How to Grow Egyptian Walking Onions
Tips on how to grow the Egyptian walking onion. Both easy and fun to grow, this perennial crop produces clusters of tiny onion bulbs at the tops of its stems. You can eat these bulbs but this crop is best used as oniony greens to use instead of green onions.
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One of the quirkiest and most dependable vegetables that I grow is the Egyptian walking onion. It’s a perennial, which means that the plant grows back from its main bulb every year. You can eat the tender green leaves it grows in spring and every time you cut the plant back. They also produce clusters of tiny onion bulbs at the tops of their stems and a larger one at their base. You can eat all of the plant, but if you leave the main bulb in the ground, it will continue to grow from year to year.
Egyptian walking onions are a tree onion that received its name from the way it spreads. The weight of the bulbils on the tops of the stem make the stem topple over and the tiny bulbs grow into new plants a couple feet away from the parent. I’ve found them lying on the ground in the garden in January before, a tiny green sprouts emerging from every tiny clove.
Benefits of Growing Egyptian Walking Onions
There are several types of perennial onions to choose from so why grow the Egyptian walking onion Allium cepa var. proliferum? First of all, they’re hardy and will emerge every year before many of your other edibles. It’s a moment of joy when you see their green spikes pushing up from the earth in February.
You can also eat all parts of it including the main bulb, the stems (when they’re new and tender), and the tiny onionettes in the top set. They’re also an interesting plant to look at and aren’t invasive at all with their walk-about nature.
Lastly, this dependable oniony green regrows every year. That means that you can plant it once and know that it will regrow indefinitely. If you like spring onions in your meals and recipes, the Egyptian walking onion will provide you with greens from spring to autumn every year.
Buy Egyptian Walking Onions
Growing Egyptian Walking Onions from Bulbils
Grow Egyptian walking onions by planting the small mature onions from the top of the stems. They grow green shoots that are best left to grow without harvesting in the first year. In winter they’ll die back but regrow again every spring after that if you leave the main bulb growing in the ground. In spring you can harvest the the tender green leaves and use them like chives or green onions. The foliage gets sturdier and thicker in summer, but if you cut the plant’s leaves back to an inch from the ground, they’ll grow fresh new ones.
If you leave the leaves and central stem to mature in summer, they’ll grow a bulbil. It looks a cluster of tiny onions that grows at the top of the central stem. At first, they look like flower buds, some of them curly like a garlic scape. These mature into heads of tiny onion cloves that you can harvest green or wait until the end of summer to harvest. Ripe Egyptian walking onion bulbils are protected enough by their outer skins to store right through winter.
You’ll know that the bulbils ready to harvest when the stems have browned and dried up and the tiny bulbs look like miniature onions. If you keep them dry, cool, and out of direct sunlight, the bulbils can last into the new year. You can also plant some of them in the autumn to create new plants for next year.
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Planting Egyptian Walking Onions
Each of the little onion sets can be planted directly into the soil, providing it’s not too cold or wet. The best time to do this is in very early autumn and you should cover them with about a half-inch of soil. It’s up to you whether you wish to break them up into individual onions or plant the entire top set as one. An entire set can grow together, but the individual plants will be smaller. If you’re aiming to grow these to harvest the main bulb, give each plant at least a couple of inches space.
Aftercare is easy. A mulch high in nitrogen, such as homemade compost, will keep their green leaves growing strong. In April the greens will be about 18″ tall and you can pick some of them to use as giant chives or as spring onions. I avoid removing all the leaves from plants and tend to leave at least one strong one to keep the plant going.
Individual Egyptian walking onions plants don’t seem to mind crowding each other. To reduce the chance of disease (like rust) I tend to space mine a few inches apart. All alliums like rich soil that’s well drained so if you have space in a raised bed, plant them there. You’ll see see signs of life by early February. Eventually, they will grow into a small patch, or thick row, that look charming with their quirky little top sets.
Growing Egyptian Walking Onions in Modules
The other way to grow Egyptian Walking Onions is in modules. Fill them with multipurpose potting mix and just press the little sets into the centre. It’s best to have them fully under the potting mix and up to a half an inch deep. That way, they’ll develop strong root systems and grow into healthy young plants. Water them well and set them either in your greenhouse or a sheltered area in the garden. You’ll have green shoots on them around the same time as outdoor planted sets.
When you’re past your last frost date and the soil has warmed up, plant out each plant in the garden. If you think they could use a little more footing, you could plant them slightly deeper than they were originally growing. Otherwise, plant them to the level they grew at in the modules.
Egyptian Walking Onions are Clump-forming
Though the Egyptian Walking Onion is not invasive, it will happily drop it’s top set and grow on its own. Maybe this is where it got it’s nickname of ‘Egyptian’ from. Generations of these pretty tree onions could probably walk all the way to Egypt given enough time!
If you’d like to keep just a few plants, harvest the main bulbs of some of your mature plants. They won’t grow back but are delicious used in place of shallots or small onions. If you leave the main bulbs in the ground, they’ll continue to regrow for years to come.
Cooking with the Egyptian Walking Onion
The tiny onions are so small that you might wonder what could be made with them. First off, you need to imagine the flavor. It’s somewhere between onions and garlic so use them as such. Infuse the peeled onionettes in oil or saute them in butter or oil. Either way, use them to your hearts content in pasta and stir fries.
One tool that makes cooking with them a lot easier is a garlic press. With it you don’t even have to peel the tiny onions. Simply place one or two inside, press hard, and the onion squeezes out through the mesh. It makes such short work of them!
Have bought these for the first time. I’ll follow your advice and plant in modules before they go out to the raised bed on our plot. Looking forward to trying these!
Have fun growing them, Belinda! They’re an interesting plant to look at and edible too :)
I love growing these! We dig them up every time we move so we can take them with us. We originally got them to put it the children’s garden because we wanted to watch them walk. They really do!