Author Topic: Potato Onions  (Read 2591 times)

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Offline Templeton

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Potato Onions
« on: March 15, 2015, 06:22:23 PM »
I've been doing a bit of digging around on the topic of Potato Onions. The edible alliums are a tricky lot - names are not consistent, original wild varieties seem to have disappeared or are lost in the mists of time, others are now sterile and won't or only very reluctantly produce seed. Northern hemisphere practices differ from those in SE Australia. Simon Rickard's 'Heirloom Vegetables' book has a fair breakdown on the differences, but for a mega dose of alliums check out http://www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au/Sorting/Allium.html#dic3.0

Potato Onions are planted as bulbs in autumn or spring, grow, and the bulbs divide several times producing a nest of bulbs which are harvested when the tops die down.
They are classified as Allium cepa aggregatum the same as shallots (here we are talking aout the little flavourful bulbs with colourful dry skins, adored by french chefs, not big bunches of green topped white stemmed salady things that are called shallots in some benighted portions of the 'wide brown land' and that are more properly called bunching onions or green onions or spring onions. Just to add to the confusion, two or three different species of allium can be grown as 'spring' onions - they can be baby bulbing onions before they form bulbs, or they might be one of the bunching onions (a different species of plant to our normal bulbing onion, and about which there is also considerable debate around names and origins)
But back to potato onions.
I can't tell the difference between true french shallots and little bulb onions when i cook them. Obviously a technique thing, couldn't possibly be my perfect palate. and they are buggers to peel. I end up discarding most of the bulb as i struggle to get the papery bits off.

True shallots are planted from individual little bulbs that form bunches just like potato onions - if you grow them from seed, they are new hybrid shallots, produced by European breeders trying to make more money by not having to store huge quantities of little bulbs to plant every year, but these varieties are treated with disdain by allium afficianados.

Often what is available as potato onions in Australia are just shallots. Stuff I got from Yelwek Farm in Tassie seems to suffer from this, butit could have been my growing situation - maybe they only do well south of Bass Strait.
However in other countries there are potato onions that produce decent sized bulbs that store really well.  Not melon-sized bulbs, but decent enough so 2 or 3 make a good contribution to a dish.

Offline penny

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2015, 07:34:26 PM »
MIL's potato onions were great, up to a dozen medium sizes brown onions for each one sown. I never managed to grow them as big as she did, and I fear that over the years they have been steadily decreasing in size.

I guess I'm just not the onion grower she was.

Offline Templeton

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2015, 07:30:19 AM »
Continuing.
Potato onions don't seem to flower. So the variety you have is never going to do much more than keep producing what it always has. Not a problem if what you have is good, but I want something better.
An amateur grower in Utah had been growing some nice heritage American ones for a decade, then one year they flowered and set seed. He collected the seed, and sowed it - amazing variety showed up, imcluding some really standout varieties. Check out Kelly Winterton's story here <https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jnqst7-9YfWFovhqjARtcZZVJC0TPzKsow_5mdAwnyA/edit> or just google him.
He grew some whoppers, and offered seed.
It is legal to import onion seed into Australia under specific conditions, and Kelly was kind enough to jump through the hoops to make it available to me.
I grew a few out, and got lots of variety. When I re-find the camera, I'll post some pictures.

But I've got lots of seed, and insufficient resources to grow it all, and explore the results. Anyone want some?
T

Offline Templeton

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2015, 07:45:40 AM »
MIL's potato onions were great, up to a dozen medium sizes brown onions for each one sown. I never managed to grow them as big as she did, and I fear that over the years they have been steadily decreasing in size.

I guess I'm just not the onion grower she was.
Penny, the other issue with repeatedly growing the one clone, which is what a single variety of spud onion (and garlic and shallots and potatoes) are, is the build up of vegetatively carried disease. I've not done the research, but have it on good authority that viral load is one issue. Thus the work that is done by commercial growers and some researchers to get some of these non-flowering alliums to flower again. And growing potatoes from seed, rather than tubers. Potatoes are an important enough crop that there are isolated areas - eg Toolangi in Victoria, where disease free potato clones are grown. And I've heard that a lot of garlic is now propagated by tissue culture through in vitro growth of the growing tips, before the disease gets into the young cells (though with my limited knowledge of virology, I'm not sure how this works).
But growing from seed re-introduces the possibility of genetic recombination, with all the variability that goes along with it.

Clearly Kelly's original Potato Onions were heterozygous for some features thus the cross-fertilisation between individuals of the same clone gave rise to new combinations and a wide range of new potato onion varieties - many of which aren't outstanding, i might add.

Did your MILs spud onions ever flower? And any chance I could swap some if you have any left? Tho I am yet to get a really outstanding one, I might add. Maybe this year.
T

Offline a sunny day

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2015, 08:31:07 AM »
Templeton I just found this new thread about potato onions. Here's a picture of my two varieties that I just took and forgot to attach to my last post... haha now I know why. Let me know if you'd like me to send you a couple of each bulb... only problem is I harvested them all before giving them a chance to flower, so I don't know if they will.

Offline JANET

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2015, 11:25:42 AM »
hmm wouldnt mind trying some of those seeds templeton if you have enough to spare , dont think I have ever grown them

Quote
But I've got lots of seed, and insufficient resources to grow it all, and explore the results. Anyone want some?
T


Offline Templeton

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2015, 11:57:03 AM »
Sunny,
I have more than enough to go on with, but thanks for the offer, I'll keep it in mind.
Janet, pm me address.
T

Offline Bev

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2015, 12:58:27 PM »
I got mine from Yelwek too, last year. They produced lots of bulbs, but small. I know someone who got large bulbs from Yelwek bulbs. I think my problem was not enough fertiliser. I'm about to replant them, together with fresh Yelwek garlic. My last year's garlic was also small. I need more food in my beds!

Offline JANET

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2015, 02:09:13 PM »
pm sent templeton

Offline a sunny day

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2015, 03:09:58 PM »
I found a really good article on growing Potato Onions (and garlic)...

http://www.southernexposure.com/garlic-and-perennial-onion-growing-guide-ezp-29.html

They say you can grow them in spring and autumn. I had better success with both of my varieties sowing them in spring last season, but the brown ones are sprouting, and the longer I leave them the more I am throwing out as they are starting to go rotten... only problem is I've lost my veggie garden to my husband who is anxiously waiting for my tomatoes, eggplants and capsicums to be finished so he can sow a green manure crop. And we haven't got the garlic bed ready yet. I counted up 70 bulbs so it's too many to start in pots. I suppose in the long term the green manure crop will be a good thing for the soil, but for now, it looks like the flower garden again... bugger, I'd just got it all cleaned up (except for some tomato plants off course).






Offline a sunny day

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2015, 03:15:05 PM »
Here's another really nice simple article on growing potato onions from Yelwek Farm in Tassie...

http://yelwekfarmoca.com/our-potato-onions/how-to-grow-potato-onions/

Offline a sunny day

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2015, 09:26:22 AM »
Hey Templeton, my hubby and I tasted the potato onions, both raw and cooked on pizza. The brown ones were white inside when peeled and had a delicate sweet flavour, and the red ones were violet purple and had a stronger flavour, a bit spicey and left an after taste. My hubby loved the red ones and I loved the brown ones. Thanks for encouraging us to taste them!

Offline Cass

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2017, 07:36:41 AM »
Resurrecting this thread as I am growing potato onions (from seed) for the first time this year.

I was completely fascinated with Kelly Winterton's project journal and am looking forward to seeing the diversity of what these seeds produce. From his notes, I am expecting that most onions won't divide this first year, so all will be held over and replanted again next season.

Is anyone still growing potato onions?

Offline Raymondo

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #13 on: April 28, 2017, 07:23:02 AM »
Lost mine during our very wet summer (more than half the year's rainfall in the first few months of the year!) Still have seed though and will sow them in spring I think. I'm looking forward to hearing about the results from your growouts Cass.
Ray, gardening on an old flood plain with clay loam from 30 to 60 cm deep over clay.

Offline Grub

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2017, 06:53:52 AM »
I love bunching alliums. I have a dream that I'll still be growing shallots from the same original set I bought 3 years ago in 15 years and there's no reason to think it won't work. I tried planting larger store bought purple shallots but they didn't sprout. I'd be interested in trying potato onions too as I've not had the best luck growing regular onions from seed (tend to plant them wrong time of year and have them bolt on me before forming a large onion). Plus they are cheap to buy. I might try growing a pot of red onions again in spring.
Cool region, Canberra. Courtyard and balcony gardener.
http://actgarden.blogspot.com/

Offline Templeton

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Re: Potato Onions
« Reply #15 on: May 11, 2017, 09:42:11 PM »
with my potato onion seed i sowed in march,, got them 5-8 cm high, then pricked them out into cells which I've finally moved to a shelf in the greenhouse. I've been ignoring them - everything in the garden actually - but i want them a bit bigger so i don't lose them in the garden beds among the weeds. they grow pretty slowly over winter.