Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shallots and Potato Onions

I harvested all my shallots and potato onions today. The garden smelled like a stew. It was delicious.

I grew shallots for the first time last year. I grew a variety called Sharon's, which was pretty, but seemed to put all of its energy into trying to flower no matter how vigilant I was at removing flower stalks, leaving me with skinny shallots that were mostly tough, dead, flower stalks. This year, I grew the ubiquitous French Red, and I'm delighted with its performance. I'll keep the best specimens to plant this fall, hopefully encouraging the same kind of microclimate acclimation that occurs in garlic.


Within the same species, Allium cepa var. aggregatum, lives the fascinating potato onion. Larger than a shallot, more standardly onion in flavor, and very long-keeping, the potato onion was the onion of choice for many westward headed settlers. The earliest mention I found online of the potato onion was in a British book dating to 1847 titled Midland Florist and Suburban Agriculturist. This book mentioned the potato onion's propagation and sale in London in 1796.

The potato onion clumps like shallots. When I planted them this fall, I planted small bulbs that grew to be fat (2 1/2 inches) bulbs and large bulbs that divided into many smaller bulbs. That's the general planting strategy: plant a mix of large and small, so you can harvest large ones for a big portion of your harvest and small ones that will become large ones next year. Growing the potato onion requires the future view.

That is what I love about both shallots and potato onions (and garlic and Egyptian Walking Onions): they're perennials. If you find a good strain, keeping it going is as simple as planting its divisions again next year.



Now, piles of shallots and potato onions lay across several drying racks in the garden shed. I'll let them dry a few weeks, remove excess foliage, then divide them for storage. I'll separate the largest, healthiest shallots to plant this fall. I'll choose a few of the largest potato onions and all the tiny ones to plant again in the fall. The rest, I'll hang in net bags in my kitchen, ready to make food taste good. And if all goes well, next year, I'll do it all again. After all, perennial vegetables just keep happening.

11 comments:

michelle said...

Those potato onions are fascinating, I love the idea of a perennial onion. Unfortunately I think I'm going to have to rid my garden of alliums for a few years. My garlic is absolutely nasty with rust and it's on my welsh onions as well. The rust spores have got to be everywhere now and from what I've read it will infect other onion and leek varieties.

Did you know that shallots are day length sensitive? That's probably the reason why your shallots insisted on blooming and didn't form bulbs.

Christina said...

Hi Michelle: Thanks for the day-light sensitive info on shallots--I didn't know that. The French Red did really, really well this year, despite trying to bloom. I treated them like garlic and removed the flowers. The problem with Sharon's last year was that the flower stalk completely consumed the plant, rather than just sort of shriveling back as the French Red stalks did this year. I'm so sorry to hear about your rust problem--that is so frustrating!

altadenahiker said...

Potato onion just sounds like all sorts of fun to me. (But then, it's been a rough spring.)

wholelarderlove.com said...

My shallots and onions are just settling in for winter...but I planted a heap more this year as we use so many! It's a really undervalued vegetable the Onion and Co.

michelle said...

I forgot to tell you that I picked most of the winter set manzano peppers off my plant but they don't seem to have set viable seed, none of them looked good. I'll keep you in mind for the time when I get some good looking seeds from that plant.

the good soup said...

I have never planted shallots or garlic, let alone potato onions. But this acclimation thing you talk about- that gives me courage. Does that mean that the I can grow my little oniony successes into much bigger ones over time? I like that sound of that!

AJK said...

I haven't had much luck with regular bulb onions, and this Potato Onion sounds like it will work! I even planted short day varieties, but still, I get hardly any good ones. Can I swap you for some potato onions? I'm fairly close to you in West Covina. I have Amish Paste Tomato plants, Oca and American Ground Nut plants if you're interested.

Christina said...

AH: Give me another season with them to get a more sizable stock, then I will share with you. I think you'll enjoy them.

Wholelarderlove: Having the allium family in your yard means you've got the start of good food. So much begins with onions in a hot pan . . ..

Michelle: I was able to pick up a seedling at The Huntington Plant sale! Thanks for thinking of me.

AJK: I will happily share next year. I don't have many, and most of what I have I'll be saving to build up my own planting stock. Next year, I should have a more sizable harvest. Thanks for the offer of a swap though--the American Ground Nut sounds fascinating! I'd definitely be interested in swapping for that next year.

Russ said...

needing some expert advice on potato onions and shallots. I planted quite a few of each(I thought)last fall. But now I am not sure of the shallots, they were kinda like garlic cloves, multiple bulbs in one skin, difficult to separate. The potato onions, were single big onions, and several smaller versions. The shallots now look more like the potato onions late this spring. There was no blooms in supposedly shallots, nor potato onions. Way to tell difference?? thanks

Christina said...

Hi Russ, I don't know that I am an expert. In my case, the shallots are a red variety; also, they are teardrop shaped. The potato onions are colored like a yellow onion, and even the small ones are round. I hope that helps at least a little.

turkeysong said...

Hi Christina. I'm a big Potato Onion fan as well and have posted about them a lot on my blog. I've had no end of trouble with Shallots bolting, but maybe Michelle is right and I need to try some other varieties. A friend of mine in the area grows Shallots from seed to avoid the bolting issue.