Try bunching onions this season

By Tom Seymour | Jan 14, 2021
Photo by: Tom Seymour

Bunching onions, also known as green onions or scallions, are easy to grow and take very little space in the garden. I find bunching onions useful when I want onions in a salad, but don’t wish to go through the process of peeling and slicing a bulb-type onion.

Bunching onions require loose soil and little or no competition from weeds. While some people consider the bulb inconsequential, onions grown in rich, loose soil can develop a bulb as big as a person’s thumb, depending upon the type of onion. One such onion will add much to a salad.

Some may ask why grow onions at all, since they are so inexpensive and easily available? There are several answers to that question. First, regarding standard, bulb-type onions, it is true that they are among the cheapest of vegetables. Still, store-bought varieties are limited to a few good keepers, whereas seed companies offer a wide variety of types to choose from.

But when discussing bunching onions, we must remember they are not inexpensive and pound-for-pound, rate as one of the more expensive vegetables. Besides that, store-bought, bunching onions don’t come in many varieties. In some cases, we are fortunate if our local grocer carries them at all.

Seed companies carry lots of different bunching onions, and some varieties sell out faster than others. I recommend that if you have a particular kind in mind, order it early to make sure the seed is still in stock.

Here’s another thing about bunching onions. While you can order sets, or pre-sprouted, bulb-type onions, there is no need to buy sets of bunching onions because they are so easily started from seed.

Also, while other vegetables don’t lend themselves to being too closely spaced in the starting tray, the reverse is true for bunching onions. I start hundreds of seeds in a standard, rectangular peat pot, the kind that small seedlings come in. At planting time, all you need do is pull off a bunch of closely packed seedlings and separate them just before setting out.

As mentioned earlier, key to success with bunching onions is giving them loose soil. There, they will thrive and grow to their maximum size. Also, since onion roots are shallow and quite weak and spindly, don’t disturb the soil around the base when weeding. It’s okay to use a small hoe to cut the weeds, but just don’t get too close to the onion. If you can pull the weeds around the onions by hand without disturbing the roots, so much the better.

Most people grow bunching onions for the tops, which are used in the same manner as chives, snipped and sprinkled over salads and various dishes. I use both tops and bulbs in the same way. Of the two, bunching onion tops have a far better flavor and texture than chives. Or at least that’s my opinion.

We have several options for planting bunching onions. The traditional row method works fine, for starters. I have had good results planting bunching onions as a border crop, set around the periphery of other row-style plantings. This way, the room the onions take is negligible.

The final thought here is to use a cottage-garden mentality. That is, place your bunching onions here and there, anywhere you have some free space. Either way, as long as you maintain good, loose, rich soil, you’ll reap a bounty of healthful, delicious bunching onions.

Onion types

Here are two varieties that should work well in our Maine gardens.

Red Bird has a small bit of red near its base. It can be ready for harvest in as little as 45 days, but can be left in the garden for up to 85 days. I have trouble waiting for my bunching onions to fully mature, but always manage to leave some for the maximum time period, if for no other reason than to make myself feel better about it.

Another good variety, Evergreen, is a white bunching onion with mild, green bulbs. Evergreen can be picked in 70 days. A search in any seed catalogue should reveal many more types.

My favorites are the red or purple types. These grow large enough bulbs to have some substance and also, have a mild and sweet flavor.

Whichever kind you choose, I suggest you try raising some bunching onions from seed and setting them out this spring. You won’t be disappointed.

Tom Seymour is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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