheep didn’t eat
them, but they sure trampled them to death. 
I wasn’t too worried; I figured at least a few would come back and I
could transplant them where I wanted. 

They came back with a vengeance.  So that was the first positive for learning
how to grow and use them.  They are hardy
little buggers that reproduce prolifically. 
And if they multiply too much, or you need them in a different location,
they are easy to transplant.

The second advantage walking onions offer is that they are
fresh and available throughout spring, summer, and fall.  (Those living in warmer climates can enjoy
them year-round.)  No more having to buy
onions at the grocery store, especially with rising costs and other
issues.  I’m not the only one who has
noticed recently that store-bought onions start spoiling pretty quickly. 

As one of the first vegetables to emerge in the spring,
walking onions shoot their green stalks to the sky, even through the snow.  At this point, the leaves may be snipped off
and used as chives or scallions. 

In time, the smaller leaves yield to make way for a large,
dominant stalk that shoots up to three feet high.  At the top of this stalk, a cluster of
bulbils or bulblets begins to grow. 
These “topset” clusters contain from 1 to 30 individual bulbils that can
be plucked off and planted, or they can be left on the plant.  If the plant is sturdy enough, these bulbils
may also start growing and shoot out their own stalks, thus evolving into “tree”
onions. However, most of the time the
stalks with the topsets fall over, with the topsets landing on the
soil.  Shortly thereafter, the topsets take root and begin growing.  The
process repeats, and if you do not control them, you’ll soon have
onions “walking” all over the garden. 

Walking onions do not make seed like other onions.  They only propagate by means of the bulbils,
which are about one-fourth to one-half the size of regular onion sets.  Very few nurseries carry walking onions in
stock; your best bet will be to order bulbils online.  (If you know me in real life, you’re welcome
to stop by for some bulbils.)

Planting.  While the
bulbils can be planted year-round, even in winter (assuming the ground is not
frozen), fall is the best time for planting. 
Regardless of when the bulbils are planted, they will probably not make
topsets during that first year.  Fall
planted bulbils may not make topsets the following year, either. 

Growing.  Like other
perennial bulbs, walking onions will grow bigger each year, yielding more and
larger topsets above the ground and larger clumps of bulbs beneath the
surface.  These bulbs are easily divided
to be transplanted, shared with friends, or eaten.  If you wish to grow bigger onions, plant the
bulbils about 4” apart in the soil and remove the topsets before they
develop.  Naturally, if you harvest the
onion at this point, it will not make onions in the future.

Harvesting.  The
topsets are best harvested late summer to early fall.  The topsets can be used like garlic.  The greens may be harvested at any time and
used like green onions.  Take only 1-2
shoots from each plant so that the onion may continue to grow.  The onions in the ground are about the size
and shape of shallots. 

Eating.  In spring, the fresh greens can be used as
scallions or green onions.  The bulbs can be harvested at any time of
the year.  Walking onions are a bit more intense in flavor, so I use
less when I’m cooking.  They’re a great
addition to soups and casseroles and work well sautéed or raw in salads.  The topsets can be used as a spicy garlic.  Just be sure to save some for planting.

Best of all, they keep coming back with
little effort on your part.

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