Growing and Using Egyptian Onions
In the fall of 2006, I was given five tiny Egyptian onion sets. Just the top off of one plant. My friend, who gave me the sets, said, "Be careful where you plant these. They will grow, and you will have onions. I accidentally rototilled some of them one year, and now they grow all over my garden."
I took the little sets home, eager to have a never-ending source of onions, and planted them in a permanent patch of garden, among my iris, chives, and lilacs.
The next spring they grew up, tall and slender. Only having five plants, I left them alone.
- Onions are bi-annuals, meaning the first year they only grow leaves. The second year, they are larger and produce flowers, or in this case, sets.
By 2008, those five little plants had multiplied in a bunching manner, and where each one had been planted, I now had three to five new plants. Each of these produced sets on top of a strong stem, giving me over 550 new sets that fall!
- Egyptian onions are extremely hardy.
- They tolerate cold, heat, and poor soil.
- They are disease and pest resistant.
- They will grow, even after being frozen during the winter months.
Planting Egyptian Onions
If you only have a few sets that you would like to plant and keep for producing more sets, I recommend planting them in a perennial flower garden, where they will be tended and cared for year after year. Plant the sets eight inches apart, with a 1/2" of soil over the top of the set.
If you have many sets, and wish to plant them for use as green onions, plant 4"-6" apart, in rows 12" apart, with a 1/2" of soil over the top of the set.
Onions can be planted any time from earliest spring until the snow falls.
- Planted early enough in the fall, sets will have time to grow a few inches tall and produce sets the next year.
- If you are planting for the sake of green onions, wait until spring to plant. The sets will keep in a cool, dry place throughout the winter.
Growing Green Onions
Planted late in the fall for early spring use, or in the spring, for use throughout the summer, green onions are a delightful addition to meats, salads, and soups.
- Onions take about 60 days of 45°F+ weather to mature.
- A green onion is ready to use once the base is the size of a pencil. They can be used at any size, and maintain a pleasant flavor. If they have begun to grow sets, then discard the tough stem, or simply snip off the greens, as you would with chives.
- If your soil allows for the onions to be easily pulled, consider planting the sets among other crops, such as lettuce or spinach. When pulled, they leave air pockets in the soil, which help the other plants to grow. If they must be dug, plant in rows as stated above.
- Onions can be grown in containers on a deck along with other salad ingredients for a lovely edible display.
Using Onion Bulbs
The bulbs are your best source of new onions. However, seeing how abundantly they produce, what are you to do with all of the bulbs, especially when some of your early spring onions grow sets before you have a chance to use them?
- Plant for a fall crop.
- Give to friends who garden.
- Donate to a community garden.
- Use whole in recipes, like pearl onions.
- 4 cups Egyptian onion bulbs, trimmed and peeled
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon mustard seed
- 2 teaspoons horseradish
- 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
- 1 small jalapeno, quartered lengthwise
- bay leaves
- Scald onions in boiling water for two minutes. Dip in cold water to loosen skins. Drain and peel.
- Place onions in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, and add cool water to cover. Let sit 12-18 hours at room temperature.
- Rinse and drain onions. Set aside while you prepare the jars and pickling solution.
- Prepare jars by sterilizing in boiling water. Sterilize lids and rings in boiling water.
- Make pickling solution by mixing vinegar, sugar, mustard and horseradish together in a pan. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Pack onions into hot jars. Adding one bay leaf and one piece of pepper to each jar when jar is half filled.
- Pour boiling pickling solution over onions and seal at once.
Makes four half-pint jars, two pint jars, or one quart jar.
- For printable version of recipe, see here.
Where to Get Egyptian Onions
You probably won't find Egyptian onions in a store. They are not sold in gardening catalogs. So, where do you get them?
The best place to get Egyptian onions is from someone who grows them. Ask around, and keep your eyes open as you drive through different neighbor hoods. Once you have some, don't be stingy!
Look online. Here is one source I found.
- R.H. Shumway's
Egyptian Top-Set Onion Sets: These unique perennial heirloom onions, also known as "tree onions" or "walking onions", form clusters of very small bulblets or sets on the tips of the leafstalks.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.